As many of your know, I'm in the middle of a kitchen renovation project. Step #1 is making new raised panel doors and refacing the cabinets. As my wife and I talked about it, we decided to veneer the faces of our current maple cabinets and I found out that we have a veneer operation just about 10 miles from my front door. Although the operation odesn't deal in retail business, the plant manager offered to not only give me a personal tour but allowed me to take pictures of the operation. Let me state here that this plant cuts veneer and presses it into 5/8" thick sheets that will be transformed into flooring. On behalf of The Patriot Woodworker and myself a big thanks goes to Joe Erlewein the plant manager of QEP in Montpelier, Indiana for my tour.
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The operation is amazing and as a woodworker the first thing that hits you is the aroma of the plant. Its like a woodshop on steroids because of the nature of the business. Its incredibly clean and fascinating to watch. From the bark to the core no part of the log goes to waste. Here's how a log becomes veneer and ultimately flooring.
The logs come into the plant as whole logs. This facility turns poplar, red oak, ash, cherry and maple. They also press pecan but it is brought in seperately from Mississippi. The logs are soaked into one of 4 deep water filled vats that is heated. The logs are loaded onto a conveyor and de-barked with carbide wheels. Sorry but there are no pictures of the debarking process. The logs are cut into uniform lengths to prep them for the lathe.
I guess I was taken back a bit by the speed at which the veneer is cut. I don't know what I was expecting but these poplar logs went from an 18" log to a 5" core in very short order. Its all a "touch" operation. The operator is located above the lathe and controls the speeds by hand. There are two jaws on each end of the log. One inside the other. As the log gets smaller, the outer jaw retracts allowing the smaller jaw to take over. I learned that this facilty peels 16,000 to 18,000 board feet of lumber in an 8 hour shift. Wow! They run two thicknesses: 1/10 of and inch (.100) and 1/12" (about .083)
Every piece of the log is used at QEP. Here the trimmings are transfered by conveyor to the boiler room where they'll be pulverized and blown into the boilers to generate steam for the dryer. I was impressed that the boilers are 100% operated by recycled wood from the operations. They use gas only for emergencies.
From the lathe the fresh veneer runs down a conveyor where it is cut and stacked to be transported to the drying ovens.
The ovens cure the veneer to 8% to 10% moisture content and the drying process takes about 17 - 28 minutes depending on the moisture content and species of wood. Though you can see the ovens here, they are about 150 feet long.
When the veneer is dry it is graded into fronts and back. Fronts have no marks and backs or bottoms have blemishes in them. Then they are moved to the assembly area. In this picture the workers are creating the panels that will become flooring. Oak on the top and bottom with poplar laminated in between. You can also see the press in the rear of the photo.
These two ladies insert the stack of panels into the press where the panels are pressed at 1800 PSI force and 230 degrees.
When cured, the panels move through an inspection area where they undergo a sonar type inspection. Any voids in the panel are marked on the face so that the void may be worked around during the cutting process. They panels are stacked on a pallet and banded for storage. The pallet of panels will rest for a week in the warehouse to cool and normalized before they are shipped to the Tennessee plant.
This was quite an interesting tour for me. I worked in industry my entire life but this was a really cool process and the employees were a joy to be around. My wife and I will be installing wood flooring during the kitchen renovation and we are going to try to buy flooring that had its roots right here in east central Indiana.
Thanks again to Joe and all the fine folks at QEP!