GENERAL ARTICLES

Save That Sawdust f

CHARLES LUGRIN SHAW November 1 1933
GENERAL ARTICLES

Save That Sawdust f

CHARLES LUGRIN SHAW November 1 1933

Save That Sawdust f

CHARLES LUGRIN SHAW

Tells bow B.C.'s lumber industry bus reformed and profited

BOUT the only thing we haven’t changed in the lumber business these last few years is the tree.” The clean-cut young logging superintendent,

whose college accent and neat attire would have brought jeers from an old-time lumber crew but whose knowledge of the timber industries would have overwhelmed the master woodsmen of an earlier day. looked down on the model town described inadequately as Camp Ten and added with a smile:

"We’ve even tried to change the tree, but bucking Nature is kind of a tough projxisition.”

A tough proposition, but that wouldn't necessarily deter the modem lumberman of British Columbia. He is accustomed to that sort of thing; thrives on it. The things he has done to what used to l>e a rather devil-may-care and ruthless industry, in which the chief participants were uncouth giants with more brawn than brain, are numerous and revolutionary.

"We've got a new metlxxl for pretty nearly everything,” said the superintendent. “The whole idea, of course, is to speed up production although right now that isn't so vital —to eliminate waste and, naturally enough, to save money. We're making progress all right.”

Lumbering, as a matter of fact, needed to make progress. For many years it was the bad boy of industry. The incessant spur of competition made lumbermen do some very foolish things; made them push production to a point where they soon found themselves with a topheavy load of unsaleable products and heart-breaking deficits. Out in British Columbia, where more sawn lumber is produced

than in all the other provinces combined, where lumber is the prime factor in business stability with a $90,000,000 revenue in normal years, the industry has been jolted unmercifully since the slump began. Saw-mills, shingle mills, pulp and paper mills, logging tamps and other forest enterprises rode the bumps until they were almost groggy. But they are all pioneers, these lumbermen, and at a time when there is imperative need for the pioneering spirit and the willingness to try new processes when the old ones have failed, they haven’t been too proud to reform.

Short-cuts to Economy

EVEN THE operations that seem most simple to the layman have afforded many short-cuts to economy. The lumberman, for instance, lias found that there are many ways of cutting a tree. The two big Swedes with a crosscut saw and a can of oil have been replaced by an amazingly efficient gasoline-driven saw that makes short business of tiie widest, toughest trunk. Even the muchcriticized high-lead system of logging appears to be slated for the discard, not because the altruistic lumbermen r.avz listened too sympathetically to the plea of "Woodman. spare that tree!" but because they are beginning to wonder whether the high-lead system is good business.

"Too wasteful," explained the logging engineer. "Even

the most skilful operators find it’s pretty hard to control a forty-foot log swinging at the end of a wire. The log smashes into the young growth while the cable is hauling it in and kills your coming crop. It was all right back in the days when the whole idea was to get out your logs and to blazes with the cost. But your present-day logging boss has to think of the future, and he knows he can’t do what the old-timers did when their stand of timber was all cut down. He can’t just pull up stakes and move on to the next ridge.”

The engineer pointed to a fleet of roaring steel juggernauts tumbling over the rough ground like peace-time tanks.

“Those caterpillar tractors are the latest system,” he said. “You'll find them in the woods all over the Pacific Northwest. When they wanted to make a quick clean-up of logs in the Olympic peninsula during the war, someone had a hunch that tractors would do the trick. Well, they’ve been on the job in this Douglas fir country ever since. One of these machines will do more work in an hour than a whole herd of bulls in a day, and in many operations they’re displacing the overhead cable system, too. The beauty of the caterpillars is that they’ll go anywhere. They just crawl through the woods to the place where timber has been felled, grip the logs like an octopus would a fish, and then they’re on their way again. Sometimes they save the cost of building logging railroads, which is always a big item in a logger’s costs.

“We have a special kind of tractor to build logging roads. We call them bulldozers. They just plough into any sort of ground and grade a road faster than anything yet invented. But I suppose that some day. judging by the way things are going, some logging boss with an original turn

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of mind will hit on an even better way. And then you’ll see the bulldozers only in the museum together with the ox-team, the donkey-engine and the wood-burning locomotive. And speaking of wood-burners, the sawmill that doesn’t operate by electricity will soon be hopelessly out-of-date. All the big, new plants in British Columbia are electrically driven now.”

Profit From Waste

“THE DEMON WASTE has been mock| ing the lumber business for many years, but now he is on the run Out in a British Columbia pulp mill you will see a process of complete civilization that would shame even the Chicago packers who used to brag about using every product of the porker but the squeal. You will see a machine known as the barker—incidentally, the largest in the world -grab a huge log as you might a piece of matchwood, twirl it around and peel it clear of bark, then pass it along to other mechanical devices that convert the timber into a thick pasty pulp—all within a few minutes without the touch of a human hand.

“Before we had the barker working for us.” explained the mill manager, “we had a gang of men on the barking job and even then there were parts of the tree we couldn’t use at all. But now—-well, there’s practically nothing in the tree that we don’t turn into pulp.”

At another pulp mill you will see a different phase of progress in the West Coast forest industries.

“The world is always looking for something better,” said the vice-president of this company. “It’s our business to find it. British Columbia’s fruits, dairy produce,canned salmon, sugar and other products have been shipped out exclusively in wooden boxes in the past. We’re not trying to pick a fight with the wooden box people, because the wooden box has a big field and is entitled to it, but some manufacturers thought there ought to be a better way to i pack their goods—a lighter, more convenient j container. Well, we’re solving their I problem.”

j He pointed to a seemingly endless sheet of drying pulp running through the rollers I like a bolt of giant’s ribbon. “We call that ¡fibre board,” he said. “When it’s dry' we j cut it to blanket size and ship it down to ! our converting mills in Vancouver. It’s

made up into cartons there—all sizes and shapes. We have found a big market waiting for them, and a few months ago the fibre board container, made in the West, was unknown out here.”

