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58 Years of Plywood Excellence at Canoe Mill in Salmon Arm

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Although the Egyptians were the first to glue together thin layers of wood, plywood as we know it today was first made in France in the 1860s using wood veneers cut from logs using a rotary lathe invented a decade earlier in Sweden.

Plywood gets its strength from the vertical layers of veneer, making it a versatile building material. Some of the finest quality plywood in Canada is made from Shuswap lumber in Canoe, where Gorman Bros. operates a house. Now the factory that Federated Cooperatives opened in 1965.

Recently, I had the chance to visit Canoe’s plywood mill and learn about the advanced technology used in the manufacturing process. Since Gorman Bros. Factory and Forest Permit In 2012, he invested more than $50 million to modernize the process, dramatically increasing efficiency and nearly doubling production.

Our tour began at the Green End, where 8ft x 6ft logs arrive after soaking in a bowl of hot water for six to seven hours. Here, a high-speed lathe cuts 8-inch-thick veneer in just six to eight seconds, depending on the size of the logs, which can range from 6 to 28 inches in diameter. As the veneer moves rapidly along the line, it is cut with a long knife into 4 foot by 6 foot sections.

This device measures the moisture content of each leaf to determine if it is heartwood, light sapwood or heavy sapwood on the outside of the log. The sapwood veneer which is relatively pure wood is sent through a robotic machine which cuts the knots and inserts a patch. The stacks of veneer are then sent to dryers, where the time it takes for each sheet to cycle through the boards’ moisture content is adjusted.

The next step in the process was pretty cool. To make the interior layers of soft heartwood filler, each sheet is cut into 4.5 foot sections, then rolled and bound together using fiberglass which is pressed into the wood. Resin from the next machine is applied as veneer boards pass underneath, gathered and then stacked in piles, which are initially pressed under 2,000 pounds of pressure.

These stacks are transported to a machine operated by a single worker who travels up and down an elevator pushing each sheet through a heat press which again uses 2,000 pounds of pressure for the final pressing. Then each sheet of plywood is cut and gauged, and the highest quality plywood is sent through another robotic machine which fills the knots with filler. Each stack of plywood is then stenciled using the Canoe brand name and then another automated machine prints the size and pitch of the wood.

More than 200 employees work in three shifts to produce high-quality plywood, including 17 mills and eight computer programmers who keep the maze of machines and robots running smoothly.

Safety is paramount at Canoe and as a result, the plant is one of the safest in the county. It is also one of the most productive, efficient and non-polluting processes.

In addition to the renovation and production of the green tips, which have increased from 150,000 to 260,000 cubic meters, which stimulate recovery, they will buy a new veneer drying line, new vats and automation systems. Most importantly, Gorman cleaned the air chamber by adding a renewable thermal oxidizer that heats and re-burns emissions, reducing site emissions by up to 90%, much to the delight of nearby residents.

When Gorman purchased the plywood mill, they also took over the forests, which include several logging operations, including a logging license. Shuswap’s forests are diverse, which fits in well with other sections of the Gorman Range.

Most canoe plywood is made from Douglas fir. Others, including cedar, fir, hemlock and balsam, are taken to the Downey sawmill in Revelstoke or to the Gorman Bros. mill. in Kelowna. After several decades of logging and recent forest fires, the wood supply is not what it used to be, but nonetheless it still provides a significant proportion of the 22 truckloads needed daily to supply the canoe mill.

Gorman plans further improvements in the future, including automating the machine that powers the second press. In addition, they are investigating higher value systems, including the production of plywood panels up to 20 feet long, as well as fire-retardant panels and concrete forms with a resin slab on the roof.

Shuswap is fortunate to have a well-run plywood mill that produces high-quality building materials used in construction primarily in Canada, with only 3% shipped to the United States.

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