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Lumber Mill Worker Job Description, Career as a Lumber Mill Worker, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training: High school

Salary Range: Median—$11.59 per hour

Employment Outlook: Fair

Definition and Nature of the Work

Lumber mill workers make lumber from raw logs. They sort the logs into different sizes and kinds of wood. In the lumber mill they saw and cut the logs into various widths and lengths. Some workers may prepare rough lumber for industrial use. Other workers prepare lumber for dispatch to planing or plywood mills. Because lumber mills are sometimes called sawmills, lumber mill workers may be called sawmill workers.

Most lumber mills are located on the banks of rivers or lakes. When logs arrive at the lumber mill, some logs are placed in ponds near the mill. The water preserves the logs until they are processed. Hardwood logs, such as oak, will sink in water, so workers stack them on the ground. Scalers estimate how much lumber they can make from the logs and determine the quality of the wood. They measure the logs and look for knots, splits, and defects in the wood. Pond workers use long poles to sort the logs into different sizes and kinds of wood. These workers walk on the logs in the pond, wearing spiked boots to help them keep their balance.

Bull chain operators pull the logs into the mill. They work a conveyor belt that moves the logs into a chute that enters the mill. Barker operators run machines that strip the bark or other rough material from the logs. Deck workers roll the logs onto a movable platform or carriage. Block setters arrange the logs in position A lumber mill worker is cutting the lumber into specific widths. (© Paul A. Souders/Corbis.) and lock them in place on the carriage. The carriage moves back and forth on rails. It carries the logs to the headsaw crew. These workers operate headsaws that slice boards from the logs. The leader of the headsaw crew uses skill and experience to get the largest quantity of high-grade lumber from each log.

After slicing, the crew transports the lumber from the carriage to machines operated by pony edgers. These machines cut the lumber into widths. Next, trimmer saw operators cut the lumber into various lengths. After the cutting and sawing are completed, the operators move the lumber to sorting sheds. Graders check each board to determine its grade. Sorters mark and stack the lumber by type of wood, size, and grade.

The next step is to season the green (freshly cut) lumber. This process keeps the wood from shrinking or warping. Workers stack lumber outside to dry in the sun and wind. However, they season most lumber in heated buildings. Dry kiln operators control the air, temperature, and humidity in these buildings. The lumber is then ready for planing, finer finishing, and processing. In the planing mill planer operators use machines that smooth and cut the wood for many different uses. Planer mill graders mark the finished wood according to its grade. Then they store the lumber or ship it to wholesalers. In plywood mills workers glue thin pieces of wood veneers to each other to form plywood.

Education and Training Requirements

Many lumber mill employers prefer applicants who have a high school education. However, they may hire workers with less education. Persons interested in the lumber mill industry must have good physical health, strength, and some mechanical ability. Training is provided on the job. Entry-level jobs often involve sorting and stacking rough lumber. It may take several years to become the leader of a headsaw crew or a pony edger.

Getting the Job

To get a job in a lumber mill, apply directly to lumber companies. State employment offices in logging areas may list job openings.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Advancement in lumber mill jobs is limited. A few supervisory jobs are available to very experienced workers.

Employment in lumber mills is expected to grow more slowly than average through the year 2012. Fewer workers will be needed because of the entry of new and sophisticated lumber mill equipment. However, the industry still needs workers to replace those who retire or leave the work for other reasons.

Working Conditions

Lumber mill workers need strength and stamina. The increased use of equipment may make the work less strenuous. Lumber mills are hot in the summer and are often noisy and dusty. Because the work is hazardous, teamwork and alertness by all the lumber mill workers help to keep conditions safer for everyone. Some lumber mill workers are members of labor unions.

Where to Go for More Information

American Forest and Paper Association
1111 Nineteenth St., NW, Ste. 800
Washington, DC 20036
(800) 878-8878

International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers
9000 Machinists Place
Upper Marlboro, MD 20772-2687
(301) 967-4500

Earnings and Benefits

Earnings depend on experience and the kind of work done. Average salaries for lumber mill workers range between $8.70 to $13.11 per hour. The average for all workers is $17,000 to $19,000 yearly. Union mills offer paid vacations, insurance, and pension plans.

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesAgribusiness, Environment, and Natural Resources