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Less pain, more gain.

Over years of backbreaking work moving planks of green oak from a sawmill to a kiln by any means possible, we have given the problem some thought and developed a way to save your back, and a hernia (or at least another one).

We plank up oak, ash and sometimes Douglas Fir (when we want something lighter to move) using a Wood-Mizer mobile sawmill. With the improved efficiency of the mill over the years as well as the speed and accuracy of the guy using it, timber is being converted from tree trunks into boards at a faster rate than previously. As a result we have had to become quicker keeping up with the mill.

The problem we had was multiple handling. The solution was to reduce the number of times that we manually moved the boards, which was back breaking stuff to say the least. I have moved over twenty ton of the stuff in one day, myself, often more.

Once the timber came off the mill, it was loaded into a trailer, unloaded and put into a stack, then after a while air drying, it would be loaded into a dehumidifying kiln, to finish the drying process off, (not to mention the lads moving the wood).

When the wood was ready to come out of the kiln it was manually carried and put into a rack, for storage ready for use in the workshop, or a customer to select it for his winter garage project, before surprising the wife on her birthday.

We had the use of a forklift or tele-handler for moving the tree trunks, which was a bonus, but what we needed was something to deal with the weight at the other end of the process.

After a chat over a cup of tea, we decided to make up a cradle to stack ‘packs’ of timber in. This consisted of four 6” x 3” about 72” long running from front to back, with three more on top what ever length you wanted to pack plus about a foot. We decided on producing packs of timber 100” long, a convenient length for most cabinet and furniture makers.

We then built a vertical frame about 42” back from the front edge to produce something similar to a stud wall, with the uprights about 12” apart. We then bolted a few supports from the top of the wall, to the back of the four 6” x 3” about 72” long running from front to back, to triangulate the wall.

Along one end, either, depending on where you are loading the boards in relation to the mill, we built another stud wall, this time boarded over with thin pine, again it helps if the wall is supported with some triangulation towards the base.

I have made several of these, both left and right handed, so that they can be strategically place around the mill for minimum carrying distance and accessibility.

As the timber comes off the mill, it is loaded in the cradle with the boards against the end wall. I find it easier to stack the boards from the front to the back, getting a straight surface both front and back of the stack. When the first layer is in, I place a row of ¾” sticks 44” long, at 12” intervals from one end to the other. You can line these against the uprights on the back wall if they are put in the correct place, making life even easier.

Obviously, as more timber comes off the mill, you keep repeating to the process until you have reached you desired height (our packs are about 36” to 40” high). We put poorer quality boards on the top layer, as they may be left outside for a while, and check (crack) in the direct sunlight. These boards will also protect the better timber from being ‘knocked about’ by the forklift tines.

We then thread some strong fabric banding around the pack, (carefully missing to struts and supports of the cradle, and yes, we have done it!) in a couple of places and use a ratchet tensioner to get the bands as tight as possible.
We can then carefully drive to forklift towards the stack, missing the cradle if possible, and pick up the stack on the tilt action of the machine. When to ‘pack’ is clear of the cradle, you can put it on a couple of bearers wherever you want. A green oak ‘pack’ weighs about two ton, is about 100” long x 42” wide x 36” high, and we stack them about three high.

Taking this a stage further, we have built a couple of kiln boxes that will accommodate a ‘pack’ of this size, in which we can place the ‘packs’ straight in with the forklift. When the wood has been dried, we can lift the ‘pack’ out of the kiln and dump it straight in the workshop, (a 12’ doorway helps), ready for stacking in the racks.

The boards are handled off the mill, then into the rack. A kiln can be loaded and unloaded in minutes instead of hours and no back pains or hernia to show for it. It is well worth the effort to buy, beg, borrow, or rent a forklift or tele-handler to do this, it’ll pay for itself in no time. But beware that if you are on anything other than a smooth, flat, hard surface such as concrete or bitumen you will need an all-terrain machine, with larger wheels without solid tyres, otherwise you will tip the machine over.

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©2013 Stephen Edwards