Missouri Walnut, LLC Will Soon Have a Total of 16 SII Dry Kilns

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To perfect a strong and beautiful wood, company chooses kilns and steamers from SII Dry Kilns.


NEOSHO, Missouri – Resilience, or in this case the ability to resist shock, makes black walnut wood a great choice for everything from gun stocks to flooring. The darkly hued and intriguing grain of the wood make it a beautiful and special choice for furniture, paneling and much more.

Missouri Walnut, LLC produces a large volume of black walnut lumber each year. The lumber travels to markets in almost 40 countries. And since 2011, the lumber has also met the needs of distributors and flooring companies in the United States.

“We try to produce the highest quality black walnut lumber available,” said Stan Smith, vice president at Missouri Walnut. To do so, the company uses a three step process of steaming, air drying and kiln drying — in that order.

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When Missouri Walnut launched its domestic sales in 2011, it also began to increase its kiln capacity. To do so, it began adding dry kilns from SII Dry Kilns in Lexington, N.C.

“We are currently in the process of adding 600,000 board feet” of kiln capacity, explained Stan when he spoke with us in June. That will bring the total kiln capacity achieved with equipment from SII Dry Kilns to 1.6 million board feet. Each of the 16 SII Dry Kilns that will ultimately be in service has a capacity of 100,000 board feet.

Structural integrity of the kilns from SII gets high marks from Stan. “The way they were built was one of the main reasons [they were selected],” he said.

Someone from the SII team visits Missouri Walnut frequently, said Stan. The team members at SII Dry Kilns understand the goals and operation of Missouri Walnut.

“The experience working with the SII team has been excellent – excellent,” said Stan. “They are professional. They [visit our facility] once every six weeks [or so].”

Everyone Stan has met at SII has been a good partner. “We worked with Thom Brown,” he said, emphasizing that he also has had the opportunity to work with other members of the SII Dry Kilns group.

The dry kilns from SII are used to take black walnut to a six to eight percent moisture content. The time it takes varies with the moisture content of the lumber going into the charge, explained Stan.

Before the lumber reaches the dry kilns from SII, it has been treated in a steamer for 72 hours, a process used to enhance the visible grain and hue of the wood. And following steaming, it has been air dried under roof and on sticks for 30 to 90 days. After air drying, the lumber is kiln dried.

The air drying is done on aluminum sticks. An automated stacking system simplifies the process.

A 600 horsepower Hurst wood-fired burner is used to heat the SII Dry Kilns. The burner is also used to heat 700,000 board feet capacity of kilns from Nardi.

The Hurst boiler was purchased in 2009. It is the top star of the equipment roster at Missouri Walnut, said Stan.

The other top-tier performer at the company is the equipment from SII Dry Kilns, he said.

The process for perfecting black walnut lumber begins at the Corley 7-foot headrig. The Corley has a 17-degree slant and a seven-foot resaw. It also has 3D scanning and computerized setworks. Two edgers are also from Corley Manufacturing, the company that built the mill for Missouri Walnut. Corley is headquartered in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Missouri Walnut produces 4/4 to 12/4 lumber. But it can meet customer requests for any width and grade. Except for lumber for flooring, which Missouri Walnut sells in truckloads, all lumber produced is sold through distribution yards.

Lumber is strapped. And for protection from splitting or checking, the ends of boards are coated with Anchorseal products from U*C Coatings Corporation in Buffalo, N.Y.

Neosho, Missouri, the birthplace of the painter Thomas Hart Benton, is also home to the Missouri Walnut. Neosho, which has 12,000 residents, is part of Newton County. It is located in the southwest part of the Show Me State and not far from Joplin.

Founded by Hong Hong Chen in 2002, Missouri Walnut has grown significantly in 13 years. Today, the company has 130 employees and it has 400,000 square feet of space under roof on its 60-acre site. The company began with just 20 employees and 16,000 square feet of space.

The Chen family has generations of experience in hardwood lumber. And Missouri Walnut got its start when the family, which has operations in China as well as in the United States, decided to begin producing lumber instead of just buying and selling. Yimin Ding is the president of Missouri Walnut.

When the Chen family first opened a facility in Missouri, it was in the town of Norwood. After two years, the company moved to Neosho. Missouri was chosen as the location of the U.S. branch of the Chen family enterprise because so much black walnut grows in the state. At present, more than one-half of the U.S. production of black walnut lumber derives from trees that are felled in Missouri.

“We purchase all logs from loggers and we purchase green lumber,” said Stan. Logs generally come from a 300-mile radius around Neosho, but the area extends to Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri and Kansas.

Neosho is in the heart of the range of black walnut (Juglans nigra), which is roughly the eastern half of the United States. It’s a range that extends from western Massachusetts to northwestern Florida and eastern Texas. Southern Minnesota and Wisconsin are also part of the range.

The nuts of the black walnut are edible. And the species has been a favorite for the shade it gives as well as shelterbelts. For a time in the middle part of the 20th century, black walnut was the first choice for cabinets to house the radios and phonographs that antedated the digital world. The species was also the one selected for sewing machine cabinets.

Black walnut gets very high ratings for hardness, strength and resistance to warping. It is easy to work into shape and the responsiveness of the wood make it a good match for millwork. Black walnut takes a finish well, another plus, especially in flooring.

The product from Missouri Walnut is exclusively black walnut lumber. And it is a product perfected by steaming and drying.

“We don’t surface any lumber,” said Stan. The focus is on getting most beautiful faces on boards and steaming and drying to give exquisite results.

“We try to produce a superior product in walnut lumber,” said Stan. There’s a significant amount of thought and effort that goes into getting the details correct.

In addition to purchasing kilns from SII Dry Kilns, Missouri Walnut also purchased four 100,000 board feet capacity steamers. The steamers add to the 150,000 board feet capacity that the company already had in place.

Kilns and steamers from SII Dry Kilns are key players at Missouri Walnut. “SII – I just highly recommend them — the design of the kilns, the professionalism,” said Stan.

SII Dry Kilns has designed and built drying equipment for more than 40 years. The company offers structures in aluminum, stainless steel, masonry, and prefabricated configurations. It also offers computerized controls that provide state-of-the-art monitoring of charges.

Hardwood kilns and steamers are only some of the product line from SII Dry Kilns. The company also offers Dual Path Kilns for the softwood industry, predryers, fan sheds, firewood and pallet heat-treating systems.

Missouri Walnut belongs to many professional organizations. Among the organizations to which the company belongs are the National Hardwood Lumber Association (NHLA), which certifies its graders, the American Walnut Manufacturers Association (AWMA), the National Walnut Flooring Association (NWFA), and the American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC).

Stan is a member of the board of the Missouri Forest Products Association, another group to which Missouri Walnut belongs. And he is on the board of the American Walnut Manufacturers Association. The professional organizations help members share and resolve issues related to any aspect of lumber production, said Stan. They also elevate the profile and strength of the industry.

When Stan joined Missouri Walnut four years ago, he arrived with a lifetime of experience. “I was born into it,” he said. His family worked on the sawmill side of the industry.

A native of Missouri, Stan served as vice president of Midwest Walnut, a company of which he was part for 20

years, before taking his current position. He said he likes “everything” about his profession.

“I grew up in the walnut lumber industry,” said Stan. “I work 24/7. I travel 24/7. I’m never in one spot more than four or five days. I like the people.”

With the global reach of Missouri Walnut, Stan also has the opportunity to do a great deal of international travel, which he relishes, too. When he gets free time, he and his wife enjoy riding motorcycles. They both ride Harley Davidson.