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Optimum moisture kiln drying accelerates Oxford timber business

Optimum moisture kiln drying accelerates Oxford timber business A new timber processing and tailored products operation near Oxford, in England has taken a leap forward soon after start-up by kiln drying its own timber.

The move will slash the felling-to-final-form time and further speed the commercial development of the enterprise founded by 21-years-old farmer’s son James Binning.

Fresh from agricultural college, he believes his firm, ‘Deep in Wood’ will enjoy local commercial success and gradually spread nationwide.

"Kiln drying the hardwoods we harvest from the farm, from neighbours and other managed woodlands rather than air drying them will cut 18 months from our business cycle.

"It means that the 1,000 tonnes of felled and unsawn English hardwood, predominantly oaks with others like London plane, yew, larch, Douglas fir, ash and cherry which we hold can be brought to sawing faster for further processing into simple or tailored wooden items", he adds.

Only son of John Binning, who has 1,500 acres of arable land at Great Park Farm, in the village of Besselsleigh, Oxfordshire, he had a growing liking for wood long before going up to Cirencester Agricultural College.

"Starting my business wasn’t just a matter of choosing wood processing as a diversification, it was simply that I could see an opportunity for us in a sector which I liked and in which I was confident of succeeding", James Binning explains.

He turned bowls and candlesticks on a lathe from as early as the age of seven. The family recall that in 2003 a contractor quoted a staggering price for replacing the farmhouse’s oak window frames. They were well able to calculate the contractor’s own costs at 2.5-times their own even taking labour time into account and decided to make the frames with their own English oak in their joinery shop.

The experience galvanised them yet further to set up an operation which would make quality, traditional frames as well as other bespoke timber products for an apparently healthy market.

According to National Statistics, demand for British-produced wood and wood products rose by 1.5% in June 2006, taking the annual increase to 1.9%. In the quarter to the end of June output was up by 0.9% and was 2.6% higher at the yearly rate. In 2007 it rose by 4.2%.

James Binning senses that within the new eco-economy in which wood enjoys particular attractions, his traditional
techniques, employed with modern machinery give him an advantage. Already, he does everything from felling or removal of timber through to finished items like window frames, doors and wood for hobbyists and joinery shops. He wants to handle the whole process for customers, acting as a single supplier, replacing several firms which each perform different procedures and which sometimes "use blunt saw blades,, tend to process wood too quickly and inevitably turn out poor finished products.

"Many employ wasteful equipment", he claims.

One ambition is to supply as many joinery shops around Oxford with finished timber as possible. Such customers –– like most of his clients –– want ready cured woods, although there are still some who require green wood, like one client who bends it into exotic ornamental structures and shapes.

However, now curing wood himself for the majority of his audiences not only avoids the undue time taken by air drying but it also eliminates the variable moisture contents that plagued him.

He bought a Wood-Mizer modular kiln kit for £4,295 and installed it in a 20-foot container on the place. Target was precise moisture content of 10-12 % and the meter shows he achieved it with the kiln, which took a couple of days to install.

"I wanted something neither expensive nor complicated.

"Indeed, the system’s easy to use.

"Although the drying process is based on the common heat/vent system, the complicated computer controls which are usual in these systems and which impose their own drying schedule onto the load being dried are absent.

"There’s no ‘magic’ in it, it’s a bit like driving a car, varying speed and braking to suit the conditions of a journey.

"I’m now thinking of getting a 40-foot container plus system to avoid waste on either end of some of my loads.

"It’s relatively simple and economical and I might even get a third container and modular system," he adds.

He also envisages drying cut timber for other sawyers, who he senses need such a simple economical service.

The drying process follows sawing round timber with three Stenners, a 60-inch band mill with accuracy to within 0.1mm, a resaw and a band rack. A Wadkin straight line edger with lasers takes care of edging the boards The sawn, dried wood is either sold on to furniture makers, DIY enthusiasts, builders and outside joinery shops or passes to James Binning’s own joinery shop. The joinery shop has several machines which can work to 0.0mil and cut to angles of 0.10 of a degree.

James Binning, whose family has farmed at Besselsleigh since the 1920s, claims he can do anything there including laminating ash & mahogany (and other species) for turning, particularly for the DIY sector.

He still sees himself in the initial stages and has many plans. Slab wood and waste will next year heat the farmhouse and offices from a chip boiler, he envisages. By the end of 2008 he plans to have engaged three personnel to speed the growth that the drying process spurred.

Although ‘Deep in Wood’ is independent of the farm, he still works with his father, especially during harvest. Furthermore, the farm workers help him remove particularly large trees, including some which weigh between seven and eight tonnes.

"We’ve got one partly diseased, 15-tonnes London plane tree, Platanus acerifolia, the felling and carting of which will certainly call for their help.

"I’m glad to say we can now cure that on the place", smiles James Binning.

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England, United Kingdom
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