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Slicing a New Niche

In Terrace, Forwest Veneer converts a failing specialty chop-and-cut block plant into a high-end veneer slicing operation.

By Jim Stirling
Copyright 1997. Contact publisher for permission to use.

High-quality value-added wood products produced labour-intensively: if that's to be the thrust of the forest industry then the future is now and reflected in a new veneer slicing operation in Terrace, BC.

Forwest Veneer Inc converts top-quality Douglas fir, hemlock and spruce flitches into precision cut veneer used to cover core materials in a variety of finished products for customers in Europe, Japan and the US.

Forwest Veneer is a joint venture between Forstar Trading Inc, West Fraser Timber and Ttiumph Veneer. The veneer slicing operation replaces Forwest Wood Specialties Inc., a chop-and-cut block plant on the same site. The local supply of fairly high-grade material including clears was directed elsewhere. Recovery suffered as a result and the plant closed last fall.

"The Terrace location was chosen for the veneer slicing business because we had the infrastructure. the building, most of the same crew plus some wood supply from this area," outlines Brent Kluss, plant manager. Retaining the same crew is important because although the plant was completely re-tooled with an investment of about $2.5 million, employees didn't have to relearn the concept of quality.

Production is important but quality and quality control are paramount.

The process begins with the raw material. Forwest Veneer buys its quality logs from mills and sales around the province. The plant has no primary breakdown equipment so suitable logs are custom cut either on Vancouver Island or in nearby Prince Rupert. "They take the round log, quarter it cutting out the heart and taking two small faces off each corner," explains Kluss. The resultant flitches are covered and delivered to Terrace. Their size varies up to a maximum of 81.28 cm wide and 4 m in length. Kluss says the larger flitches are more difficult to handle and take time to clamp and set up in the slicing machine but are usually the clearer ones with less sap wood.

The flitches are pressure-washed on arrival to remove surface sand and grit and placed in racks. When required the racks of flitches are moved to three pre-cast concrete conditioning chests, each one 4.8 kilometres wide. "They work like a dry kiln in reverse with a hot shower on the flitches," continues Kluss. Temperatures are around 180-1900 F and the flitches average two to three days of conditioning in the moisture and condensation.

The flitches are taken inside the plant building and wrapped to retain their warmth. They are hoisted onto a flitch table and dogged to it in readiness for slic- ing. "A 1.9-cm dog is normal but we have 5.08-cm and 20.32-cm extension dogs to slide on the biggest flitches," says Kluss.

The reconditioned Capital Machine Works veneer slicer has a single steel knife 419 cm long. The knife and bar are heated to maintain a temperature compatible with the flitches. "The knife has to be razor- sharp, highly honed with no burrs. The whole flitch moves up and down on the table with the knife stationary. It cuts at a 22' angle to take pressure off the knife," he continues.

Veneer is typically sliced off in 0.6-mm. - 0.8-mm or 1.2-mm thicknesses. The flitch is repositioned to ensure grain matches. Veneer sheets are piled back in the order they came from the flitch. The aim is to rebuild the flitch through its veneer.

Veneer is bundled into 32 individual sheets, marked to identify and taken on carts to the drier infeed. Veneer stays in the Brazilian-made Omeco drier for three to eight minutes, depending on thickness and moisture content ( aim is for eight to 10 per cent). Five fans blow air through radiators fed by hot oil, achieving temperatures of about 250' F.

On the drier outfeed, the veneer is piled and re-stacked into 32-sheet bundles maintaining sequence. Throughout the pro- cess a tag system tracks each flitch and its veneer.

A three-clipper line trims sides and ends according to specifications. Bundles are tie-strapped and length and width recorded by a Frost-Byte measuring system Grading, wrapping, packaging and bar coding follow. The high-grade veneer is trucked by B-trains to a Vancouver storage centre for distribution to customers world- wide.

The Forwest plant runs with 23 people per eight-hour shift. Three more people will be needed when a second veneer slicer is added. The plant started up in May, 1997 and the crews are learning the process.

"The quality-control part is stressed," says Kluss. "There is no point in us producing a 'B'-grade product. Quality is the most important part." He acknowledges the competitive nature of the veneer business but sees considerable potential for the Forwest plant.

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