January 6, 2023

Get to Know Your Hardwood Floors: From Forest to Flooring

Big pile of wood in a forest road

In 2022, more than 20 hardwood tree species grew in well-managed lumber forests across the United States. While over half of the domestic hardwood bought in the stores came from local plantations, the country also imports several exotic species like teak, rosewood, and wenge from tropical places. But how are locally-grown hardwoods harvested and manufactured into flooring planks? Get to know the processes behind turning wood from the forest to flooring. 

How Many Trees Do You Need For A Hardwood Floor?

The number of trees you’ll need for your hardwood flooring will depend on the room’s size, the size of the lumber, and the length and width of each plank you need. There are other factors to consider to get the exact number. But an 18-inch-diameter hardwood tree with a 10-foot millable trunk can cover at least 100 square feet of room. However, the wood quality of the lumber after milling can still affect how much area it can cover.

With hardwood floors gaining more popularity each year, there is no surprise that the lumber and flooring industries can find themselves short on the supply of some popular species. While most manufacturers found better ways of harvesting and replanting hardwood at faster rates, most trees still take 40 to 60 years to reach maturity.

This shortage in supply and the lack of skilled laborers then affect the prices of available hardwood planks in the market. Although these challenges make hardwood flooring more expensive, it also makes them more valuable and worthwhile investments. 

Harvesting Hardwood Timber

Harvesting hardwood timber follows a standard process that begins during planting season. While planting and caring for the seedlings up to maturity requires consistency and hard work, the next steps are another level of tediousness. There are six steps in gathering hardwood timber before it reaches stores and woodworking shops.

  • Wood quality and health check
  • Felling
  • Storing and Transportation
  • Conversion
  • Seasoning
  • Market Preparation

Each process ensures that every log cut in the forest meets desired quality and grade of consumers. In addition, the harvesting process also helps the timber to acclimate and be ready for manufacturing.

1.   Wood Quality and Health Check

Once the trees reach maturity and are ready for harvest, inspection teams visit the plantation to assess the quality and health of each hardwood. This procedure helps manufacturers check the value of the timber in the market.

In addition, hardwood assessment provides detailed information about the timber’s type, quality, and age. All this information allows fellers to determine the best way to cut down each tree.

2.   Felling

The second stage of timber preparation for commercial use is felling. Felling is cutting down each tree, and the feller is the one in charge of cutting them. In harvesting mature hardwood trees, plantations use a feller buncher to cut and gather them in one place.

Hardwood species reach their economically mature stages at different times. On average, trees are ready for harvesting within 40 to 60 years. But other species can go for over a hundred years before forestry workers can cut them down. In addition, environmental factors like soil nutrients and climate can also affect their growth.

Felling often happens during winter. During these months, trees have less moisture content making them more convenient to cut. Doing it during the summer is more difficult as trees have more than 50% of water inside them.

Soon after felling, farms immediately replace cut-down trees with saplings to continue providing lumber sources in the future. 

3.   Storing and Transportation

The logs don’t leave for the sawmill soon after cutting them down. Newly felled hardwood timber stays in a clearing until the materials in the mill run out. Storing them in the forest also helps free water content from the logs through evaporation. In storage, the weight of the tree reduces and lowers transportation and handling costs.

4.   Conversion

Once the logs are light enough to transport to the site, they’re bucked or cut to their required sizes. The fourth stage of lumber harvest has two sub-stages: breaking down and re-sawing. Conversion begins with bucking the cut trees into their desired length and sawn into boards using circular saws and bandsaws.

Breaking down means rough-sawing each log, and manufacturers can do either sawn or quarter sawn, depending on the preference of shops and woodworkers. They follow it by re-sawing or cutting the wood into precise sizes and finishing them.

Millers trim each log end to get straight-cut boards, and large circular saws remove the curved edges to get flat wooden planks. 

5.   Seasoning

Seasoning natural hardwood means removing excess water from the logs. Trees hold water inside them in two ways: free water and cell water.

Free water is in the vessels stored by the tree to distribute nutrients, while cell water, or bound water, is an essential part of the wood’s cell walls. In the seasoning process, manufacturers dry the logs completely to keep them from warping or deforming. Unseasoned hardwood or green wood is difficult to work with because of its weight and tendency to change shape. 

6.   Market Preparation

Hardwood planks are ready for distribution after the conversion or primary processing stage. During this point, their value increased, and it will continue to grow upon their installation as flooring. Domestic hardwood planks are easier to deliver in stores, while imported exotic hardwood goes through additional processes to prevent them from rotting during shipment.

A Step-by-Step Look Into Hardwood Gathering and Preparation

Hardwood planks are valuable materials that go through intricate processes before becoming a part of your home’s hardwood flooring. Getting an insight into how plantations gather each tree and prepare them for the market will help homeowners understand the value of these wooden floors.

Are you looking for hardwood floors in Austin? Check Kelly Hardwood Floors today to get some great flooring deals!