ON THE WATERFRONT: Soft hemlock exported to China

LATE THURSDAY AFTERNOON Global Gold, a 580-foot Panamanian-flagged cargo ship loaded with about 5 million board feet of debarked logs, eased off the Port of Port Angeles’ Terminal 3, bound for China.

A scant few moments later, the cargo ship Uni Sunshine moored to Terminal 3.

Uni Sunshine is a new vessel that made her first port of call Everett where the spaces below decks were loaded with logs.

While in Port Angeles, longshoremen will load the topside of the vessel with logs.

Recently, I received an email from a reader of the column who stated that an uncle of hers told her that the log ships are equipped with saw mills that process the logs into lumber on their journey to China.

The following should help to dispel notions about how the logs are processed and what they are used for.

I once sat down with Bob Cartano, who works with Grant Munro and has an extensive background in the log exporting business and from his numerous trips to China has seen firsthand how the logs are processed and what they are used for.

Bob said virtually all of the logs exported to China are hemlock, which is a softwood that is used almost exclusively in general building construction.

He explained that the predominant construction method for commercial buildings and residential housing — both of which are typically high rise buildings — is concrete and that hemlock is an ideal product from which to build the forms necessary to erect these structures. Not only is the wood easy to work with but an added bonus is that the forms can be re-used a number of times.

Bob said that when the housing units are sold, the interior walls are bare concrete.

The new owners then finish off the walls using drywall or paneling. Furring strips used between the bare concrete and finished wall product are also hemlock.

I asked Bob about the lumber mills that process the logs in China and he said that they are not processed in lumber mills, per se.

Rather, they are processed on a site that is adjacent to the dock where a log ship is being off loaded.

Bob said that upon this contiguous site are as many as twelve to fifteen or more small portable sawmills similar to a Mighty Mite.

Some of these sawmills are owned by the operators and others are leased to the operators with the income apportioned by agreement.

The off-loaded logs are then sold to the portable sawmill operators who process them into lumber according to their respective customer’s requirements or mill them for sale according to the demand of the marketplace.

In addition to the portable sawmill operators there are those who have portable veneer peeling lathes.

These entrepreneurs peel and stack veneer that, once it air dries, will be used in the fabrication of plywood that also will be used for concrete forms.

All of the milled lumber is processed by hand. Nothing about the process is automated until it comes time to load the bundled and strapped lumber upon a truck or barge for transportation to the customer.

None of the wood is kiln dried, there are no lumber grading standards and there is no quality control program.

Bob said that he has seen sawmill operators secrete rejects into the middle of a lumber bundle prior to strapping it together for shipment.

Bob said that he is not aware of any furniture that is built in China of hemlock that is then imported into the United States or anywhere else for that matter.

He said a consumer may find an occasional picture frame made of these products but he has yet to come across one.

Bob added there are hardwoods from the Midwest and South that are exported to foreign markets that likely make their way back to the United States in the form of consumer products.

However, these logs are typically containerized and shipped from the East Coast.

As to the perception that the logs exported from Port Angeles return to the United States in the form of furniture, Bob said that has never been the case and it is exceedingly unlikely that it ever will be because the softwood exported to the far east for general building construction is unsuitable for manufacturing furniture on any grand scale.

Other local news

Sunday, June 3, the Port Angeles Yacht Club will hold their 12th annual Marine Swap Meet.

Vendor space is $10; to reserve a space call 360-457-4132 or email [email protected].

There is a self-loading log barge taking on logs from the Port of Port Angeles log yard.

Once loaded the barge will take its load to the Georgia Pacific mill in Coos Bay, Ore.

Earlier this month, there was a self-loading log barge that emptied the log booms at the west end of the harbor.

These logs were taken to Southport lumber company in Coos Bay.

Wednesday, Tesoro Petroleum bunkered Florida, a 600-foot petroleum products carrier.

Thursday, Tesoro refueled Indigo Cefiro, a 646-foot bulk cargo ship that is flagged in the Marshall Islands, and Pichincha, an 800-foot Panamanian flagged crude oil tanker.


David G. Sellars is a Port Angeles resident and former Navy boatswain’s mate who enjoys boats and strolling the area’s waterfronts and boat yards.

Items and questions involving boating, marina and industrial activities and the North Olympic Peninsula waterfronts are always welcome. News announcements about boating groups, including yacht clubs and squadrons, are welcome as well.

Email [email protected] or call him at 360-808-3202.

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