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February 2006 - The Logging and Sawmilling Journal


Snow-bound log STORAGE

Researchers have developed a simple solution—that has already been adopted by several mills—for storing logs in Canada: put the logs underneath the snow.

By Martine Frigon

Canadian sawmills and panel plants usually have their own well-deveoped and individual methods for mill yard timber storage, but a research team from the Forest Engineering Research Institute of Canada (FERIC) has been proposing another option. This option is a version of a method which is used in Scandinavia but has been transformed slightly for Canadian climatic conditions: storing logs under snow.

Available at an operational scale for the last two years, the method is a result of many years of studies by Joseph Nader, a researcher at FERIC. The purpose of the snow
storage method is to protect moisture content, eliminate the need for watering, conserve the tint, and avoid decay and cracks in the logs. Nader conducted his research on jack pine, black spruce, yellow and white birch, maple and aspen. The technique can use natural snow—which is in abundance just about everywhere in Canada—and bark or shavings as insulating material.

The technique involves arranging piles of timber to create an island. Large piles are built and placed back to back. The islands are then covered with snow, bark or shavings.

Storing timber in the snow: the goal is to respond to the needs of mills to store harvested wood and keep it in good condition until the wood is required for milling.

The snow storing has to be done during the cold winter months, preferably in January and February, since the logs are already frozen. And according to Nader, the logs will stay cold all summer long.

Before going operational, a large experimental study was conducted from 2000 to 2003, with the co-operation of four sawmills, two in Quebec and two in Ontario. The Bellerive Ka’n’enda sawmill in Mont-Laurier, Quebec stored a volume of 400 cubic metres of 14- to 16-foot maple, birch and aspen logs. The Sylvio Brunet and Son sawmill of Fassett, Quebec stored 12- to 16-foot logs of the same volume.

Columbia Forest Products applied the technique to 4,000 cubic metres of eightfoot logs of aspen at its hardwood plywood underlay operation in Nipigon, Ontario and 14,500 cubic metres of the same variety and size at its Hearst hardwood plywood plant, also in Ontario. All the logs were piled during winter, covered with snow and an insulating material like bark, and were stored for seven to nine months.

“During the year of our test, we stored 14,500 cubic metres of quality aspen veneer wood, 105 inches in length,” says Pierre Despatie, manager of forest operations at Columbia Forest Products in Hearst. “At the beginning of November 2004, we processed approximately 3,500 cubic metres of this wood. The results were impressive—95 per cent of the wood maintained its quality. Approximately 11,000 cubic metres remained wrapped under the frozen snow for another winter.”

Despatie adds that about 4,000 cubic metres of additional wood stored during the same winter were extracted in July and August 2005. “The results were very acceptable. There were only little dark stains in the logs’ extremities.”

The goal of the overall wood storage project was to respond to the needs of mills to store harvested wood and keep it in good shape until the wood is required for milling, says Nader.

Although the technique has shown interesting results, Nader admits that companies that use the method will have to rethink their inventory management. “We can provide supervision of the wood storage under snow technique but locations for storage, the quality of soil, the buildings located nearby and the weather are just some factors which need to be reviewed before the construction of the piles,” he adds.

Following the tests conducted at its operation in Hearst, Columbia Forest Products used FERIC’s advisory service and continues to store wood under snow. Other FERIC clients now using the technique are Tembec Pine Falls in Manitoba and the Columbia Forest Products plant in Nipigon, Ontario.

Having seen the technique “in action” at Hearst, Columbia Forest Products’ Pierre Despatie, can comment on its pros and cons. “The storage at Hearst is conducted with three to four feet of compacted snow and a foot and a half of sawdust and chips,” he explains. “Here in northeastern Ontario, a large part of the timber transportation takes place during winter, so we have a big inventory by mid-April.

The logs being stored under snow will be mainly used in our operations in August and September, which represents approximately 24,000 cubic metres. The quality of the logs is preserved at least until the beginning of August,” he says.

The wood storage under snow idea is being viewed with interest by others in the industry. Réjean Henri, a forestry engineer who specializes in drying, knows the wood storage industry very well. He worked as a consultant in drying for consulting firm Tecseb, as a technical advisor to wood products manufacturer Legettwood, taught at the school of forestry and wood technologies at Duchesnay near Quebec City, and launched his own advisory service in drying three years ago. “Wood storage under snow is an alternative,” he says.

Although the study conducted at the four sawmills saw impressive results, Henri does not see this technique being applicable to all mill operations. “Preferably, and depending on the market, this type of storage should be used for only 10 to 15 per cent of production.”

Dealing with frozen wood in the summer months can bring special challenges, he notes. “When logs come out of their bundles of snow in June, July or August, it’s necessary to dry them at once. Otherwise, they will deteriorate quickly.

“Another problem is ice cold wood. The speed of sawing and production will be reduced because saws have more difficulty when wood is in this condition.”

He also adds that it is necessary to plan the transport of logs with storing in mind well in advance of the spring thaw. “I believe that every sawmill has its own challenges regarding log storage. Some people can transport for ten months a year, which gives them access to fresh wood,” adds Pierre Despatie.

”Unfortunately, for sawmills that are situated more in the north like ours, where the majority of the trucks are able to run on forest roads only between December and April, they have to estimate the volume which will be damaged by the sun and the heat during the summer months.”

FERIC researcher Joseph Nader and his team offer free advisory services, exclusive to FERIC members, on storing timber in snow. “No location and mill is the same, so it’s necessary to know all the factors before setting it up,” says Nader.

Gordon Duplain, a forestry engineer with a master’s degree in forestry from Université Laval, is a shareholder and the buyer at Floors Appalachians in Cowansville, Quebec. The company produces high-density wood floors, mostly with maple, cherry, red oak, yellow birch and walnut from Quebec, Ontario, and New England and exports to the United States, Mexico and Europe.

Duplain shares Réjean Henri’s views. “It is an exciting method, particularly for white wood. However, I think that this technique should not be applied to all production, and we have to use it only for some stocks,” he adds.

Réjean Henri agrees with Pierre Despatie, that the method requires very strong planning, and that there is a time window for wood storage under snow.

“It’s necessary to prepare bundles in January or February while it is cold outside and while there is some snow, because in most provinces there is not enough snow before then. And after February, it begins to melt.”

Manon Gignac, a researcher at Forintek, Canada’s national wood products research institute, supervised a study on wood storage in which she analyzed several methods, including the one promoted by Nader. “It provides us with some interesting possibilities.” However, she warns that, “the bundles should be built well, because if they are not set up effectively, there are risks the stocks will deteriorate.”

“One of the advantages is that the logs maintain a superior quality,” adds Despatie. “Disadvantages include the additional cost to have a sufficient amount of snow. We were able to count on the help of the municipal authorities who supplied us with snow free of charge, as well as the supply of bark from a company located in our region. We
only had to pay transportation fees for the bark.”

Despite the precautions that need to be taken, consultant Réjean Henri feels the snow storage method has a place in the industry. “This technique is ideal for white wood. However, white pine was not tested and the results would have been very interesting for the industry.”

For manufacturers who would like to try Nader’s method, his team is offering a free advisory service, exclusive to FERIC members. “We offer technical support and follow-up to our members,” he says.“No location and mill is the same so it’s necessary to know all the factors before setting up our method.”

Nader believes that wood storage under snow is a practice that the industry could adopt—and it seems perfect for the Canadian climate. “I hope that many operations will use it. It’s inexpensive and perfectly fits our climatic conditions.”


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