Mintroad Sawmills fired up after lockdown

By | 2020-10-29T11:45:10+00:00 October 29th, 2020|

All photos by Leon Louw

While Covid-19 has impacted most of South Africa’s timber industry, for Mintroad Sawmills in Alberton it is business as usual. Timber iQ visited the site recently.

Pine trees arrive in the yard, and the bark is debarked at Mintroad.

Pine trees arrive in the yard, and the bark is debarked at Mintroad.

After a slow start following the lockdown, the sawmills at Mintroad is working full steam as the orders for the company’s timber products increases after a long winter slumber.

According to Roy Smith, owner and managing director at Mintroad, the more than 60 employees have been operating full steam for several weeks. Smith says that business is slowly returning to normal. Just like the rest of the world, Mintroad has had to deal with the impacts of Covid-19, but unlike a few of their competitors, Smith has managed to steer the ship through the tough times.

Mintroad has a long history that starts in Fordsburg, Johannesburg in 1945 when Richard Smith (Roy’s father) established the company. In 1952 Richard Smith bought land in Robertsham, in the south of Johannesburg and the company expanded into the supply of gum poles to the mining and building industries. “In the early 1970s, treated poles were added to the product range and a comprehensive range of gum poles and sawn timber was distributed to the building, civil engineering, road building, packaging and thatching industries as well as building material merchants,” explains Smith.

In 1978, Mintroad installed its first timber treatment plant. Twelve years later, Smith bought the Alrode operations from Taylor & Mitchell, its main opposition in Gauteng. The assets included land with railway facilities as well as an additional three timber treatment plants. The sawmilling operations were expanded, and products developed to supply nurseries and outdoor wood outlets.

“Gum poles can additionally be slabbed on one or both sides for fencing slats, survey poles, guard rail posts and blocks, sawn pine, sawn gum, trellis (standard and fancy) garden edging, picket fencing and outdoor wooden furniture.”

A timber drying kiln was installed in 1994. Mintroad currently operates one Creosote, two CCA (Tanalith) and one Flambor/Tan-E treatment plants.
Tan-E (Ecowood) preservation is arsenic and chrome free and represents the ‘new age’ of treatment chemicals. Smith says the company is a leader in the wood preservation and process control fields and specialises in custom timber treatment (for example cooling tower application) with access to the world’s largest timber preservation chemical manufacturer’s research and technical database. SABS permits are held for the full range of timber treatment types and hazard classes. Research is carried out on an ongoing basis with international input. A process assistance and record keeping computer program designed specifically for the South African wood preservation industry has been developed and patented by Smith, and there are currently three licensed treatment plants using the software.

Currently Mintroad’s product range includes gum poles (untreated as well as the various treatment types) which can additionally be slabbed on one or both sides, fencing slats, survey poles, guard rail posts and blocks, sawn pine, sawn gum, trellis (standard and fancy) garden edging, picket fencing and outdoor wooden furniture. Treated timber is exported to the US, UK, EU, including exclusive agents in France, the Middle East and various African countries. Software has been developed to be able to franchise the timber treatment operation at future branches.

Roy Smith is world-renowned for his technical and mechanical expertise and experience. He was joined by his son, Gavin Smith, in 2015. Gavin is the third generation of the Smith family in Mintroad Sawmills.

A fleet of trucks with capacities ranging from 4-10 tons (larger trucks operate with mounted cranes) is operated, and for loads in excess of 10 tons, vehicles are hired. Mintroad operates three Bell Tele Loggers as well as multi-purpose heavy-duty handling machinery for its material handling. Raw material is brought in by road and graded to SABS specifications. The company is an active member and co-founder of the South African Wood Preservers Association.