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Vermont Company Focused on Flooring
Lathrop Maple Supply Likes Energy Efficiency, Easy Operation of Nova Dry Kilns
By Richard Buell
Date Posted: 7/1/2007
BRISTOL, Vermont — Tom Lathrop has been in the sawmill business since – well, practically since he was born right around the corner from Lathrop Maple Supply LLC.
Tom comes from a family with long ties to the forest products industry. His father worked in the forestry products industry, as did Tom’s grandfather, great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather.
Lathrop Maple Supply is a small business and is an affiliate of Tom’s other company, Exclusively Vermont Wood Products LLC. It employs five people full-time and three part-time workers, including Tom’s wife, Pamela, who does the books and paperwork. The business sells mainly on the retail level with only a small portion of sales in the commercial sector. Custom flooring makes up about 50% of the company’s sales. Lathrop Maple Supply also supplies furniture-grade hardwood and softwood lumber to customers throughout New England and parts of New York.
Vermont has more than 15 species of trees. The dominant forest type in the state is hemlock-Northern hardwoods. The three most common hardwoods are sugar maple, soft maple and birch; of these, sugar maple is the most common. Common softwood species in Vermont include pine, spruce, fir, tamarack and cedar.
Despite its name, Lathrop Maple Supply does not deal exclusively in maple. Tom manufactures about half the lumber he needs, so he also buys rough lumber, green and dry, from other mills, mainly in the Northeast. For the sawmill, he buys logs of virtually every species that grow in the Northeast: white oak, red oak, hard maple, soft maples, basswood, elm, hickory, butternut, cherry, birches, white pine, some spruce and others. Tom buys logs in lengths from 7 feet to 16 feet and 9 inches in diameter and larger. When buying lumber from other mills, he purchases maple, beech, hickory, pine and other species; he buys lumber in thicknesses from 4/4 to 12/4 in various lengths up to 16 feet.
The sawmill operations, which produce10,000-15,000 board feet of lumber daily, begin with an HMC debarker to remove bark from the logs. After debarking, the logs are broken down on a Sanborn head rig, and boards are removed from the cants on a Sanborn band resaw. The flitches go through an HMC edger and are trimmed on an HMC double-end trimmer. The Sanborn band resaw also is used for quarter-sawing oak and ash and sawing wide pine.
The company is equipped with several machines for remanufacturing kiln-dried lumber into flooring. The lumber typically is cut to width first with a Deihl rip saw, surfaced with a Newman planer and shaped with a Deihl moulder.
The company has no stackers, so all the lumber and flooring is pulled and stacked manually.
When Tom needed more control over the kiln-drying process, he turned to Koetter Dry Kiln (now Nova Dry Kiln). Lathrop has two dry kilns that were supplied by the predecessor of Nova. Lumber generally is dried to 6%-7% moisture content.
“I bought my first Koetter Dry Kiln — a KD-12600 with a 25-foot entry — about five years ago,” Tom recalled. “I looked at several kilns before settling on the Koetter kiln system,” he said. “The two main reasons I went with Koetter kilns are: they are extremely energy efficient and well insulated.”
Tom added a second Koetter Dry Kiln — a KD-18EXT with a 28-foot entry — last year. “The fact that I purchased the second kiln within four years is testimony to my satisfaction. Jack Meredith (president of Nova Dry Kiln) was very good to work with.”
The smaller kiln has a traditional side hinge door system while the large one is equipped with a top hinge door system. The two kilns have a combined capacity of nearly 30,000 board feet. The larger kiln is equipped with the Nova Timber-Dry Management Control System for automatic execution of the drying schedule.
Another feature of the kilns that Tom particularly appreciates is the high volume exhaust system, which eliminates problems generally associated with drying hard maple, such as staining.
Nova Dry Kiln manufactures lumber dry kilns for the primary and secondary woodworking industry. The company supplies kilns ranging in capacity from 550 board feet to 120,000 board feet.
Recommended drying schedules for Nova dry kilns call for a chamber temperature of 90-140 degrees; the temperature can go up to 160 degrees in order to set the pitch in softwoods. Kilns feature 1/8-inch aluminum construction with sturdy, highly insulated SIP panels for rigid sidewalls that are impervious to damage by lumber or forklifts. Using hot water as the energy source provides high reliability and superior economy in the heating system, which requires little maintenance.
In the kiln chamber, air circulation velocities combined with calibrated, constant venting provide the proper amount of heat transfer and relative humidity control, enabling moisture to be removed quickly from the surface of the lumber; at the same time, stress to the wood fiber is reduced and lumber color is enhanced. Moisture is removed with a powered variable exhaust system that constantly vents throughout the drying process, removing moisture as it is released from the lumber.
“I am really amazed at the savings I’ve got from these kilns,” said Tom. “By using our own wood waste, we provide 100 percent of the fuel for our outdoor boiler system that heats the water for the coils in the kilns.”
Bristol is in west-central Vermont, about 40 miles west of Montpelier, the state capital. Tom’s company is situated on the outskirts of the town. He can look out his office window and see Winona Lake at the foot of the Green Mountains.
Bristol, with a population of about 4,000, is a picturesque New England village. It has a common area, the Bristol Green, in the downtown area. Prayer Rock, a huge boulder on which the Lord’s Prayer has been etched, is just east of the town. The prayer was carved into the stone many hears ago by Joseph Greene. When he was a lumberjack, Joseph brought logs from the mountains down to a sawmill in Bristol. When he would reach the rock, tradition has it, he would utter a sigh of relief. In his later years, Joseph was a successful doctor. He returned to Bristol and carved out the Lord’s Prayer in enduring gratitude for his safety in his lumberjack days.
Lathrop Maple Supply makes mainly flooring and lumber for cabinet makers and other businesses. The company’s products are sold retail to homeowners, contractors, cabinet shops and other businesses that make wood products. A lot of sales are made to “do-it-yourselfers,” said Tom. Television programs about home building and remodeling have sparked a lot of interest among homeowners who tackle their own home improvement projects, he said.
“These kilns are easy to operate and use hardly any fuel,” said Tom. “They are a great asset to our small lumber business.”