French Trip - Part Un

By: Debbie George

May 12, 2016

Green Building

In September of 2015, Warwick and a colleague spent one week touring the lumber and flooring mills in Europe. This is his story… 

Day one started at 5AM to drive west from Paris into Normandy and then Brittany. They drove on the AutoRoute (USA Highway) for about 2 hours before turning off the main roads. While driving down the cobbled streets, they passed tiny villages and houses estimated to be built around 200 years ago. The winding lanes were just enough for traffic going one direction and on occasion the trees would close over the street making it seem you were in a green leafy tunnel.  They arrived at their first mill around 9AM.  This family owned and operated mill still cuts lumber using the same methods dating back to the 1800s, but with today’s modern machines. Imagine yourself seeing nothing but logs up to 50 feet long and anywhere from 24 inches to 60 inches in diameter piled all around the yard. The logs are cut by a log handling machine then picked up and placed on a set of hourglass rolls which use a 6 foot hydraulic powered chainsaw to cut the logs into different lengths and grades. The timbers are then placed on the log chain to feed into the mill. 

The first stop is the De-barker, which you guessed it, removes the bark and any debris. From here, the log gets placed on the infeed for the saw, and what a saw that is! This mill uses vertical band saws that stand around 10-12 feet tall and have a 6-8 inch wide blades that have teeth on both sides, allowing the saw to cut in both directions. The log is placed on a carriage pulled up and down a track by a steel cable. Every time the log goes past the blade another piece of lumber is cut. Some of the lumber is made into Boules, meaning the entire log is cut into slices and placed back together in its original format with stickers between each board. Other boards are placed on an edger chain and sent over to the Edger (a twin blade ripsaw unit). This cuts the lumber into different width square-edged boards out of un-edged boards called flitches. The lumber is left to air dry naturally for up to 3-4 months before getting kiln dried to around 8-10%.  Allowing the wood to season like this is one reason French Oak Lumber is so stable when used in large slabs. 

Warwick and his colleague headed to the second mill location of the day an hour away. This sawmill is in the center of the town, where the buildings were built around the mill. A Cathedral towers above the other buildings making it the focal point of the town. This mill has near perfect logs laid out in their yard ranging from 4-6 feet in diameter with no defects. These logs are sold to local barrel manufacturers, but are seasoned before cutting them into custom lengths and thickness. The barrels are used by wine and whiskey makers. The biggest log on hand was around 70 inches across and many more were 60 inches plus. 

To Be Continued…