Father, Son Launch Hardwood Drying Operation

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Cussewago Hardwoods chooses 2 kilns from Koetter for Pennsylvania hardwoods

CONNEAUTVILLE, Pennsylvania — “I’ve been in the lumber business all my life,” said Mose Yoder. At age 20, he worked as a logger for a time, but he soon moved to the sawmill side of the forest products industry.
Having been involved in some way with wood since 1960, Mose has experienced many changes and initiated various modifications in his business.
In 1977 he set up a sawmill in Ohio that later grew into a family business, McKay Hardwoods. He recently sold McKay Hardwoods in Loudonville, Ohio and moved east to the neighboring Keystone State.
In the northwest Pennsylvania town of Conneautville, Mose is an investor in and advisor to a business that has one full-time employee — his son, Aaron — and one part-time employee, his son-in-law, Neal Miller.
The new business, Cussewago Hardwoods, got started just this year. The company’s focus is kiln-drying hardwood lumber.
Cussewago Hardwoods works exclusively for Brenneman Lumber Co., which has facilities in Ohio and Pa. and is headquartered in Mount Vernon, Ohio. Brenneman Lumber sends green 4/4 and 5/4 red oak and poplar to Cussewago Hardwoods and retrieves the lumber after it has been kiln-dried.
Mose wanted to make the move to Pennsylvania for personal reasons. His adult children had moved to Pennsylvania, and he and his wife wanted to live near them.
Investing in the kiln-drying business proved to be a good opportunity. To get started, Cussewago Hardwoods purchased two dry kilns from Koetter Dry Kiln Inc. in Borden, Ind. One 25,000-board-foot capacity Koetter kiln was up and running at the beginning of February; the other, with the same capacity, will be operating by early summer.
The new kilns use propane fuel although they can be configured for natural gas. (Koetter can also help customers that are interested in using wood waste for fuel.)
The fuel heats water in a boiler. The water, heated to 180 degrees, is pumped to the chamber of the kiln, where it circulates through a heat exchanger. Inside the chamber, the maximum temperature the wood pack experiences is 160 degrees.
Red oak and poplar lumber are both dried to 6% moisture content. “The poplar, we had it out in seven days,” said Mose. Oak takes about four times longer than poplar to dry, or approximately 25-28 days.
One of the things Mose particularly likes about the Koetter kiln design is the easy to use controls. “It’s very simple,” he said. “It’s not as complicated as we thought it might be.”
The straightforwardness of the concept behind the Koetter Dry Kiln is particularly welcome, said Mose. “I’ve never been around kilns much at all,” he explained.
The experience of working with equipment from Koetter Dry Kiln has been a good one. “We do like the way they’re designed, their sturdy structure,” said Mose. The wall panels are tough, he noted — insulated SIP panels covered with 1/8-inch aluminum. The combination effectively prevents heat loss and also makes the Koetter Dry Kiln resistant to puncturing from forklift tines and loaders. The company is equipped with a Caterpillar R80 loader for handling and moving lumber.
Through wet and dry bulb comparisons, Mose said it is easy to assess when the lumber has finished the drying process. A pre-selected schedule enables him to adjust the rate at which water is being removed from the wood by comparing moisture in the air with moisture in the wood.
A fan-powered variable exhaust system keeps air moving through the Koetter Dry Kiln, removing moisture-laden air as the wood dries. The design also establishes a slight negative pressure in 80 percent of the volume of the kiln. The resulting gradient draws more moisture from the wood and toward the exhaust. It also helps reinforce the compression of seals and gaskets.
To maximize the flow of dry air through the lumber pack, Koetter Dry Kiln deploys an adjustable tarpaulin. Adjustments can be made to increase the pressure (plenum) around the pack and in effect, push more dry air through the lumber.
With the amount of standardization that Koetter has been able to provide in its pre-selected schedules, there is never a need to rise from a night’s sleep at odd hours to change the settings of the kiln. That is a plus, said Mose.
What really got his attention, though, was the result — the quality of the finished lumber. Brenneman brokers lumber to furniture makers. A wood-worker himself, Mose noted that furniture makers require quality lumber for their industry.
The company’s operations occupy only about two acres of the 31-acre site that is home to Cussewago Hardwoods. The additional acreage will be put to good use, though, as the company builds for lumber storage space. “We have a 40-foot by 72-foot building,” said Mose. HEMCO stackers are being installed so that incoming green lumber can be stacked on sticks for drying. “We’re going to add a 40-foot section for dry storage,” as the business continues to grow, said Mose.
The company is quickly venturing into other species, too. “We have cherry in the yard right now,” said Mose.
Cussewago Hardwoods is designed for year-round operation. Both its principals have solid roots in the industry. Aaron, 21, began working at McKay Hardwoods when he was 14. Neal, who works as a custom lumber grader for several mills, started with McKay in 1988. He has also worked for Brenneman Lumber.
Mose said his role in Cussewago Hardwoods stems from his years of experience in business. “I see that things get done,” he said, but he is not actually part of the employee team.
Cussewago Hardwoods is named for the township where it is located. The township of Cussewago has approximately 1,600 residents.
Selling a business is always a bittersweet experience. No less so for Mose. “I miss being around the mill and the grade lumber,” he said. “At one time, I did the sawing and the grading.”
McKay Hardwood was equipped with an 8-foot Clemons sawmill. The company cut mostly oak, cherry and walnut and sold the lumber green.
However, not having the day-to-day responsibility for a sawmill business has freed up time for Mose’s other great interest, woodworking. “You see a piece of wood,” said Mose, “and you know what it will” make.
“I have a small wood-working shop,” said Mose. “I’ve turned a few pins, bowls. So far, I’ve just given them away.”
He enjoys ‘turning’ wood on a lathe, bringing out the potential in wood that he sees well in advance in standing trees. He works with native oak and cherry and some exotic wood species. Eventually, he hopes to start selling his crafts.