We started this business as a hobby and most of the logs we cut were found around town, standing or fallen dead. The planks that we got from these logs were mostly dry and some of them survived our early, amateurish stacking and storage efforts. We learned the hard way how to protect the material and store it properly. Then we started getting calls to harvest live trees for various reasons, and we came across a source in East Texas that could provide us logs of species that were highly desirable but not easily available in New Mexico. So we had to start thinking about drying our planks. I threw together a solar kiln last spring out of a structure we already had and it worked great for 12 hours a day in the spring and summer, easily hitting 120-130 degrees by noon every day. But there was no power to the site and so no fans to circulate the air inside the kiln and of course when it started getting cold and the days got shorter we lost a lot of efficiency. I found some solar powered fans and mounted them but it was pretty obvious that we’d need something else if we were to have success with kiln drying. We came across a used Nyle Systems L53 dehumidifying kiln system and we bought it sight unseen. We converted another structure on the property to a kiln chamber and set it up in late summer. So now we have two small kiln systems plus good outside air drying storage. No limit on what we can cut and store for now.
That’s what we did right. Here’s what I did wrong. I improvised the solar kiln without much thought and also put it in the wrong place relative to the saw. If I had it to I do again I’d build one from one of the many excellent plans on line and put it somewhere easier to load. As it turns out when we build our shop it will be in the way so we’ll probably pick up the whole building and move it to the other side of the saw. That will be fun to watch. Meanwhile I retrofitted it it with much improved insulation and lowered the ceiling so it’s working better, and as soon as it gets warm again it will be a lot more effective.
I also improvised the Nyle Systems kiln chamber and it is too big for the unit, and probably under insulated. We’ve had to supplement the heating with a propane space heater and that works fine, but costs an additional $120 a month. Again, when summer comes it will work much better. We are getting really good results with sycamore, pecan, juniper, Russian olive and other woods. We now know to be a lot more careful with cherry and we know that walnut takes forever to dry. Both kilns are time consuming and awkward to load, but that’s okay for the business as it is today because we can unload individual planks fairly easily which suits the retail nature of what we do. In order to hit the next level we’ll have to build a purpose made well designed structure that can be loaded and unloaded with a forklift. Until then it’s a labor of love.