Web Articles   Digital Editions
Digital Edition Archives

Brewco Inc. Builds a Modern Stave Mill for Brown-Forman
Brewco Inc. designed a state-of-the art stave mill capable of producing precision parts for barrel making. This facility cuts quartersawn white oak, which is a much more labor intensive process than conventional plain sawing. Find out how Brewco’s customized saw systems can tackle the most demanding jobs.

By Ed Brindley
Date Posted: 4/1/2013

The next time you sip a glass of good bourbon realize that wood has a lot to do with the unique flavor you enjoy. Wooden barrels used to age the bourbon give it a distinct flavor and are an example of how specialized wood products can revolutionize an industry.

                Brown-Forman Corp., a leading maker of distilled alcoholic beverages and wines including Jack Daniel’s® Tennessee Whiskey and Woodford Reserve® Bourbon, manufactures its own wooden barrels and the staves used to construct them. The process, much more involved than anything required to make pallets, focuses on quarter sawing of white oak to produce staves. Brown-Forman recently turned to Brewco Inc. to manufacture its newest stave line, which was installed last year in Stevenson, Ala.

                This new stave plant has two Brewco HRS-18 Stave Resaw Systems, which brings the total number of Brewco Stave Mills to around a dozen sold in the last five years or so. The majority of stave producers, including Brown-Forman, use two HRS-18 Stave Resaws in their plants. While Brewco has supplied several pieces of mill equipment to Brown-Forman in other locations, this installation represents the first time Brown-Forman has relied on Brewco to design, supply, and install the complete mill from end-to-end. 

                There is a total of 53 pieces of equipment. The debarker and chipper are supplied by different companies, while Brewco supplied 51 pieces, beginning with the log decks and log troughs, a seven-foot diameter merchandising saw, a log halving saw, a quartering saw, two resaw run-around systems, stave edgers, turntables, and a variety of essential material handling equipment.  This complete mill concept was designed by David Piper, a sales engineer and co-owner of Brewco.  David Piper, with over 40 years of industry experience worked closely with Brown-Forman over many months to conceive this layout which is centered around Brewco’s flagship resaw, the B-Series Resaws. The Brewco B-Series Resaws have developed a reputation of being able to successfully run a two-inch wide band blade, the widest blade that can be run and maintained without the aid of a saw filing room.

                Bill Hendrix of Brewco said, “A two-inch band can handle eight times the side load of a narrower one-inch blade.  This wider blade along with our patented floating guide create the ability

for this resaw to cut faster along wider width materials. Its production is

essentially the same as a wider band at a lower saw cost since an expensive saw blade filing is not necessary.:

                Hendrix added, “Our patented floating guide, which adjusts to the width of the lumber, is particularly important when sawing stave lumber because our floating guides are constantly adjusting between cuts—many times between four-inch to 18-inch wide material. Stave manufacturing requires constant adjustments to cutting widths, much different from making similar cuts from one cant to another as is often the case in pallet manufacturing.”

                Brown-Forman has existing stave mills, facilities that make barrel parts, but has found the need to increase barrel capacity. So, it turned to Brewco for a new stave mill. Brown-Forman’s existing cooperage plant is located in Louisville, Ken. , but its Jack Daniel’s® whiskey distillery is close to the Alabama line in Lynchburg, Tenn. Deciding to build its new stave mill closer to its Jack Daniel’s® distillery, Brown-Forman opened the new facility in Stevenson with state-of-the-art equipment.

                Both Brown-Forman and Brewco are members of the Associated Cooperage Industries of America, Inc. (ACIA), which was founded in 1934, and is located in Louisville Ky. The purpose of ACIA is to serve as a contact point for its members, distribute available information about the wooden barrel with an emphasis on white oak barrels, and promote the common interests of those in the industry. Its membership includes cooperage plants, producers of stave and heading materials, several distillers and vintners, and other firms throughout the world whose business interests are allied to the wooden barrel industry.

                ACIA members are manufacturers and dealers in new and used white oak barrels, kegs, planter barrels, bungs and French oak barrels, bourdon and wine barrels, barrel staves and headings, and specialty barrels.


Innovation Created by Accident

                Wooden barrels are a good example of specialized wood products. New oak barrels add up to 60% of the flavor to bourbon and 100% of the color. White oak is ideal for whiskey barrels because it won’t leak. Its cell structure is such that you can’t blow air through them. You can blow through red oak cells. In white oak, tylose plugs the cells so white oak makes tight barrels to effectively hold in the whiskey.

