Ancient Enterprise Still Thriving
Summary: The oak forests and processing industry in France predate the Romans. LSJ's peripatetic contributing editor Reg Barclay takes us inside a highly efficient plant in Burgundy, France.
By Reg Barclay
Driving the back roads of the French countryside on the way to the village of Givry to taste yet another excellent Burgundy wine, a vis-itor cannot miss the beautiful oak forests on either side of the road. My host, Jean Lemut, whom I have known since we studied forestry together at university, is a professional forester in France, now retired to a beautiful, old farm in Burgundy.
The vineyards in Burgundy p re d ate the Romans, he observes, as do the oak forests. "Oak barrels have always been used to store and age the wine. For this reason, there are oak forests in every wine-producing region of France and that is the same thing as saying, there is a lot of oak in this country."
France has four million hectares of forest of which 33 per cent is classified as oak forest. Other species, such as ash, sycamore, lime and beech, are also found in these fo rests, but oak is dominant. About four million m 3 of oak logs are har-vested annually in France, comprising about 22 per cent of the total harvest.
Lemut points out that oak forests are selectively logged. Clearcutting is seldom used now; forestry in France, as elswhere,is more ecologically driven. Selective cut-ting now takes less out on each pass, but harvesting is more frequent.
The cutting cycle has been reduced from 50 years to 10 or 15 years to reduce the impact of logging on the site. Forest management in France is a matter of controlling the light to obtain the species you want. More light, more oak; more shade, more beech; and so forth. He noted that the government of France has strict regulations governing the harvest, despite the fact that the forests in the Givry vicinity are controlled, in equal parts, by state, municipal and private interests.
As we neared the village of Givry, which is world famous for its red pinot-noir wine, we passed a tidy-looking oak s awmi ll.At Lemut 's suggestion, we dropped in to tour the mill and see how the oak logs are converted.
We were welcomed by Didier Limoge, the technical director who explained to us that the mill was owned and operated by Maurice Juillot and his son Dominique, and i s call ed Scieries Reunies Du Chalonnais or `SRC'.
"At one time," he said, "there were three mills in the area, but the Juillot family has consolidated all three into this one modern mill." We first visited the log-storage yard. All logs are purchased locally by two log bu ye rs, who select and buy the logs on the stump. Logs are harvested in the winter, stored in the forest and brought to the mill as required. This keeps the mill log inventory low, just enough for current needs.
Logs are sprayed to prevent insect or stain damage. Checking is not a problem, so logs are not misted in the yard as is com-monly done elsewhere. The mill, operating one shift daily, uses 24,000 m 3 of logs annually.
Each log entering the mill is numbered to identify its source. The logs we viewed were excellent quality; straight, solid and up to 1.5 m in diameter at the butt end. In the centre of the mill yard, the tree-length logs are cut into sawmill lengths by hand with a chainsaw.
The operator was ve ry skilled and it was clear that on his shoulders rests the recovery of both quality and volume. He was efficient, marking and cutting logs quickly, after tallying the log volume prior to cutting.
He not only has to cut out defects, but also must cut the log into useable lengths of the right quality for the order file. Didier noted that sawlog lengths up to 10 m were possible, but the most com-mon length was 4.5 m (16').
Logs are taken from the central bucking station to the sawmill, wh e re they are stripped of their bark by a mechanical deba rker. After the volume of each log is measured by a computer, the logs are bro-ken down into boards and planks at the headrig, with a double-edge cutting band-saw and a moving carriage, operated by one person.
The sawyer uses a red shadow line to guide the sawcut. The saw blade is thin at 1.6 mm with only a 3-mm saw kerf. The quality of the sawn wood was excellent, with a bright colour, little defect and tight grain. The mill produces two basic products.
One is unedged lumber planks, 2'' to 4'' in thickness. The butt lengths of the best logs are cut through and through in these thick planks at the head rig. They are taken behind the head rig unedged, and then reconstituted with strips between each plank and strapped together, in the form of the original log. These are called `boules' and are sold in this form . England is a major market for this product.
The end users are keen on buy-ing hardwood in this form so that they can kiln dry as required and reman to local specification needs, while obtaining a good recovery. Strapped `boules' were seen stacked throughout the mill yard for air drying. They fetch a good price, being the cream of the mill's output. The balance of the logs are bro ke n d own at the head ri g and processed through the reman mill, producing cut-to-size blanks for flooring, furniture parts, barrel staves, railway ties, cabinetry and other uses.
This is really a recovery operation to provide value-added products and a better yield from lower-quality saw logs. The boards, planks and roundup, cut at the head rig for reman, are taken by a conveyor to the edger. The operator has flexibility, with one stationary and four moveable saw blades.
With the aid of a red shadow line, the operator plans his cuts and marks the grade of each cut at the same time. Another operation is a resaw that splits boards into flooring blanks with attractive q u a rt e r- s awn grain.
Following the edger, the crosscut trimmer eliminates defects and, with the aid of a computer, cuts graded pieces to the multiple of lengths required by the current order file. At the end of the day, the computer pri nt s out the total lineal footage of each thickness, width, length and grade.
The sorting line stacks the pieces by order number. The finish storage room is air-conitioned and very clean, to keep the stock bright and dry until shipment. Didier explained that the mill does not plane or surface its lumber, as the fine sawing is accurate and produces a smooth surface.
The mill has kilns and will dry to a customer's specifications. Kiln capacity is being expanded as the demand for drying is increasing. A 1'' board dried to eight per-cent moisture content takes about six weeks in the kiln.
Kilns are controlled by computer to measure heat and relative humidity both in the kiln and at the sur-face of the lumber. Printouts can then be supplied to customers on request. All KD is shrink-wrapped for shipment. The mill is very efficient with little manual labour evident.
By-product revenue is obtained by the sale of bark and log ends for fuel and green short lumber ends for charcoal. Green sawdust is burned to pro-vide heat for the dry kilns. Sales are direct to end users or factories for further processing, in truck-held quan-tities of 25m 3 .
About 65 per cent of reman products are sold out-side of Fra nce, but within the EEC. SRC has an affiliated com-p any that prod uces finished flooring from the SRC blanks. Didier noted that the business is very competitive.
A number of sawmills serve the same customers which means the cus-tomers can buy on a just-in-time basis, to keep their inventory levels low. But this leaves the saw mill with a short fo rward-order file and increas-es risk, as the ability to plan is reduced. Clearly, the French lumber industry has come a long way from the days of making wine barrels and building sailing ships; today, oak sawmilling is right up to date.But, as we were to find on leaving the sawmill, some things do not change. The red wine at Givry is still excellent.
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Ex-Greenpeace activist Patrick works these days to counter the forestry myths and misinformation put forth by radical environmentalists. Most don't have a clue what they are talking about, says Moore.
The oak forests and processing industry of France predate the Romans. LSJ's peripatetic editor Reg Barclay takes us inside a highly efficient plant in Burgundy, France.
A Crestbrook Forest Industries program that combines on-site industrial training with high school completion courses is well-accepted by employees.
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This month: Kiln controls including Drystar Computer Kiln Controller, Winkiln Control System, Custom Dry Kiln PLC and more.
Forest companies working in remote locations will welcome TMI Communications' new mobile satellite communications network.
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