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Kiln Drying Timber: An Insight Into The Process

An Introduction To Drying Timber

Over the years we’ve seen our fair share of kilns: the ‘ovens’ at the heart of every brilliant sawmill. There is an art and science to the successful running of these hangar sized ovens to ensure prized timber, and nothing less, is achieved each and every time. Live edge tables, featuring natural and rustic beauty, have become an obsession of ours here at L’Atelier Mata. To create these stunning pieces, hardwood slabs must undergo a meticulous kiln drying process. In this blog post, we will delve into the science behind kiln drying hardwood slabs, exploring the principles and techniques that ensure their stability, durability, and suitability for live edge table production. By understanding the science behind kiln drying, you can make informed decisions, optimize the quality of your slabs, and deliver exceptional products to your customers.

The Science Of Drying Timber

Once cut timber slabs undergo two to three summers stacked outside to gradually season the timber and bring down moisture levels prior to the kilning process. Kiln drying is a crucial next step in the processing of hardwood slabs, as it eliminates excess moisture, kills off insect activity, stabilizes the wood, and minimizes the risk of warping, splitting, or other defects. By reducing the moisture content, kiln drying enhances the strength, density, and dimensional stability of the wood, allowing it to withstand changes in humidity and temperature more effectively. For this very reason only the most exerienced operative, often with decades of exerience, is chosen by the sawmill to undertake the work – in most situations it is the sawmill owner her/himself!

The Science Behind Kiln Drying: The kiln drying process involves a careful balance of heat, humidity, and airflow to achieve optimal results. Several scientific principles come into play during this process.

Moisture Content and Equilibrium Moisture Content (EMC): Moisture content (MC) refers to the amount of water present in wood, typically expressed as a percentage of the wood’s weight. Kiln drying aims to reduce the moisture content to a desired level. Equilibrium moisture content (EMC) refers to the moisture content at which wood reaches a balance with the surrounding environment. The target moisture content for hardwood slabs used in live edge tables is usually around 6-8%.

Drying Schedule: A drying schedule outlines the specific temperature, humidity, and time parameters required for optimal drying. It is essential to follow a carefully designed drying schedule to ensure uniform drying and minimize the risk of defects. The schedule typically involves three stages: the initial heating phase, the main drying phase, and the conditioning phase.

Heat and Moisture Transfer: Heat and moisture transfer occur simultaneously during kiln drying. The heat energy raises the temperature inside the kiln, increasing the vapor pressure of the moisture in the wood. This pressure gradient drives moisture movement from the wood’s interior towards the surface. Proper airflow and ventilation ensure the removal of evaporated moisture from the kiln, preventing reabsorption and promoting efficient drying.

Wood Structure and Stress Relief: The structure of wood consists of long cellulose fibers embedded in a matrix of lignin. During the kiln drying process, as moisture is removed, the shrinking and rearrangement of wood fibers can create internal stresses. These stresses, if not relieved properly, can lead to warping or cracking. Conditioning, the final phase of kiln drying, allows the wood to rest and equilibrate, minimizing residual stress.

Monitoring and Control: To ensure successful kiln drying, precise monitoring and control of temperature, humidity, and airflow are paramount. Modern kilns are equipped with sensors and controllers that continuously measure and adjust these parameters, providing a controlled drying environment. In the careful introduction of heat, moisture and airflow the operator expertly creates premium quality slabs over 4 to 6 weeks of careful work!

What Can Go Wrong?

There are several things that can go wrong during the kiln drying process, leading to potential issues with the wood. Here are some problems that can occur:

  1. Uneven drying: If the drying process is not carefully controlled, there is a risk of uneven drying within the wood. This can result in stress build-up, warping, or cracking. Proper air circulation and temperature control are crucial to ensure uniform drying.
  2. Overdrying: Excessive heat or prolonged drying can cause the wood to become overly dry, leading to brittleness, increased susceptibility to cracking, and potential damage to its structural integrity. It’s essential to monitor the drying process closely to avoid over-drying.
  3. Case hardening: Case hardening occurs when the outer layer of wood dries too quickly, forming a hard shell while the interior remains moist. This creates tension within the wood, which can lead to warping, splitting, or checking. Proper drying schedules and moisture content monitoring can help prevent case hardening.
  4. Internal stresses: Wood contains internal stresses that can be released or exacerbated during the drying process. Improper drying conditions or rapid moisture removal can cause these stresses to manifest as warping, twisting, or cupping in the wood.
  5. Mould and fungal growth: If the kiln is not properly ventilated or if the drying conditions are not adequately controlled, there is a risk of mould and fungal growth on the wood. This can degrade the quality of the wood, affect its appearance, and potentially lead to health hazards.
  6. Insect infestation: If the wood being dried already contains insect larvae or eggs, inadequate temperature control or insufficient drying time can result in the survival of these pests. This can lead to insect infestation and subsequent damage to the wood.