                American bourbon with its characteristic color and flavors was discovered by accident. Thanks to the Louisiana Purchase in the early 1800s, the United States gained access via the Mississippi River to ship whiskey from Kentucky past New Orleans and up to the Northeast. More than likely the charring actually started from bending the barrels into their characteristic shape.  The inside of the barrels were heated over open fires to bend the staves more easily into the shape of the barrel, which charred the inside of the barrel. 

                Clear whiskey was put inside the charred barrels and shipped up to the Northeast population centers. People quickly found out that charring added flavor and color to the whiskey and soon developed a preference for the red whiskey and started requesting it. Thus, it became standard to produce bourbon in charred barrels.


Brewco’s Bandsaw Design Works Well for Specialty Applications

                All whiskey, bourbon, and wine barrels are made from quartersawn white oak. Quarter sawing means cutting at a 90-degree angle from the growth rings. The grain on the face of a quartersawn board will be parallel lines that are straight, tight and run the length of the board.

                Structural benefits to quartersawn oak include less twisting, warping and cupping. And it does not allow liquids to pass through it – the primary benefit that quarter sawing provides for whiskey barrels.

                Quartersawn hardwoods are often associated with quality products. Cutting quartersawn material is more labor intensive than conventional plain sawing, and it yields less lumber. But the characteristics of the grain from quarter sawing make this style of cutting more attractive for applications where the beauty of the wood is important. In the case of barrels for spirits, quartersawn is preferred because of the nature of the grain. To quarter saw a log, a log has to first be cut into four quarters. A board will then be cut off of one of the two flat faces; then the next board will be cut from the opposite flat face. The sawing process alternates between the two faces.

                Quarter sawing is somewhat more difficult to do than just sawing a log across the grain into slabs, and it produces considerably more wood fiber waste than other sawing techniques. The waste ratio of quarter sawing white oak logs into barrel staves is about 47%, but the whiskey and bourbon making process requires quartersawn material to take advantage of the structural characteristics of the wood needed for stave material.

                The face of a barrel stave goes across the growth rings instead of parallel to them. Quartersawn oak for barrel staves requires wood that is free of defects and has the sapwood removed. So, sawn staves go through a sap edger and then a heart edger to complete the resawing steps required to produce staves that are no more than 5-1/2-inch wide.

                Quarter sawing is accomplished in a smooth manner. A log section reverses its direction with each pass through the sawing system. The shorter face is always placed flat on the conveyor. This way the portion of the log closest to the heart stays next to the fence. This process helps maintain the structural characteristics desired in quarter sawing white oak.

                Due to the high waste ratio naturally involved in the stave manufacturing process, it is critical that the bandsaw make extremely accurate cuts at high speeds. This is an ideal situation for Brewco’s

B-Series two-inch band resaws.

                Brewco was the pioneer of a two-inch band resaw. While many sawing machinery manufacturers have stuck with one-inch and 1-1/4-inch wide bandsaw blades, Brewco has stressed the speed and accuracy you can get with its saws that run two-inch bands. It has a patented floating guide system, massive 40-inch diameter wheels, a 75 hp motor, a cogged belt drive, 12,000 lb. oil filled heavy duty hubs, an all hydraulic drive with automated feed speed adjustment, a 45° hydraulic driven hold down system, 18”x18” cutting capacity, and an easy to use cartridge style pressure guide system.

                Brewco has a video of its HRS-18 stave resaw system running at C.B. Robinson Stave Company on YouTube. You can see some of the features discussed above on the internet. Brewco says this system averages over 90 lineal feet of staves a minute. Hendrix said, “Our HRS-18 Stave Resaw cuts 10,000 staves a day with no problem. Quarter sawing is popular for some applications such as whiskey barrel staves because of the grain in the wood.”


New Stevenson Plant Overview

                White oak logs first go through a Precision debarker and then move through a Brewco 7’diameter chop saw merchandizing package to be cut to the logs to the desired length. The bark and wood residue goes through a hog to a dust bin before being sold for boiler fuel. The cut-to-length logs proceed through an opening in the wall inside to the stave plant. Each log section goes through a Brewco halving saw, the second of many Brewco manufactured saws, resaws, edgers, and trim saws that Brewco includes in its stave mill system. These log halves, cut through the heart, are then conveyed to Brewco quartering saws where they are cut into two log quarters, called bolts. Barrel staves are one of the wooden products that require a log to be quartersawn. Quarter sawing is somewhat more difficult to do than just sawing a log across the grain into slabs and produces considerably more wood fiber waste than other sawing techniques.

                Since quartersawn oak requires wood from specific layers of the tree, sawn staves go through a sap edger and then a heart edger to complete the resawing steps required when producing staves that are no more than 51/2-inch wide.

