Sunday, February 25, 2018

goodbye solar kiln

The solar kiln has been with us since our first year on  a parking lot off of Hall Street. There was no structure for sheltering lumber there so we moved to that "structure" on Brown that you can see from the back of our current location on Farlin. That is where it lived for years cranking out dry lumber for 6-8 months a year:

Since it only was effective for a portion of the year it soon became a bottleneck for getting dry wood into bins for sale. After we moved to our very own lot with better electrical arrangements we slapped a dehumidifier kiln on the front and extended the drying season to all but the coldest month or two.

The two layers of deteriorating polycarbonate that form the slanted solar roof were poor insulation for those cold months so it was better than nothing in, say, March, but it did not work as well as a dedicated dehumidifier kiln should. After 14 years and two moves it was time to replace the solar kiln completely:

We considered a sea container but for the price of an uninsulated one we found an old beer distributing reefer truck:

Our plan was to remove the insulated box and jettison the remainder of the truck. First Joe cuts off the sheet metal hanging below the floor:

Need more cutters.

That's better. Other side too and unbolt the underside. All loose and ready to be lifted off the truck frame:

Some creative strapping to the forklift and we hope it is enough to get it into the air. It is!

Here it is shoved into its new home behind our building. Those long fork extensions allow us to load the pallets from the end:

Plywood for the floor:

And its first load of walnut and cherry:

Just as when we allowed sawyer issues to build up a backlog of saw logs, the accumulated kiln bottleneck will take some time to relieve completely but this is an arrangement that should convert air dry to kiln dry in a week or two and catch us up.  It was recently 120 degrees Fahrenheit in there on a 30 degree day.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Sawmill has been busy

Quartersawn sweetgum:

Lightly spalted soft maple crotch, nearly 2' wide:


Horse chestnut:

Box elder:

Ambrosia maple:

QS sycamore:

Walnut crotch:


Look for these and more to come into the dry sale bins throughout the year.

Friday, February 23, 2018

more live edge material

I found this blog draft saved from a couple years back:

Live edge slabs give any project a unique flavor. We have had a few of these slabs in the past and we are making a big push for more. We just pulled two logs' worth of cherry slabs from the kiln and we now have a large selection of natural edge material to pick from. We will be sawing more; right now we have cherry and walnut.

Here are two logs that just came back from the sawyer. These are 6 or 7 feet long and should be available next spring.

Sawing a big ash log

Monday, December 11, 2017

Now we can saw our own!

When we began operations in 2004 we chose a different path from most urban log recyclers. Rather than pick up and saw a few choice logs here and there we wanted to recycle as many as we could. This includes lots of lower grade logs and less desirable species, but darn it, that is what gets cut down so that is what should get used.

I would estimate that over 95% of the logs we pick up go straight to a local mill (after trimming and scanning at our lot) for pallet, blocking and ties. I have mentioned this before, but the remaining ~5% are the kind of logs that make woodworkers sit up and take notice so we had them sawn into boards that we dry and sell to make this whole enterprise work. We have worked with a number of different sawyers over the past 13 years, some very good, others not quite what we wanted. There were errors in communication, short cuts taken that compromised quality, and lots of time hauling logs one way and boards the other. It was time to saw our own.

It seems obvious now, but aside from the capital outlay there is considerable time to invest in running a sawmill and Joe (our only employee) hauls logs full time. No matter, we had everything else needed (more than can be said for some of the mill owners we used) to be efficient: a forklift, kiln, and some space. Here is our new Timber King 2000 ripping through a smaller walnut log:

We can get nice walnut boards from a log like that much faster than hauling it an hour away and making a second trip to pick up the boards. But the real benefit of sawing our own is getting exactly what we want from each log.  Here is a good example, a big sycamore, too big for the mill (that is a 36" bar for scale):

Joe chain saws it in half and gets it on the mill.