Conclusion

Kiln drying timber is a scientifically driven process that optimizes hardwood slabs for live edge table production. By carefully managing heat, humidity, and airflow, kiln drying eliminates excess moisture, enhances wood properties, and reduces the risk of defects. Understanding the science behind kiln drying enables the sawmill to produce high-quality slabs, achieve dimensional stability, and deliver exceptional products to their customers (us in this case). Embracing the principles of kiln drying ensures that the natural beauty of live edge tables is combined with durability and longevity so that each table truly will last a lifetime..

What goes into sourcing timber for the finest waney edge slabs?

sawmill trip timber selection

Sourcing Timber: The Art Of The Hunt

Sourcing exquisite timber is paramount in creating our signature waney-edge dining tables. Our commitment to quality and craftsmanship drives us to go the extra mile in finding the perfect wood for each unique piece – and the extra mile often leads us to continental Europe. In this blog post, we invite you to explore our world and understand how we source and transform rough diamonds into works of art.

We invest time researching, visiting remote mills, and establishing connections with trusted suppliers. Timber, like any other crop, is cultivated for maximum bulk and uniformity so that the modern commercial sawmills can mill in the most efficient fashion. However, commercial forestry goals don’t always align with our artisanal needs as so many details are removed in the pursuit of speed (and profit). Throughout the life cycle of trees, they are managed to prioritise many criteria such as growth rate, straightness, and minimal branching etc. Unique characteristics such as movement, excessive branching, or slower growth are often seen as defects and removed. However, we value and celebrate these unique characteristics in our live-edge tables, so it’s so important to source by eye for every single piece we craft.

Our job is to uncover hidden gems with unconventional beauty. With over a decade of experience, we appreciate that our creative journey begins with selecting raw materials. When we unveil these raw boards to our clients, their initial reaction is often a gasp of disbelief, struggling to comprehend how we transform rough pieces of wood into exquisite tables. While our chapter begins at the sawmill, it’s essential to recognise the incredible individuals whose chapter ends here – the family run sawmills and the forestry team before them.

Each mill visit always leaves us with immense admiration for their skills and deep respect for the timber that binds us together. By establishing strong relationships with these mills, we have direct access to their kiln-dried stock, handpicking only the finest boards for our bespoke tables. This ensures exceptional quality and craftsmanship in each piece we create.

Leveraging our expertise in identifying standout boards, we skillfully highlight their unique characteristics, allowing clients to witness the remarkable beauty that lies beneath the surface. Transparency is woven into every step of our process. We engage our customers in every aspect, from sharing stories about timber origins to involving them in the design process, fostering a deep connection between clients and the natural materials we work with.

As we source timber for our furniture, we embrace the understanding that no two pieces will ever be identical, yet each holds its own distinct beauty. Selecting and procuring wood allows us to discover hidden treasures within. Each log tells a story, and it is our role as artisans to bring that story to life in a tangible and meaningful way.

Once kiln dried, our skilled craftsmen shape and craft the table with precision, considering the unique features and contours of the wood. Attention to detail is paramount, from the smoothness of the table’s surface to the perfect alignment of the live edges. Our craftsmen bring their expertise and passion to exceed our clients’ expectations. Throughout the creation process, we pay close attention to every detail, setting us apart and allowing us to create exceptional pieces. A protective finish enhances the wood’s natural beauty and ensures long-lasting durability. This step adds a lustrous sheen and safeguards the table against everyday wear and tear, ensuring enjoyment for generations to come.

In conclusion, sourcing timber is a labour of love and a critical part of our creative process. We journey across Europe in search of hidden treasures with the unique character and beauty we value. By prioritising craftsmanship, attention to detail, and establishing close relationships with trusted suppliers, we create remarkable works of art.

L’Atelier Mata Live Edge Tables: What Makes Them Unique?

oak bench on copper paints hex legs

What makes L’Atelier Mata live edge tables unique? As a discerning reader, it’s only natural to wonder what sets Mata apart. At Mata, we are dedicated to constantly elevating our craftsmanship and presenting designs of the utmost quality. Our passion for excellence is reflected in every piece we create, from the premium materials we use to the exceptional finishes and techniques we employ. When you choose Mata, you can trust that you’re not just investing in a piece of furniture, but in a one-of-a-kind heirloom that will become a cherished family focal point for generations to come. Our commitment to exceptional service and care only adds to the overall Mata experience, making it a truly unparalleled choice for the luxury lifestyle.

wood stack of slabs

Timber Sourcing For L'Atelier Mata Live Edge Tables

At Mata, we understand that when it comes to live edge furniture, not all timber is created equal. This is why we have made it our mission to source only the finest and most premium woods for our bespoke furniture pieces. We take great care in our selection process, traveling far and wide to the best sawmills across Europe and the United States to find the perfect slabs for our tables.

One of the things that sets us apart is that we handpick each piece of timber based on its unique character and beauty. This often leads us to the sawmills of France, Germany, and Pennsylvania where the local communities have been properly managing their forests for generations. Our visits to these mills are always an adventure, as we spend hours sifting through logs in search of the pieces that truly speak to us. Although it can be a tiresome process, the reward of discovering that special slab makes it all worth it.

