How a Tree Becomes a Door
Published: June 12, 2020
Selection and Management
Estate Millwork harvests and procures its lumber from only sustainably managed forests. Our hardwood products, such as our louvered doors and exterior shutters, are harvested in mature forests from stands of timber that can be from 30 to 100 years old. A typical tree will be a 30" diameter oak tree that may be 80 feet tall. First, the forester, who manages the forests, will select an area for harvest, based upon a long term plan. Then, for a given area, the trees and ground will be surveyed and only trees that are culls (need to be removed) or those that are highly desirable will be selected for harvest. Younger trees may be thinned to allow larger trees to develop in a less competitive environment, and older or sick trees will be harvested to make room for new growth. A good forester will be aware of the current market for timber, and only select the trees that will give the land owner the best, long term, sustainable yield. If a stand is heavy in Cherry a good forester will advise the land owner to defer harvest for a year if the Cherry market is bad in the given year.
Once specific trees are selected for harvest, they are marked and the timber cutters arrive. Using chain saws, the lumberjacks decide which way the want a tree to fall considering safety, other trees and ease of trimming the tree once on the ground. After the tree is felled, the "tops" and small branches are removed. These may be ground into mulch on the site, or hauled of to a chip plant for use in other wood products such as cardboard and paper. The logs are graded and hauled, usually by log skidder, but still sometimes by horse teams, down to the log landing. The highest quality logs will be sent to a veneer plant, where the fine grain of the wood is peeled off by a special lathe, and then cut into flitches. Veneer wood will be used in furniture and high grade architectural plywood. Many of the logs that do not grade out as veneer will be pre-graded to go to a saw mill for processing as clear or FAS grades -- the top grades for solid furniture and millwork. Logs that are knotty, partially diseased, stained or irregular shaped will be sent to a lower grade saw mill to be turned into rough lumber for pallet making, temporary structures, "green lumber", or shoring timbers and blocking for deep mines, or to a 'pulp plant', where the quality of the wood fibers is desirable, and the shape of the trunk is of no concern as the logs will be turned into paper products.
Logs destined for fine doors and exterior shutters such as the products produced by Estate Millwork are sent to a saw mill, where they will be unloaded, debarked, and then sawn by a large circular saw, often times more than 8 feet in diameter, and driven by electric or hydraulic motors of several hundred horse power. A highly skilled sawyer will control the passes of the log through the saw blade, and will sometimes be guided by a computer and laser guided "sawing plan" that will give the maximum yield of the square boards desired, out of the round logs. The outermost, round edges of the logs, or cants are discarded to the chipper plant, but depending upon the sawyers plan for the log, the log will be flat sawn, quarter sawn or rift sawn -- each type of cut produces a different section through the grain of the tree. Rift sawing produces the straightest grain, but the lowest yields from the log. Flat sawn will produce more varied grain and the highest yields. After the logs have been sawed into the correct rectangular section (2X4), (1X6) etc, they will be sent to the cut off saw where the ends are trimmed square and the the logs are sawn to desired lengths. From the the boards proceed to a grading station where a highly skilled grader will determine the final grade of each board. As the boards continue on a conveyor through the saw mill, they will pass into a selection area where the different grades are consolidated prior to shipment. One log may produce several different grades of boards, and it is the sawyers job to extract the maximum value out of each log, which is a very complex task given that he may have only 1 or 2 seconds to set up the log, and will have to know whether it is better to flat saw a log for yield, or to rift saw it for quality.
The "green" timber will then begin air drying at the saw mills loading yard. If the lumber is destined for a high grade operation such as Estate Millwork's door factory, it will make a stop at a kiln, where it may spend as much as 30 days in a totally climate controlled chamber with circulating air. Generally, the harder and denser the wood, the longer it takes to dry, and the more skill it takes to get it to remain true. Drying wood to fast on one surface will cause the wood to bow in that direction, so a good kiln operator will take special care in how the boards are stacked, how many stacks go in a kiln, where in the kiln they are placed, how long they will remain there, and any handling that they may receive while in the kiln. Kiln drying accelerates the process of turning green wood into usable wood over the air drying process that can take from 1 to 3 years, depending upon the dimensions and species of the wood. Generally, the wood will be considered dry when it reaches a moisture content of 6 to 8 percent. Too dry and the natural resins of the wood will be destroyed, too wet and the wood will be unstable and susceptible to rack, bow, cup and twist.
Rough lumber, as it leaves the kiln, will still have the saw marks of the saw mill, and will be at some dimension larger than the desired final dimension. At Estate Millwork, we do all of our milling, planing and moulding in house so that we can control quality and maximize yield. As orders for finished goods come into our plant, our software allocates lumber and generates a shop plan including a sawing schedule, whereby our own sawyers take in the rough lumber, and reduce it to the exact dimensions that our products require. They are governed by three concerns -- accuracy, yield, and productivity. The machinery that we use to do this milling is large, complex and requires careful calibration and set up, so our software schedules the production such that we minimize setup time, maximize productivity, and get the best yield out of our rough lumber. You can read more about the final steps of door construction in another post on our site.
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