We only want quartersawn boards from this sycamore and it takes extra time and effort to get that. Here is a maneuver you won't likely see the $X/bf sawyers taking:

So instead of 50-70% QS and the rest being rift sawn, we get close to 100% QS boards like this:

Or like this white oak:

There is more to this story and this blog will be one place to see more. We have not had any trouble selling the best quality wood - it flies out of here - and we will now have more of the good stuff than ever before. It feels a lot like "what took us so long to figure this out" but whatever the excuse was, it is all better now. Well, not completely. There is a big pile of logs to be sawn.                                         

Thursday, September 29, 2016

fun with cookies

Log sections invariably crack as they dry yet they still make nice (and trendy) table tops. We rarely stock them but can usually manufacture one while you wait. Here are a couple burr oak cookies:

Monday, February 8, 2016

what a visit to Lumber Logs is like

Many of you already know - and maybe some of you will never know - but I want to describe the atmosphere at Lumber Logs on one of our retail Saturday mornings. Why not? Pictures of cool wood will always show up on this blog, but a building full of woodworkers enjoying themselves deserves its own post. Hopefully you will add your own thoughts in the comments.

Retailing lumber is a second job for both Joe and Tom; this is why we are only open for retail four hours per month (first and third Saturdays, 9 - 11 am). The effect of this bottleneck of opportunity is that the building fills with woodworkers of all types during those hours. This has been a fascinating study for me, as interesting as discovering sycamore or osage.

Let me just list a few observations:

  • Most visitors are males. Maybe 80-90% of our buyers are guys, but women and children and controlled pets are all welcome and make it all more fun. Our neighbors are an iron works, a trucking company, and a brickyard, so expect a testosterone laced industrial environment. We do not have a coffee machine, climate control, a restroom or running water. We do have a wood stove in winter and fan in the summer. I come home dirty after every visit.
  • Most people are happy to be there. I am likely not the only guy who rarely enjoys "shopping", but when the environment is a building full of my favorite material, then "shopping" becomes this experience full of imagination and hope and promise. (Maybe my wife feels the same way in a shoe store?) Finding the wood I need is easily one of my favorite woodworking steps because I haven't yet screwed anything up! Perhaps others feel this too since the building is full of happy people who share a love of this material.
  • People are understanding and patient. This strikes me as extraordinary (perhaps because I am often not particularly patient), but when there is a backlog of buyers waiting to have their selections scaled and priced, without exception these people show admirable flexibility. What happens next is really interesting.
  • Once somebody has met their particular need, they are free to engage others. And they do. Discussions about design, finishing, and teenage children flow naturally and without any posturing. A guy helps another with a large slab. Another shares an experience with an unfamiliar wood species. Ineptitude gets mentioned on occasion and it is always with laughter. Mistakes sound like fun; I'll have to try that.  
  • Most people find what they want. If they came looking for 2000 bf of black locust for their deck, then they will go away disappointed, but for a smaller scale project we have the goods. I am especially encouraged when somebody tries a new species they have not used before. The diversity that grows around here and thus that we stock should excite any worker of wood. Our local forest is an exceptional resource. Tell us about your project and we can suggest something that may surprise you. If we do not have what you want, say so and maybe we can improve. We have been cutting thicker oak as a result of multiple requests even though drying it is a challenge. Since our entire business is composed of Joe and Tom, if you get one of our ears you can affect what we do.
  • Not once in 12 years has anyone complained about us rounding all transactions to the nearest dollar. I wonder when pennies will go out of circulation.
  • Lumber haulers come in all shapes and sizes. We are especially impressed by the driver of a two-seater convertible who buys 100 bf of wood, the old dilapidated pickup with duct tape connecting rusty panels (for sale; this could be yours!), the jaguar driver, and the 16' trailer owner who buys one board. My story of 300 bf in and on a Subaru seems to encourage those who feel challenged with bulk.
  • Not even counting the business side of the experience, I always come away energized by the people who visit. This is not my universal reaction to crowds of people, so there is something special about woodworkers that I must like. These people are genuine optimistic doers. They understand challenge, failure, success, and making something that others treasure. They usually work alone but obviously get along with others. This combination of self reliance and sociability in a welcoming environment must be the formula for happiness, or at least temporary joy. At least, it seems to work that way. There is a natural and unforced woodworker's scene in St. Louis. Come experience it.