Lumber and wood products are created from the trunks and branches of trees through a series of steps, as follows:
Mature trees are harvested from pine plantations and also from native forests. Trees harvested at a younger age can produce smaller logs, which can be turned into lower value products. Factors such as the site and climatic conditions, the species, the growth rate, and silviculture can affect the size of a mature tree.
The native hardwood sawmilling industry originally consisted of small family-owned mills, but this has recently changed to include a small number of larger mills. The mills produce large volumes of standard products, and aim to ensure a “standard quality of product, efficiently and safely, at low cost, with rapid production time and high output”.
Once the timber has manipulated in the required fashion, it can be used for its purpose. There are many different purposes for wood including: plywood, veneer, pulp, paper, particleboard, pallets, craft items, toys, instrument-making, furniture production, packing cases, wine barrels, cardboard, firewood, garden mulch, fibre adhesives, packaging and pet litter. Western Australia has a unique substance called ‘bio-char’, which is made from jarrah and pine. Bio-char can be used in the manufacture of silicone and as a soil additive.
Hardwoods and softwoods
Softwoods, such as the Australian eucalyptus, are highly valued, and are used mainly for construction, paper making, and cladding. The term “roundwood” describes all the wood that is removed from forests in log form and used for purposes other than fuel. Wood manufacturing residues, such as sawdust and chippings, are collectively known as “pulp”.
Changes in technology
Originally, “trees were felled from native forests using axes and hand-held cross-cut saws”. This was a slow process involving manual labour. Nowadays, harvesting is done by a small team of contractors, who are aided by various pieces of machinery. Sawmills were traditionally located within forests, so logs had to be transported over long distances and rough terrain to reach their destination. Soon, waterways were used to transport the logs. Later on, logs were transported via tramlines, “first by steam-powered log haulers then by steam-powered locomotives, and finally diesel and petrol-powered locomotives”. Even in the modern era, timber is dried in kilns. The first steam railway in Australia opened in Melbourne in 1854. This dramatically changed the nature of timber transportation and made it possible for the sawmilling industry to move inland away from the coast, due to transportation being made quicker and cheaper.