What happens at a stave mill doesn’t stay at a stave mill.
Seguin Moreau owns its own mill, which is located in Velines (Dordogne), France.
Timber trailer trucks bearing logs begin to arrive in October, after the national forestry auctions, and continue to unload wood through March. This oak has already been selected by Seguin Moreau’s two full-time wood buyers.
During summer months, the cooperage needs to stockpile a certain amount of timber in advance – as it is difficult to get fresh supplies before ONF sales and winter. That wood is protected by controlled water spraying.
Once logs arrive, they are measured and purchased by stave-size amounts on each log. Each tree will give enough wood for approximately three barrels, about twenty percent of the tree.
As the logs are unloaded, each batch is identified by the number assigned to it at the time of the tree acceptance process in the forest. The batch is then processed as whole and continuously monitored throughout its workshop progress.
When the mill is ready for a batch of logs, they are cut into short bolts using cut-off saws, optimizing lengths for stave manufacturing. Smaller lengths are still usable and will be used for head stave pieces.
The forklift carries the logs to one of the two stave manufacturing lines.
Then comes splitting. French oak must be split, rather than sawn, to preserve the natural flow of the grain.
The short log is placed vertically under enormous hydraulic steel wedge, which is then driven into the wood, splitting it lengthwise with the grain. This produces two half-short bolts.
Those are then split into quarters, with a series of triangular sections. The Optifente, a laser-guided plotting computer, offers various splitting points, though the splitter also makes his own reading of the wood to split them as close as possible to their natural position.
Next comes squaring: The squared timber is sawn to a thin length so that its face is perfect, flat and parallel to the grain.
Then the operator saws the squared quarters into lengthwise pieces parallel to the face, to obtain wood with a thickness of 25 or 31 mm.
Edging follows. Guided by a laser line, another operator determines the best possible stave width by getting rid of sapwood and any irregularities. Staves undergo a first visual conformity inspection before being put away on trolleys. They are sorted by thickness and by length, as well as by grain.
When they leave the line, inspectors write the same batch number on all the pallets containing pieces manufactured from these logs.
Then it is on to the cooperage, where the pallets of rough staves are transferred to the woodyard for aging and seasoning. Grain will be checked again, and then once more before coopering.