                Scraps from the two resawing and ripping stages go down a waste conveyor to a Precision chipper. The short pieces that are used to make up the barrel tops and bottoms, which are called “headings”, go to a turntable on the floor to be inspected and stacked. Rejected pieces from both turntables move by conveyor to a waste conveyor which services residue from the resaws, edgers, and sortation tables. An elevated turntable serves as a rework area. The quality requirements for staves require that some pieces be reworked to avoid sap wood, splits, knots, etc. So, the rework station at this turntable has another edger and a double end-trim saw to be used as needed.

                From the log infeed deck through the rework table, the entire system requires about nine people, not including forklift drivers and lumber stackers. One of the most interesting aspects of this entire system is the attention to materials handling. In particular, the turntables in the stave resaw systems are designed so that a sawn stave board is taken off the bottom of a bolt, while the remaining log section turns around and comes back to the resaw operator in such a fashion that the log has been turned end-for-end when it returns to the operator. He can then lay the log section down on its shorter face before it goes back through the two-inch bandsaw.

                The established Louisville cooperage plant uses white oak grown in Missouri, Arkansas, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia. Brown-Forman’s new stave mill, which is running in northern Alabama, will bring in white oak logs from the surrounding areas of north Alabama, northwest Georgia and southeast Tennessee.                   


Brown-Forman Barrels and Products

                Brown-Forman was founded in 1870 in Louisville, Ken. Its well-known brands include Jack Daniel’s®, Southern Comfort®, Finlandia® Vodka, Woodford Reserve® Bourdon, Canadian Mist®Whiskey, Early Times®, Old Forester®, Korbel® champagne and Chambord® Liqueur. 

                In order to control quality and cost, Brown-Forman is the only distiller that makes its own wooden barrels, which we have seen are an important element in the distillery process. Barrel staves are made from high grade, tight grain, slow growth, quartersawn American white oak. Oak used for barrel staves is straight, free from knots, and seasoned by drying naturally in the open air for between six to nine months. The sun, wind, and rain help the wood mature. At the cooperage, the staves are trimmed into a double taper and set on their ends within an iron hoop. The coopers alternate between narrow and wide staves around the hoop to build strength and structure. A strong stave is chosen to be drilled in its center for a bung hole. A barrel typically has about 33 staves, approximately 36 inches long, about an inch thick and various widths.

                Mike Goldston, president of Brewco Inc., worked closely with the corporate office of the publicly-traded company Brown-Forman to ensure its satisfaction with the compliance of the various legal, accounting, and safety issues.


The Barrel Making Process

                Barrels have historically been used to store and transport both dry goods and liquids such as wine and alcoholic spirits. Dry goods barrels are often made from pine, while wine and whiskey barrels are made from white oak. Cooperage, the art of barrel making, is a very old skill. The barrel making process has changed very little over more than two millennia. Wine or whiskey barrels are made from staves which are assembled and shaped into a bulging cylinder with flat heads or ends. Metal hoops, usually galvanized for wine barrels and steel for whiskey barrels, hold the staves in place.

                U.S. law requires that “Bourbon whiskey” must be stored for at least two years in new, charred white oak barrels. Bourbon has to be at least 51% corn and aged in new oak barrels. The process of distilling bourbon uses iron-free water.

                The wood is cut into staves which are super heated and bent into ovular form. The barrel is then toasted by a fire to caramelize the sugar in the wood. The barrels are fired to burn out the inside and produce a charcoal crust layer inside. An even char contributes to the consistency of the flavor. The barrel is filled at the distillery, closed with a bung in the bung hole and transported to the warehouses to age for a minimum of two years. When the temperature rises in the summer, the liquid expands into the inner layers of the barrel, and with lower winter temperatures, it moves back into the barrel. This constant movement of the liquid into and out of the barrel contributes to its amber color and taste. The white oak barrel is a very important part of the whole bourbon making process.

                When the golden bourbon is removed from the barrels after aging, the barrels are sold for a variety of other options. Many are sold in Europe where they are reused to make Scotch and Irish whiskey, rums in Jamaica, and tequilas in Mexico. They are not reused for aging bourbon, which by law requires new white oak barrels.

                For more information on Brown-Forman, visit their website at www.brown-forman.com.  For more information on the history of the stave industry, visit the American Cooperage Industry of America at www.acia.net.

                For more information on Brewco and equipment for the pallet industry, visit their website at www.brewcoinc.com, or call their office at 800/237-6880.

Do you want reprints or a copyright license for this article?   Click here

Research and connect with suppliers mentioned in this article using our FREE ZIP Online service.