An unrelated switch from bought-in timbers to in-house sawmilling has allowed Britain's leading boat building college to extend its curriculum.
Students now follow the arrival of logs of selected species through to launching the vessels. The switch to in-house sawing also gives the college more flexibility, improved quality of timbers and an opportunity to branch out modestly into retail timber.
Another benefit is the ability to stock green timber which it needs for 20% of boat construction. Generally, local sawmills are unable to trade in sawn green timbers.
With the best will in the world the sawmills which have served the college for 33 years cannot commercially provide the combination of boat timber improvements which follows adoption of a thin kerf sawing technology.
The International Boatbuilding Training College
at Oulton Broad, Suffolk now brings accurate, good quality, consistent boards to each build at reasonable cost.
"There used to be some frustrations when manufacturing and restoring up to 33 vessels that w
e work on at any one time", says college director, Nat Wilson.
"Sometimes we required good, clean, straight, boat-skin quality larch with few or if possible no knots but we couldn't find it easily.
"Timber quality is crucial in boat building. It has to be clean, knot free and straight grained for planking, keels, decking, timbers (or ribs) etc.
"The way it is sawn such as quarter sawn for decking or rift sawn for timbers matters a lot", he adds.
The college which opened in 1975 has for the past twelve months converted green oak, larch, douglas fir plus a small amount of ash, holm oak and sycamore logs into boards, mostly wavy edged but occasionally sawn edged. The key came in the form of a small, easy-to-learn thin kerf band sawmill which turns out good quality boards to required dimensions up to 70cm in diameter and 5.4 metres long. It is fitted with a system called 'Setworks' which pre-sets sawing for required dimensions and positions a log to the cutting head for the next cut.
The 15 hp petrol driven (there are diesel and electric versions too) LT15 Wood-Mizer mill has t
he same band blades and blade guide systems as its bigger, semi-industrial versions which can produce thousands of tons of pallet wood a year.
A 2.7 metres bed extension complements the standard 2.7 bed allowing long logs to be sawed.
The college converts 15 tons p.a. before using it for craft of 24 varying designs and constructions from large seagoing yachts to small dinghies.
It has now begun to expand its sawing operations by building up stocks of joinery and selling some, which could increase materials turnover modestly. The saw's versatility and ability to produce good quality lumber are regarded as most important by the college.
With simple modifications the college has found it can resaw boards, getting two seven-eighths of an inch boards from one two-inch board as well as cut curved timber.When a pile of logs arrive the best use can be ma
de of them as and when desired.
There is also a satisfying, environmental benefit. Unlike on a band sawmill like the college's new machine, the kerf of circular
blade sawmills is from six to nine millimetres whereas most bandsaws have a 3-4mm kerf.
Actually, Wood-Mizer narrow band sawmills enjoy a 2-3mm kerf, the smallest available for round log conversion. That means less sawdust and usually an extra board from each log. Broadly speaking, such a narrow band sawmill achieves about 0.68m3 sawn production from a 61cm x 3m log, compared with about 0.43m3 with a typical circular saw.
The college's mill operates for an average of two days a week, with ten band blades being sharpened and reset every one or two months by Wood-Mizer. Wood-Mizer's 'DoubleHard' blades which are made to saw almost any wood, are used.
Principal operator is ex-farmer and former student of six years, John Facer who makes furniture in his spare time. Three other staff are trained to use the mill. John Facer explains:
"We like to buy timber 'in the round' because it stays greener longer, it's easy to saw boards from it at short notice, it costs less and importantly, students witness the entire conversion process, except felling.
"We also buy-in 'crooks' or bends which we use for the bendy bits on, for example, a stem, floors or deck beams.
"The Wood-Mizer band sawmill is our main saw and we also have a Logosol chainsaw for breaking down very large logs before they go onto the band sawmill.
"An old, grey Massey Ferguson tractor hoists particularly heavy pieces onto the bed of the mill", concludes John Facer. Some students operate the band sawmill, closely supervised by John Facer or other members of staff.
"The new band sawmill has in effect enhanced the quality of the wooden components in our boats, cut costs a bit and definitely extended the educational programme", Nat Wilson concludes.Brian Hind, UK