Nov Dec, 2002





Thinning Down Wildfires

Tools of the Future

Future Trends in Small Milling, Dehumidification Drying and Mulching

 By Carl Clayton

Change” has been the one constant of this industry, and probably always will be. Some policy issues molding the industry today include global warming, harvest levels, and forest health. The big question is, "What will all this mean to me and my business?" New technology, some of which is discussed below, will surely be a part of our future.

Small Milling "Small milling" of lumber is one answer both sawmills and harvesting contractors are turning to in preparing for the future. Each year in the United States, according to Forest Service sources, tens of billions of board feet of saw logs rot, are burned, or are used for low value products. Experts estimate that “…less than 20 percent of the forest biomass" in a harvest ends up in longterm, durable products.

Don Jastad mills once wasted wood with a Woodmizer LT 40HD.

Don Jastad, owner of Jastad Forest Resources of Puyallup, Wash., decided more than a decade ago that it was "criminal" to waste all of that wood. Don says the huge amount of wood underutilized each year proves an adage his dad taught him: "Opportunity doesn't just knock, it comes and busts down your door every day." "I'd seen some guys cutting wood with a portable saw so I looked into the possibilities," says Don. "Pretty soon whenever we cleaned up after a harvest we would salvage logs that had been left behind because no one wanted them. We'd load them up, haul them in and have then sawn down into lumber. What we found was that when you cut ‘waste’ into lumber and dry it you have something that's worth a lot of money, and that makes your logging more profitable."

Eventually, Don decided to begin sawing his lumber using a Wood- Mizer portable band saw. The sawmill Don settled on is a Wood-Mizer LT 40 HD, one of that company's most popular units. The basic mill can handle a 21' log that's 36" in diameter, and it includes a hydraulic log turner so one person can operate the machine. Today Don saws high grade specialty lumbers from salvaged oldgrowth, species production mills reject, and "junk wood" too rare or difficult for commercial mills to bother with. His lumber has been used to build pipe organs, guitars, fine furniture, airplanes, and miniature ships, and is sold around the world. "It gives me a lot of pleasure to see the incredibly beautiful things created out of a piece of wood I had a hand in producing, from a piece of what used to be considered waste," he beams.

Dry kiln brings more opportunities to hardwood industry in the West.

Don is not alone in his pursuit. For harvesting contractors and sawmill owners alike the potential for "small milling," according to Kevin Corder, Industrial Sales Manager at Wood- Mizer, are limitless. Even today, Corder points out, large volume sawmills have installed Wood-Mizers to recover grade lumber from "junk wood," and have contracted with Wood-Mizer owners to saw extremely high value woods that their own systems cannot adequately mill and still maintain value.

Dehumidification Drying
So much fiber is wasted in the western woods partially because a hardwood industry has never developed in the region. One reason has been lack of drying capacity. Hardwood grade lumbers must be dried to exacting specifications, and that has always been expensive and difficult, especially in the West. Today, the work of innovative firms like Nyle Dry Kiln Systems of Bangor, Maine, has brought lumber drying to the ordinary mill. Once the realm of "drying wizards," drying is now done by ordinary people with a minimum of training, with excellent results. In addition, the dehumidification technology Nyle and similar firms have developed is dramatically less expensive than older technologies and, in a hardwood scenario, cuts huge amounts of waste out of the process.

The California Department of Forestry (CDF) has run a demonstration facility for a number of years to show the forest industry that the more than 140 billion board feet of hardwoods growing in California's forests could provide the resource base for a western hardwood lumber industry. The unit, located at a CDF camp at Parlin Fork (near Ft. Bragg on California's Northern coastal region) produces about 150,000 board feet of grade hardwoods each year. The heart of the Parlin Fork operation is a Nyle L-200 dehumidification dry kiln with a 2,000 board foot capacity, used to finish dry lumber after it has been pre-dried in drying sheds.

Rayco T275 mulches debri to avoid burning.

The Nyle unit was chosen, according to Jim Anderson, founder of the project and a retired forester who consults on drying, because it required a low capital investment while allowing the benefits of excellent drying at low temperatures, low operating costs, and with no pollution. "If you're a big operation running tens of millions of board feet per year through the kilns, this might not be the best thing for you," he commented. "But for the small to midsized operator, dehumidification kilns represent an inexpensive, highly effective, and easy to learn way to add value to sawn lumber." Dehumidification drying allows drying of small units of lumber, reduces the waste inherent in other forms of drying, and is a base for a hardwood lumber industry to utilize woods that could not be efficiently processed in the past.

Forest Health
Ground preparation after a harvest has never been a huge deal in the Northwest, but that too is changing. A big reason? Fire! Recent research by national scientific groups has shown that forest fires and post harvest burns are significant contributors of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, as well as injecting large and previously unsuspected amounts of mercury into the air. Rayco has developed a multi-purpose tool being used by contractors around the world to meet the need to treat the forest without burning.

The T275 site preparation machine, equipped with a forestry mower/mulching system, is widely used not only to transform post harvest land into a prepared landscape ready for reforestation or property development, but also for a broad range of other forest treatment opportunities. Scott Muir of Associated Arborists, a vegetation management firm headquartered in Chico, Calif., says that in recent months, he has utilized his machine in treating both public and private forests for reduction in the potential for catastrophic fire, for contracting with transmission firms for clearing and maintaining rights-of-way along roads and power lines, and for contracting with cities to remove fireprone vegetation at the urban/rural interface.

Demand for the machine has been so great, and continues to expand at such a steady pace, that Scott has recently purchased a second, "Just to keep up with the work." Today opportunity is bursting through the door of the forest products industry. Harvesting contractors and mill owners already have many of the available tools needed to adjust to change in the future. It's simply a matter of foresight.

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