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Saw supplier tightens ties to sharpening tool maker.

Byline: DEVELOPMENT REPORT By Joe Mosley The Register-Guard

COTTAGE GROVE - It's a little like marrying your best friend.

Burton Saw & Supply Co., of Eugene - a distributor of saw blades, files, grinders and related equipment - has had a close business relationship "for many, many years" with Wright Machine Tools of Cottage Grove, says Duncan McLain, one of Burton's four owners.

Wright's line of saw-sharpening machinery is a mainstay of the Burton product list.

Now the two companies have become related in an even closer way.

McLain and Burton's three other owners - Mike Kehoe and Richard and Rod Ralls, all of Eugene - have bought Wright Machine Tools from Betty Wright, whose late husband Jim Wright built the company into a nationally known manufacturer before his death last year in the crash of a replica Howard Hughes airplane.

"We had a very good idea about this operation," says McLain, who is serving as managing partner of Wright Machine Tools. "We know all of the personnel, we know all of the products and we know all of the markets."

McLain declined to discuss the purchase price or other financial information.

But just a month into the venture, Wright's owners have added three employees to bring the total to 25 and expect to bring in additional machinists and assembly technicians.

One of the reasons for the growth is the recent sale of 10 saw-sharpening machines to Bosch, the German corporation, for its saw blade manufacturing operations in the People's Republic of China.

The machines sold to Bosch average $10,000 each - which is toward the lower end of those made by Wright Machine Tools. The company's biggest machines sell for about $70,000 each.

The sale is far from being the first foreign deal for Wright, which sells primarily in North America but has placed equipment in Korea, Australia and New Zealand, as well as countries in Central and South America.

But the potential for developing a vast new market in China has prompted a new buzz of optimism at the Cottage Grove machine shop.

"If you look at really what's happening (with China's economic boom), it could overwhelm us," McLain says. "That won't happen, but the potential is certainly there for it to be a significant portion of our business.

"We feel lucky the market (for saw-sharpening equipment) is small enough that maybe it won't create interest in the Chinese in building a manufacturer of their own."

The Cottage Grove business was founded by Jim Wright, who died in August 2003 at age 53 when his replica of Howard Hughes' first airplane crashed in Yellowstone National Park as he flew it home from an air show in Oshkosh, Wis.

McLain said it was important to Betty Wright that the company stay in Cottage Grove, where it operates in a 16,000-square-foot facility near Cottage Grove Airport.

"We're just pleased to be in a town like Cottage Grove, and we plan to stay here," he says. "This is kind of where (the company) has grown up."

Wright Machine Tools got its start building saw-sharpening machinery for sawmills, but now sells just as much equipment to the secondary wood products industry and also builds machines for sharpening metal-cutting saws.

CAPTION(S):

David Henderson, an employee of Wright Machine Tool for 23 years, works a grinder in a work bay. MAIN PHOTO INFORMATION
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Title Annotation:Business; Burton Saw & Supply Co. buys Wright Machine Tools of Cottage Grove
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Aug 31, 2004
Words:556
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