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14 Aug

The story of the high grade shake blocks...

In speaking with one of the shake block cutters on Vancouver Island, we learn about the fate of his high grade shake blocks being sent to market. There are 20 cords, (60 m3) sent by truck to Mission, BC. One half the load went to a mill with a history of making only high quality shakes. The other half of the load went to mill well known for making a shake not so much to make the grade, but to hit a price point in the market. 

The exact same high quality shake blocks - environmentally harvested from "dead & down" trees in the forest, logged over 50 years ago and now being made available - hand cut and lifted by helicopter to a waiting truck. 

This is the story describing the trail of differing philosophies and economies that run through our industry. 

Mill "A"

The high quality mill receives their 10 cords of shake blocks and plans to make a very nice Certi-Split® Premium Grade 100% Edge Grain 24" x 3/4" Heavy Handsplit and Resawn Shake. They look over the wood and decide that it looks great and continues with their plan. Their usual production consists of the following step to maintain quality:

  • the blocks are visual inspected and the roughest pieces sorted out to be used for other products. Twisted or corrugated wood will downgrade the final product. The buyer is expecting the best, so the mill uses the best wood. 
  • it is difficult to cut shake blocks on the side of a mountain with a chainsaw, so each block is trimmed to a consistent length, squaring up the ends.
  • the cuber-man is skilled, working at his job for 20+ years. He knows how to work the wood, splitting the blocks into uniform shake blanks, maintaining 100% edge grain.
  • next, the man on the band saw trims the edges. Straight, clean edges makes for an easier install, reduces waste and looks great. It is a worthy upgrade for this product.
  • now trimmed, the shake blanks move through the conveyor towards the resaw machine, where they will be sliced diagonally, on edge, producing two tapered shakes, each with a split face and resawn backs. Care and attention at the resaw ensures that the butt and tip thicknesses are uniform. 
  • the shakes are a good, fair thickness - giving the customer more than the minimum 3/4" according to grading rules.
  • the packer is the next step in quality control, looking at every shake, culling out imperfections and filling the bundle - again giving the customer a very nice, fair product that exceeds the grade.
  • these bundles cost a little more, but the long term return on investment for the buyer is significant.
  • in the end, the mill produces 45 bundles from the 10 cords of blocks that sell at the mill level for a total of US$2,025.00
  • Mill "A" has taken an amazing natural resource, employed dedicated, skilled workers at a good wage and manufactured the wood into a worthy product.
  • the home owner gets a beautiful roof that will last 30-50 years

Mill "B"

The second 10 cords of high quality shake blocks take a different journey. The mill is not a member of the Cedar Shake and Shingle Bureau. The mill is not inspected by an independent third party grading authority. The mill is self graded and not inspected. In comparison to the process above, Mill "B" gets to work.

  • the plan is to produce a No.1 Grade Blue Label 24" x 3/4" Heavy Handsplit & Resawn shake. According to the CSSB-97 grading rules, this grade normally allows a maximum of 20% flat grain mixed in with 80% edge grain. 
  • the blocks are not inspected or sorted out. All of the blocks go to the cuber-man to be split into blanks.
  • the blocks are not trimmed to length and the ends not made square.
  • the unskilled cuber-man blows through the wood, without concern for final product. He doesn't understand the wood and doesn't understand the value of this natural resource. 
  • the edges are not trimmed - the shake blanks are rough and ready.
  • speed and production is the mantra. The shake blanks crash through the resaw machine. Butts and tips are irregular and off-grade. Shake thickness maintains a bare minimum, if that. 
  • the packer fills his bundles without care and attention. He hasn't been trained very well and the bundles present as sloppy.
  • the bundle is short packed. It won't cover the 20 square feet on the roof, like the No.1 Blue Label says it will. 
  • the percentage of flat grain in the bundle creeps up well over the allowed 20%
  • the cut-out yields 60 bundles and it is sold at $35 per bundle, totalling $2,100 revenue - more than Mill "A" - and Mill "B" has a much lower overhead. 
  • the shakes are sold as a commodity to the highest bidder - a wholesaler sitting in an office 300 miles away that will never see the product. 
  • the wholesaler sells the shakes based on price - "a number on an invoice" - to a roofing distributor in the Mid-West. 
  • the roofer buys the shakes because the roofing distributor says this is the best we can get these days. "There isn't any good cedar any more..." 
  • the builder wants the roof done cheap, "I just want a cedar shake on the roof so I can say it has a cedar shake roof, so I can sell the house to someone who always liked the look of cedar shakes. I only need it to last 5 years, and then I am off the hook." 
  • in this version of the story, the home owner gets cheated, the industry gets a bad name and Mother Nature gets cheated. 
  • move the story ahead 10 years and the home owner must now tear off the cedar roof.
  • he decides to replace it with asphalt shingles - the ones made from oil - the ones spit out by an automated factory - the ones that will sit in a landfill forever after they get torn off the roof in 15 years. 

Posted by Lloyd

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