Technical Matters #7: From Container to Machine with Nothing in Between

In my experience the most common European hardwood species that is imported into India is European oak. It is usually imported as a whole log or as a ‘boule’ or part of a ‘boule’, which is a log that is flat sawn and stickered then reassembled in to log form, usually in a thickness of 2”. This is then left in the yard until such time as it is required to be used. This could be a period of several months or even years before the boards are processed into a finished piece of furniture.

The presence of a live edge on the boards in a ‘boule’, i.e. the outside edge or wane, means the sapwood of the timber is still present, which can lead to a number of problems. The sapwood is perishable and if it is stored for any length of time, it is liable to give more potential for pest infestation to occur leading to degrade of the boards, remedied only by the application of pesticides.

The first process when the need arises to convert timber boards with a live edge is to saw the boards to a more usable square-edged board before any planing or dimensional machining can take place.

American hardwood species shipped to India, including the closest species to European oak, which is American white oak, have the advantage that they are already sawn into square-edged boards and, essentially, arrive at the factory ready to use - straight from the container in which they were shipped to the first point of machine processing. By using already square-edged American hardwood boards (lumber) that are easier to handle at the outset will undoubtedly represent savings in terms of initial machine processing time and the labor and energy costs involved. It will also reduce the amount of waste produced.

Another advantage is that American hardwoods are supplied in a range of thicknesses from 1” through to 3” (and sometimes more). Having 1” thick material readily available also takes out the potential need to saw or ‘deep’ 2” thick timber boards to thinner dimension timber and the inaccuracy in final thickness dimension that could arise.

All American hardwood species in whichever thickness are supplied kiln-dried over a period of weeks or months, in the case of thicker boards, to a controlled final moisture content of around 8 to 10%. A consistent moisture content is vital to the stability of a finished piece of furniture. This is something that you might not get from an air-dried board that has been sitting in a yard for many months.

The kiln drying process also sterilizes the timber, thereby killing any insect larvae that may be present, negating the need for any pesticide treatment. This is usually backed up by a Phytosanitary Certificate with each shipment.

When taking a board from a boule, its appearance and quality might not be what was expected and the yield of usable timber that you might get from the board could be much less. As a general rule all timber that is sawn from a log needs some method of selection or grading into categories so that the end user or customer is able to select the correct grade as being fit for its intended purpose.

American hardwood lumber is graded on the basis of how much clear wood can be achieved from a sawn board when it is cut up and manufactured into a finished hardwood product. The advantage of using American hardwood lumber is that the boards are supplied already graded. Different grades are available to suit different end uses and the grade acts as a description of what the timber should be expected to look like when it comes out of the container.

There are a huge number of benefits to using imported American hardwood lumber and these can save manufacturers in India a lot of time and money. It is vital that the end user does not just look at the upfront cost!


Neil Summers
Consultant to AHEC for technical issues