Sometimes the best way to generate more income is to make better use of what you have. That’s why the Shelton-based Simpson Timber Co. is upgrading the machinery at its Mill 5 in Dayton, 10 miles west of Shelton.

In fields where natural resources are becoming more precious, conservation has become a business strategy. Simpson, for example, is investing $15.5 million to upgrade Mill 5 in hopes of being able to produce more two-by-fours, as well as and two-by-sixes, out of the timber it receives.

Project manager Don Bangs says equipment such as a new debarker, a sorting bin and a new 16,000-square-foot metal building is expected to make more efficient use of the timber the mill receives. For proprietary reasons, Bangs declines to say exactly how much more productive.

Nearly 40 percent of the lumber produced at the mill goes to new home construction in the West and Midwest, while 35 percent goes to home centers in the western states and 25 percent goes to the Japanese market.

The plant’s new saw is more efficient because it moves as it cuts, following the grain, Bangs says, and actually producing a straighter piece of lumber.

More lumber out of the same number of logs means less by-products—sawdust and chips, which go into products such as particle board, Bangs says.

The mill now produces 135 million board feet of lumber per year.

“We use every piece of log that comes in here,” Bangs says of the mill, which was built at a cost of $8 million and opened in 1979. In 1994, it underwent a $2.4 million upgrade that converted it from a mill that could produce only 8-foot two-by-fours to one that can produce two-by-fours and two-by-six lumber in various lengths from eight to 16 feet. The mill, which employs 50, specializes in cutting lumber from second-generation Douglas fir and western hemlock. It can accommodate trees with diameters as small as six inches.

The new technology will increase human efficiency as well as conservation and result in the loss of about five jobs, Bangs says, but no layoffs are expected. The county’s largest employer plans to rely on natural attrition to reduce the ranks of its work force, he explains.

Though construction of a Butler-style building isn’t expected until February, the new debarker already is sitting on the 24-acre grounds, waiting to be installed in the existing structure around the New Year, Bangs says. The entire upgrade is expected to be complete by July.

By Kamilla K. McClelland, Business Examiner staff