Though Katahdin provides mill tours pretty much any time of year, summertime is probably the best time to stop in and check out how we manufacture our quality products: from log homes to fencing and garden accessories.
If you’re planning on a trip to Maine, it’s a good idea to give us a call in advance to schedule a mill tour. The mill in Oakfield, Maine, is generally fairly busy this time of year and you’ll want to make sure you allow enough time to get the complete tour. If you’ve never visited a sawmill, you’ll find the experience of taking raw logs and using every bit of the tree to produce the products at Katahdin very interesting. For more information and directions, click here. The mill is comprised of 27 separate buildings covering 85 acres and the tour generally takes about an hour and a half.
What will I see on the tour?
Most days, David Gordon will be conducting the tour, though other employees fill in if he is not available. Many employees of the mill have built and reside in their own Katahdin Cedar Log Homes, and more than 20 or so have been with the company for more than 25 years. So visitors can be assured that each tour will be led by a knowledgeable and experienced employee. You’ll want to dress in very casual clothes with sturdy shoes or boots. Safety glasses will be provided for visitors as well.
The first stop on the tour is invariably the president’s home, a Katahdin Cedar Log Home built more than 30 years ago. If a home is reflection of one man’s vision, then the Gordon home is a fine example of the owner’s passion for energy conservation, comfort and common sense.
The home is nearly self-sufficient, with a windmill providing electricity, solar water collectors for hot water and a wood fired heating system fueled by wood harvested from the owner’s nearby forest land. The house itself has evolved as new ideas for energy savings have been developed. The home features the company’s original insulation package—now a high-efficiency Energy Envelope System— and is quite comfortable in a northern Maine winter. Around the home are examples of Gordon’s commitment to using “the entire resource,” including trellises, a pergola, fencing, children’s play equipment and window boxes and planters.
Open Lumber Shed
After touring the president’s log home, visitors are driven over to the drying shed, a large open-sided structure where the logs for log homes are air dried. Here, the 6 x 6- and 6 x 8-inch wall log stock is stacked and stickered: small pieces of wood are placed in between the logs so that air can circulate through the large stacks and evenly dry the logs. In an average month, the lumber shed will hold enough logs to manufacture 40 homes. Once logs have air-dried to an average of 15% moisture content they will be finished in the steam heated kiln to complete the drying process, where the logs will end up around 12% moisture content. Dry wood is the most important element to building a log home that will have less checking, shrinkage and settling.
The Slasher Sorts Whole Logs
The next stop is the slasher station, where whole cedar trees are sorted, graded and cut to length. Cedar tree trunks are tapered like a carrot, with the largest diameter at the bottom or butt end of the tree. The slasher trims the tops, which are sent to the post and rail mill, then the slightly thicker middle sections are sent to the fencing mill, and finally, the butt ends with the largest diameter are sent to the saw mills for grading and processing into log wall stock. The slasher station sorts the cedar into seven different bays to use the entire tree in various applications.
Ten-Foot Sawmill & Picket Mill
Visitors will then be taken to the noisy ten-foot sawmill, where the 6 x 6- and 6 x 8-inch logs are sawn into ten-foot lengths. Smaller side planks that are slabbed off are sent along to be used in the fencing operation. Slabs of bark are sent to the chipper for rendering into mulch. The next stop is the picket mill where the smaller 1 x 3 and 1 x 4 boards are planed and shaped into pointed pickets for fencing. At the back end of the picket mill, stockade fencing is assembled into large panels.
The company kiln is the next sight to see en route past the tiny office building constructed after the devastating 1979 fire, which burned down the entire mill. The truck scales are also visible on this part of the tour. The company used these scales to weigh the employees participating in the “Biggest Loser” health initiative among the employees last winter.
Biomass Boiler and Ethanol Distiller
The next tour stop is the biomass boiler building. The biomass boiler has weaned Katahdin from more than 95% of its heating oil consumption, by recycling the sawdust and wood waste created around the mills. This follows the company’s philosophy of utilizing the entire resource of cedar trees used in manufacturing. The biomass boiler is completely computer controlled. The boiler system loads a hopper full of waste sawdust from the mill operations and uses a screw conveyer to lift the biofuel into the boiler for burning. The steam created in this industrial boiler heats all the buildings on the mill site.
The boiler is deliberately oversized to accommodate planned new buildings equipped with radiant heat in the concrete slab, a much more efficient way to heat than the present retrofitted forced air system. The computer controls enable remote monitoring and if the boiler malfunctions a text/cellphone/email alert is sent out. The boiler can be “fixed” and/or restarted from any computer in the world via its sophisticated control system.
Next door to the biomass boiler is the industrial ethanol distiller, which produces ethanol fuel from waste potatoes sourced from nearby farms. The ethanol is used to power mill vehicles and the waste from the potatoes after distillation supplements dairy cattle feed.
The planer mill is where the profile is scribed onto the faces of the log wall stock. The most popular profiles include a D-log, flat on flat, square and clapboard. Though the mill uses about 12 different profiles on a regular basis, they have the ability to create a new profile based on a sketch, much like a key making machine can replicate a house key on a blank at the hardware store.
En route to the house manufacturing line visitors will pass the post and rail mill, which manufactures no-taper posts and log rail fencing.
House Manufacturing Line
This custom designed and built house line is unique in the log home business. Here the profiled logs from the planer mill are given their final cuts, barcoded, and assembled in bundles for easy construction based on your house plans. House line is completely computerized to make sure that each log is precision cut according to your house plans. The computer reads the log home plans, then cuts the profiled log to length, stamps an identifying bar code on one end. If a hand-peeled effect is selected, it is applied here. The splines, notches, and other cuts specific to each log are completed further down on the house line. The logs are then pre-drilled and assembled on pallets for inspection and coding. (For more details on these cuts and how they save you construction costs, click here.) Inventory tags are attached to the interior and exterior of each log bundle for easy onsite tracking.
Another interesting and unique portion of the Katahdin tour is a visit to the purlin mill. Our designs are recognized for their unique purlin roof systems, which create the soaring open cathedral ceilings in many of our homes. Purlins are constructed from spruce logs that are peeled and initially prepped, then set outside to dry. Again, the drying is essential to good construction down the road. For example, a 30-foot peeled spruce log will lose 100 pounds of water weight in just one week. Once the spruce reaches the right moisture content, it receives a second, cosmetic peel to remove the grayed exterior, then flattened and notched on one end. Purlins are pre-cut on-site, with some additional cutting required at the building site. Visitors also will be able to see a cutaway corner display showing how the Energy Envelope System comes together to offer a highly energy efficient home. A window buck display also demonstrates how the windows fit within walls and the caulking and foam applications required for a tight seal.
Cedar Ideas Mill
A final stop is to the Cedar Ideas mill where outdoor accessories such as garden boxes, planters, trellises and window boxes are made with the remaining and tiniest pieces of wood. Like a gallon of gas, Katahdin likes to get as many “miles per gallon” from each tree that passes through the mill.