Nowadays not so much is left to chance in the lumber business. Lumber and its related industries have become more exacting. Instead of relying solely on loggers and millworkers. the lumberman and pulpman today call in research men. chemists, statisticians and engineers. Old Captain Stamp, who built the first sawmill in British Columbia back in the ’sixties, knew nothing of the modern lumberman’s problems. The tools he used were the jackscrew, singlebitted axe and wedges— crude implements. When the pioneer lumberman cruised the virgin hills of British Columbia he recorded his inventory while visualizing products such as ships’ masts, spars and timbers, dimension timber and similar items. He simply took the tree and dressed it down to something he could use.

“But today the lumberman of the new generation has a conception of the tree and possibilities far different, far fuller than his predecessor had. He regards the tree as an amazing piece of Nature’s chemistry and mechanical engineering. The lumberman of today is no longer satisfied when, with all the accumulated knowledge of sawmill operation, he has cut out of the tree all the commercial items of lumber. He gathers up the trimmings and makes wood pulp out of them. He collects the odd and formerly unsaleable pieces in his mill and makes flooring blocks, furniture and broom handles out of them. He conserves the sawdust and bark and shavings, and makes steam and electric power.”

According to the experts, applied chemistry will play an important part in the expansion of the forest industries in future. Lumber so treated, they say, will be proof against decay, fire, insect damage, shrinkage and expansion. The industry will deal more and more with wood pulp and cellulose— that mysterious substance of wood about which chemists are now finding interesting facts of enormous commercial value.

Valuable By-Products

1 UMBER will be much more completely

I_refined, seasoned and fabricated before

shipment,” predicted one authority the other day. “The business will become more and more of a diversified wood conversion industry and less of an exclusively sawmill and planing-mill business. More lumber will go into industrial purposes and less into building. 1 expect to see the day when the products of a permanently renewable forest, instead of being as now the favorite target of substitutes, will themselves become a substitute for the less favored and irreplaceable inorganic materials. Wood, in the diversified physical form and its pulp and chemical derivatives, is capable of being the most useful of all the materials of industry.”

It has been estimated that the resin, turpentine, alcohol, oil, tar, chemicals, pulp stock and other materials that under the old system were thrown on the lumber mill’s scrap-heap or burned as refuse are worth three times as much as the lumber produced.

Cellulose, of course, is a product of both farm and forest, but wood cellulose is suitable for the most exacting purposes and it has a much wider range and greater flexibility of fibre than cellulose from other sources—greater compactness in its raw material forms for convenient transportation, storage and handling. And trees can be left in the woods until needed; there is no forced annual harvesting.

The most spectacular infant industry in the textile world is rayon or artificial silk, and rayon is chemically treated cellulose. Less than thirty years ago the process for its manufacture was purchased in the United States for $2,500. It would be difficult to compute the millions of dollars that the rayon industry represents today, but half the pulp used in the manufacture of rayon yn this continent comes from Canadian crees. Another amazing new industry based

on cellulose is the manufacture of Cellophane. also dependent cn Canadian woods.

Nor is that all. Economists predict that within thirty years the plastics industry will rival steel, and here is another enterprise based on the use of wood, with products as varied as buttons and Corinthian columns. Other derivatives of wood cellulose are artificial cotton that is described as more cottony than cotton itself: artificial leather scarcely distinguishable from the hide product: a hard “rubber” and an unbreakable “glass.” These products and their relationship to the lumber industry are. thanks to the co-operation of chemists and technical experts, among the reasons for the lumbermen’s assurance of a return to prosperity.

Another reason is lignin. Of the fundamental characteristics of lignin, very little so far is known. Millions of tons of it, at great expense, are annually taken into the pulp and paper mills and flow out of them with the wastes, because no one has yet learned its properties and uses and how to control them.

“Think of the revolutionary advantages which lumber and wood products would enjoy if, at a reasonable cost, lumber on a large scale was simultaneously made fireproof, rot-proof, insect-proof, shrink-proof and warp-proof,” says Roscoe M. Brown, superintendent of the forest products laboratory of British Columbia. “That is by no means a fantastic dream. Scientific research is already at the outskirts of exactly this sort of achievement.”

Lastly, how about the future supply of raw materials? If the fire menace can be controlled—and scientific engineering is making progress here as well as in other departments of forestry by means of humidity charts, weather forecasts and other forms of preparedness—the experts assure us that if progressive policies of conservation are adopted, there is nô cause for worry.

“Out here in British Columbia most of our production has been concerned with Douglas fir,” says Chief Forester P. Z. Caverhill. “Douglas fir provided the big trees, conveniently located near tidewater for low-cost handling. But the years of the big Douglas fir era are definitely numbered. The whole industry will be eventually concentrated on species now neglected. The fact that these latter species have not formed the bulk of our output in past years gives no indication of their extent. And it should not be accepted as an indication of inferior quality either. It may cost more to handle them, but there will be less waste. There will be two tendencies in the future policy—one to conserve the growing forest by cutting according to actual needs, the other to make the most of our raw material in the process of manufacturing.”

One of the objectives of the West Coast newsprint industry is to find a means of utilizing a greater proportion of hemlock. Spruce, of course, is the basic wood for pulping purposes in the West as in the East. But in British Columbia there are vast stands of hemlock; not so much spruce. With characteristic ingenuity the ratio of hemlock in pulp-making is gradually being increased, and as a result the life of the industry is being extended for generations — just one more example of how science and engineering have formed profitable partnership with the forest industries.