At these family-run mills, the experts focus on one species of tree at a time, perfecting their unique substance through years of experience and care. Each species is treated differently, depending on where it was felled and how it was cut. Once the slabs are harvested, they undergo a rigorous drying process that can take several years. They are first dried outdoors, which allows the timber to cure and stabilize, before spending months in kilns where they dry slowly to become furniture-grade material.

It is only after this extensive process that we make our selection and begin the build process. Our commitment to using only the finest materials and our dedication to the craft of furniture-making is what sets us apart as a leader in luxury furniture.

The Crafting Culture

We believe crafting by hand materially improves the beauty of the live edge tables we make – the human hand with hand-tools elevates our pieces from functional items into works of art. The human element from conception, to sourcing and then making is so very importent to us that it will never change and each bespoke creation is imbued with this belief. The timber from each species, even from each tree within speices, can vary to such a degree that the human hand is truly the very best tool when it comes to being worked, being sculpted.

curved table joint hand drawn
spray finish on oak table

Material Finishing L'Atelier Mata Live Edge Tables

Our table production finishing processes are a testament to our commitment to producing only the finest furnishings. Each piece of timber is meticulously hand-sprayed to achieve the perfect levels of coating, ensuring that no detail is overlooked. Our table bases are powder coated and carefully baked to the ideal temperature for the ideal duration, creating a flawless and consistent finish that exudes luxury. Our metallic finishes are masterfully applied by skilled artisans who understand the nuances of the desired result, professionally bathing each piece to ensure a rich, shimmering finish that radiates sophistication and elegance.

It's a family thing

At the heart of our business lies a deep-rooted passion for crafting beautiful and functional furniture. Our company is a proud family-run enterprise, with the mantle of selecting only the finest timber and creating each piece of furniture passed down through generations. Nishma and Toby, the current custodians of this legacy, are dedicated to maintaining the highest standards of excellence in every aspect of our work. With their expert eye for detail and commitment to quality, they will continue to select the finest materials and craft stunning tables that will endure the test of time.

oak bench on copper paints hex legs

For all of our tables, just take a browse around our shop – there are finished pieces to check out, or simply get in touch to ask for a bespoke quotation. If you have any questions at all, take a look at our FAQS, or feel free to contact us.

What reclaimed wood do we use in our furniture?

Rustic reclaimed wood dining table with metal legs. Sustainable dining table made from reclaimed wood

Reclaimed wood has hit the big time in the furniture world, and for good reason. As Ikea continues to take the world by storm, a certain section of the market is reacting by demanding more character, more individuality in their furniture, which reclaimed is guaranteed to provide. But what does it all mean? How do you know you’re still getting a quality piece of wood?

reclaimed cargo train boards

What is reclaimed wood?

‘Reclaimed’ simply means that the wood has been repurposed or salvaged from another use. Typically this includes floorboards, old beams, barn cladding, railway sleepers, or pallets.

In our case, we stumbled right on a pile of wood just crying out to be rescued, at the foot of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. We’d been contacted by a bunch of architectural salvage guys, who had stripped the flooring from a group of decommissioned boxcar freight trains and were hunting for a buyer. We, quite gladly, snapped it up.

Boxcar Timber

Boxcar trains became popular in the early 1900s (you’ll recognise them from Western movies – or the opening sequence of Toy Story 3, if you’re a little younger!), when the iconic design became instrumental in shipping all kinds of large items up and down the American railroads. The wildly everchanging weather across the state lines meant that the previous flatbed style of transportation swiftly needed to grow a few more walls to keep everything safely protected! Enter: The Box Car.

To us, the floorboards taken from these trains are simply majestic. Each board is at least 50mm thick, with rich scarring, indentations and bolt holes that secured the flooring to the chassis. When raw and untouched, you’d never know the beauty underneath; they’re so utterly covered in a thick layer of grime, but a quick sand will reveal all of their secrets.

reclaimed tabletop on chrome legs

Quality Still Matters

In the boom of reclaimed, it’s important to consider the quality of the wood – just as you would with anything new. Unlike railway sleepers, or some external timber cladding that you often see used for reclaimed furniture – boxcar wood is as dry as any other furniture grade timber. This means that there’s less risk of the wood twisting and cracking over time once it’s in your home – so it’ll last as long as you want it to.

Discover the Character

The second thing that we like to keep in mind is the character ingrained in the wood. Not all reclaimed timber is created equal – and although old oak beams may be aged by time, they’re a little lacking in their ability to tell a good story. We fell in love with Boxcar wood because it’s been through decades of hard work – and it shows it. It’s as if it’s speaking a language that you’re desperate to understand, and yet unable to translate – which we believe is a non-negotiable feature for reclaimed wood.

reclaimed tabletop

For all of our Boxcar tables, just take a browse around our shop – there are finished pieces to check out, or simply get in touch to ask for a bespoke quotation.

If you have any questions at all, take a look at our FAQS, or feel free to contact us.