Select Hardwoods: An Appalachian Mill with a Global Reach

Select Hardwood YardSelect Hardwoods, a kiln drying division of Church & Church Lumber Company in Millers Creek, North Carolina, has a proud tradition of providing Appalachian hardwood to a global market.

Appalachian hardwood, valued for its color, grain structure, and other attributes, and the quality of Church & Church’s products, have opened markets for the forest products company in Asia and the European Union (EU). Their products are used in furniture, millwork, cabinetry, flooring, decking, log homes, containers, and pallets.

In past years, they were doing 100 percent poplar, but they couldn’t secure all the poplar they needed. They’ve since added red oak and white oak.

“We kiln dry about 70 percent poplar and 30 percent red oak and white oak. Some of that goes to domestic and EU customers, but we ship most of it to China and Vietnam, with more going to Vietnam,” says Kin Church, partner in both Church & Church and Select Hardwoods.

The lumber originates in the vast Appalachian Mountain timber stands. After it is cut, subcontractors haul the lumber to the Church & Church Sawmill. Once milled, the company trucks it four miles to its Select Hardwoods facility.

“Of the 23 million board feet our mill cuts annually, we dry 9 to 10 million board feet of that production. The rest goes out in a green state to either furniture companies or other dry kiln operations,” notes Church.

The four quarter poplar takes about seven days to dry, while the eight quarter poplar takes 12 days. Because the oak is denser, the four quarter oak requires 35 days to dry.

“You can only extract so much moisture out of oak without causing the cells to collapse. If we dry it too quick, it will severely damage the oak beyond use,” he says.

Kiln Drying Lumber for Three Generations

The Church family lays claim to three generations in the forest products industry. Church’s grandfather started in the business back in the 1940s. His father, who helped his grandfather through the late 40s, started Bruce Church Paneling in the early 1950s.

“I started a small dry kiln operation in 1988 after spending 15 years in the poultry industry, though I helped my grandfather and dad with their lumber business when I was in high school and college,” Church says.

Rather than simply expand a single mill as many operations do, the Church family decided to try a different approach.

“After I started my dry kiln business, my brother and dad bought a couple of mills together along with two other fellows. We decided to pool all our resources. They had a sawmill and I had a dry kiln that handled just 40,000 board feet. Since they wanted to get in the dry kiln business, it was a perfect marriage,” he remarks.

Today, Church’s brother Sebastian runs the sawmill while Kin works Select Hardwoods. In 1994, Church increased Select Hardwoods’ capacity by adding more kilns. Today, it has six kilns with a capacity of 390,000 board feet.

Importance of Moisture Measurement

Select Hardwood Handheld MeterMoisture measurement is mandatory in Kin Church’s operation.

All his customers require the lumber be at a certain moisture content (MC). Most want it at 9% to 10% MC.

“That’s because most of our customers are either gluing, end matching, or finger jointing, or the lumber’s going into a home interior, such as framing, moldings, door and window jambs. So they don’t want it moisture laden.

“If the wood were installed in a home with 15% MC, once the homeowner turns on the heat or the house becomes much drier, the joists would start pulling apart. If the wood were in furniture and had excessive moisture levels, once it was exposed to much drier conditions, the glue joints would start cracking and falling apart,” Church declares.

To help Select Hardwoods maintain its level of quality, Church uses two Wagner moisture meters.

“We use the L612 model (the L622 model now available) which has a pad that accurately detects moisture in our lumber. Over the 13 years we’ve used it, it’s been extremely reliable,” he says.

“We can also attach a stack probe about three feet long to it with a flexible cord like a telephone cord. Once we insert the probe between the boards, it has springs that press the end-mounted sensor flat against the wood, ensuring deep penetration of the wood. We then slide the probe slowly out of the stack, reading the moisture in each board as the sensor passes over it.

“This allows us to take multiple readings throughout an entire stack in just minutes. We used to have to pull the packs out of the kiln and break them down for measurement. But with the stack probe, we can leave the packs intact.

“This meter makes our job a heckuva lot easier,” Church declares.

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Larry Loffer

Larry Loffer is a senior technician at Wagner Meters, where he has over 30 years of experience in wood moisture measurement. With a degree in Computer Systems, Larry is involved in both hardware and software development of wood moisture measurement solutions.

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