A Secret Industrial Gem: Mississippi sawmill provides hardwood for Fender Guitars, major furniture manufacturers even duck calls
Published 9:00 am Saturday, March 4, 2023
It may be one of the best-kept secrets in Claiborne County.
Located off Rodney Road, a few miles from the center of Port Gibson, V & B International Inc. is a family-owned hardwood sawmill that manufactures hardwood and cypress lumber and timbers used in industrial and residential construction.
It has also provided raw materials for Fender Guitars in California, La-Z Boy, Lane Furniture, Ashley Furniture, Armstrong Floors, Primos Duck Calls and Batesville Casket.
“People are surprised to find out about us,” company president Brendan Beesley said. “They’ll tell us, ‘Man, I never knew you were here.’”
The company began in 1976 when Beesley’s grandfather, James Beesley, opened the sawmill. His father Val bought the mill in 1981 and reincorporated it as V & B International. Beesley began working at the mill in 2015 and was named president in 2021.
Beesley said his grandfather saw “a need and an opportunity” that led to building the sawmill.
“He started buying and selling timberland and then started a logging operation, then started the sawmill,” he said. “He saw the opportunity in buying, selling land and then realized that the guys he was selling it to would just come in and cut it and then sell it again. So he got into cutting timber and then kind of got into it as a natural progression of the timberland deals.”
When Beesley’s father acquired the business, he took what was then a small start-up sawmill and expanded it.
“He really added some capacity to it and at the time it was one of the more technologically advanced sawmills in the South,” he said. “It had some of the first and newest equipment as far as computers scanning and technology goes. So it was a really advanced sawmill. We had one of the first thin-curve bandsaws in the south and ran it all the way up until it burned in 1999.”
When the mill was rebuilt, Beesley said, it was built to be an industrial mill.
“Typically, sawmills in the South are kind of separated in two different areas. You have one group that does a good bit of higher-grade, higher-end lumber, typically geared toward more millwork (like cabinets and wood flooring). And then you have industrial sawmills that typically cut like we’re doing right now, more for the railroad — the industrial side of it.”
The decision to become an industrial mill, Beesley said, was influenced by the condition of the grade market at the time.
“In the early 2000s, the grade market was not doing very well. There was a lot more competition in the area for logs. So log prices were escalated and we decided to build it back as an industrial sawmill; being able to buy a less expensive log and turned it into an industrial product,” Beesley said.
The industrial materials handled by V & B International include railroad ties, pallet stock that is used to make shipping pallets, some tongue-and-groove flooring and wall paneling and drumsticks and pool cues.
The mill also does millwork on cypress and architectural cypress, and materials from ash for Fender guitars, which are built in Corona, Calif.
“The original Fender guitar was made out of ash,” Beesley said. “We were cutting 2-inch that comes out of this area in Ash and sending it to Corona, Calif. to the Fender manufacturing facility.
“We would further process it, so as it’s cut straight off of our big saw — we call it rough. We’ve got some machines, some planers that will size the lumber. We’ve got a planer; it’s got knives on the top and bottom. We would size it; we call that surfaced lumber. At one time we did three containers — three, four, five containers of cut-to-length material. They were the actual blanks for the Telecaster, Stratocaster and (Fender’s) five-string bass.”
The mill also produces what is called frame stock for fabric-covered furniture for box spring mattresses, sofas and armchairs.
“We’re a supplier,” Beesley said. “We’ve supplied La-Z Boy in the past and we’re a supplier for Ashley Furniture.”
Besides producing lumber, V & B does custom kiln drying for lumber to reduce the moisture content in the wood.
“We have wood from Africa and South America in kilns right now,” he said.
The company also has its own timberland and it will buy timber rights or timberland, Beesley said.
“So either we procure the logs ourselves through company land or through timberland purchases,” he said. “We’ll also buy from other loggers that have their own tracks and their own timber deal going on and just buy logs based on a specification that way.”
Besides their industrial projects, V & B also sells retail directly to customers and provides materials for home restoration.
“We’re selling it to anybody,” Beesley said. “Anybody that wants to buy one or two boards at a time or wants a tabletop or a mantlepiece or is redoing their house and wants a new flooring, anyone who’s building a deer camp and doing some boarding. We’ve sold lumber for trailer decks, guys rebuilding. We’ve sold to hobbyists.”
Beesley said the mill has been involved in the restoration of historic homes, “mainly cause we have the ability, especially in this area, to match up a lot of those older patterns.”
He said the guidelines are typically left up to the builders.
“They just send us a spec sheet of what species (wood) it has to be made of and then send us a template. As long as it matches up, it goes back in fine.
Presently, Beesley said, the plant is being upgraded to be able to do industrial and grade work.
“We typically we don’t operate so much as a great sawmill, but we do have the capacity to do so,” he said. “The way that I think about it is, we’ve got the opposite challenge of every other sawmill in the area in the country. This is the first upgrade in 20 years.
“If we look at adding capacity at our sawmill we have the infrastructure already in place to handle the increase in production because at one time it was operating at a higher volume capacity.”