Improving Value Added through
Improved Hardwood Bucking Optimization at Menominee Tribal Enterprises
Hardwood Bucking Optimized
Loss of value in bucking has been a serious problem for loggers and mills in both softwoods and hardwoods. Losses in softwoods have been smaller (5 to 26% value loss)  than in hardwoods (28 to 35%) . Much of the value loss in softwoods has been attributed to failure to optimize small-end diameter requirements for log grades. In hardwoods the situation is more complex. Logs may be bucked leaving more sweep than necessary, failing to identify and preserve high-value potential logs, and poor placement of defects, which reduced the available clear lumber. As with softwoods, hardwood logs may be cut with poor selection of small end diameters .
With the advent of optimization procedures in softwood bucking in the 1970s it became possible to determine the best bucking cuts for individual logs. Similar optimization techniques were developed in the 1990s for the more complex hardwood bucking problems. The optimization procedures use complicated dynamic programming models to solve for the optimal bucking solution for each individual stem. [A description of HW Buck, Michigan Tech's hardwood bucking software, is available at Michigan Tech HW Buck description web page and HW Buck for Windows (pdf) .] The actual application of the results and knowledge can be applied in a practical manner using three techniques:
- Computer optimized sensory equipment can be used in the mill.
- Computer optimized sensory equipment can be used in the woods.
- Computers with optimizing software can be used to train workers responsible for bucking hardwood logs.
The third method has several advantages. Hardwood mills are often small and may specialize in products. Given this specialization, bucking and sawing methods may also vary from mill to mill. The equipment needed for optimal computerized sensory bucking in the mill or the woods is not yet available. Currently, training of woods workers is the most practical and cost-effective method of implementing improved hardwood bucking. This is the approach taken by Menominee Tribal Enterprises, the the Wood Education and Resource Center (WERC) of the USDA Forest Service, and Michigan Technological University when training Menominee Tribal Enterprises' buckers.
Menominee Tribal Enterprises.
Menominee Tribal Enterprises is the forestry and forest products processing business of the Menominee Nation. The Menominee Nation at one time extended across northern Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Today the Nation occupies 235,000 acres in north central Wisconsin, of which 220,000 acres is forested. The Menominee practice large-tree silviculture on their land and their long history of stewardship has provided the Menominee Nation with a valuable timber resource and a forest that is unrivaled in the Great Lakes region. The 235,000 acres is easily spotted in satellite imagery as surrounding counties have substantially less forest land because a significant amount of previously forested land has been converted to agriculture (Figure 1). 
Figure 1. Satellite imagery shows the distinct outline of the lands of the Menominee Nation.
The Menominee Nation has been managing and harvesting from their forests for over 150 years, with over 2 billion board feet of timber harvested in that time. In 1856 the Tribe built and operated a small sawmill to meet local needs. In 1908 a larger sawmill was constructed in Neopit (Figure 2). Today a much larger mill, also in Neopit, employs 160 people and has a annual capacity of approximately 18 million board feet (Figure 3).  The mill processes timber harvested on tribal lands. Logs are bucked in the woods and transported to the mill for further processing. Quality work by loggers is essential for increased mill profitability. Proper bucking of logs can increase the log grade, scale, and value. With this in mind, Menominee Tribal Enterprises identified a group of loggers who would be trained using field training and HW Buck to improve their hardwood bucking skills. Progress of the loggers over one year was monitored in order to quantify the improvements.
Figure 2. The 1908 sawmill at Neopit.
Figure 3. The current sawmill in Neopit.
Hardwood Bucking Improvement at Menominee Tribal Enterprises.
Nine trainees with a range of experience from 3 to 40 years were selected to participate in training sponsored by Menominee Tribal Enterprises, WERC, and the School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science at Michigan Tech. Training involved both field (Figure 4) and indoor components (Figure 5). The training was delivered over a period of one year, and consisted of an initial 1 ½ day intensive training session with two follow-up sessions. The first follow-up session occurred about one month after the intensive training, while the second follow-up occurred a year later. This training structure allowed both a chance to measure the retention of the bucker training and to reinforce the initial training messages. Bucker performance was measured four times. The first two measurements were at the beginning and end of the intensive field bucker training session. The third and fourth performance measurements occurred at the beginning of each of the field revisits. Measurements were used to reinforce critical ideas in the field.
Figure 4. Trainees selecting their first set of bucking cuts.
Figure 5. Trainees using HW Buck game to evaluate alternative bucking cuts.
The initial training session covered three components:
- Defect identification and internal problems associated with those defects
- An overview of grading and scaling, including the importance of defects
- Strategies to improve bucking decisions - condensed to the three Rules-of-Thumb.
While external defects themselves can be complicated, bucking can be improved by following three Rules-of-Thumb:
- Place bucking cuts to minimize sweep and crook
- Look for the best log that can be cut from a stem section, then work around that log
- Place defects at the ends of logs to increase clearcuttings.
At the initial intensive training session, trainees were divided into two groups ("A" and "B") and each group was given a different set of six sample stems. Before they received training, the trainees were asked to record where they would cut the logs. After the initial intensive training session they were asked again to record where they would cut. While one logger recorded no gain between the first and second attempts and another recorded a decline in value, the other loggers showed a gain in value by selecting better cuts. Group A improved value recovery over the six stems by $83 (3.4%) and Group B improved by $326 (9.5%).
With this new background, loggers returned to the woods. The training team worked with the buckers one month after the intensive training and again one year afterwards. The one month visit was important. It was conducted as one-to-one training with each bucker. Guidelines (the Rules-of-Thumb) and the reasons for the guidelines were reinforced in the field. Evaluation showed that the intensive training had been effective in teaching the general concepts but that it took some time for trainees to apply the knowledge to the wide range of log types encountered in the woods. (Management of the Tribal land has generated larger and higher value trees - and therefore more complicated trees - than most other parts of the Great Lakes region.) The return visit at one month allowed buckers to ask specific questions which were generated by the on-the-job application of their training.
At the one-year visit trainees were asked to record how they would cut a different set of logs. Since the log set was different it is not possible to compare dollar gains; it is possible to compare what percentage of the optimal value loggers recovered before and at the end of the training. On average the trainees showed a remarkable thirty-one percent gain in the value recovered from the stem.
Training reinforces the Rules-of-Thumb as it shows how defects determine log grade and, therefore, log value. Trainers can show how specific defects are present not only on the surface of the log, but within the log. Further, sweep, cull, and some defects affect the log scale or volume of useable wood in a log. HW Buck helps buckers make cuts which simultaneously improves log grade and scale. HW Buck allows loggers to make several different attempts at cutting a log and also shows the optimal cut. HW Buck also allows users to consider local or regional variations in log grades. HW Buck takes an extremely complicated method of optimizing log value and packages it in a manner which allows loggers to see the results of their work and to improve their own skills.
Substantial gains in recovering hardwood value are possible by training workers who are responsible for bucking logs in the woods. Work with buckers at Menominee Tribal Enterprises showed a remarkable average increase of thirty-one percent. The key to the gains is several periods of intensive training over an extended period. Hardwood markets vary regionally and so training must be adapted to local conditions. The combination of HW Buck, in-the-field training (often one-to-one training), and an understanding of the local market resulted in substantial gains for Menominee Tribal Enterprises. The results should be transferable to other hardwood regions.
The primary source for this web page is Pickens et al. 2005. Intensive Hardwood Log Bucker Training Using HW Buck Dramatically Improves Value Recovery. (pdf) 
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Web page created: May 28, 2006
September 26, 2006
Contact: Jim Pickens