Finnish log lathes tackle pine beetle kill | SummitDaily.com

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Finnish log lathes tackle pine beetle kill

Summit Daily/Kristin Skvorc

BRECKENRIDGE – A thick layer of wood shavings carpets the Breckenridge Nordic Center parking lot, extending between stacks of tree trunks, some with bark and some without, and two red metal 38-foot-long contraptions.The machines, called log lathes, are Finnish-made devices designed to enable a single operator to debark, round, smooth, cope and notch a log without removing it from the machine. A beetle-infested lodgepole pine can be mounted lengthwise on the lathe and, within minutes, one person can produce a finished log suitable for cabin construction.Setting up the log lathes in Summit County to process beetle-killed trees is the brainchild of Therese and Gene Dayton, longtime operators of the Frisco and Breckenridge Nordic centers, and their son, Matt. As part of their Nordic center operations, the Daytons have been in the business of maintaining trails and recycling wood for years. When the pine beetle epidemic hit the High Country, they saw not only devastation, but also opportunity.”I was skiing in Frisco, noticed all the trees that were dead and wondered if anything else could be done,” Gene said. The couple had a friend in Minnesota with a decorative log railing business who told them about a Michigan company that imported log-finishing machines from Finland. The Daytons were so impressed with what they heard they ordered two of the lathes sight unseen, at a cost of around $75,000 each.”These machines are unique in that the log turns very slowly and the cutting heads turn much faster,” Gene said. Most industrial log-finishers, he added, like those use to make telephone poles, are huge, unwieldy and not very safe. The Finnish lathes are much safer to operate and much more precise. With its computerized technology, the device can turn a log to a depth of one one-thousandth of an inch, if necessary.The new lathes arrived in Summit County in June – the first in Colorado – and the Daytons put them to work immediately. The couple already had a contract with Breckenridge to remove 50 beetle-infested trees at the town’s Nordic center by July 1. Luckily, one thorough turn with the log lathe is enough to make mincemeat of the bark beetle.”At 3,500 rpm, the thing mechanically squishes the beetle and larvae,” Gene said.When the 50 cleared trees were combined with more than 100 trees removed by the ski area to make way for the new gondola, the Daytons had a substantial inventory of timber on their hands.With a crew of 10 people, most of whom are family members, the Daytons set about learning to use the lathes. Once a log is loaded onto the device, the operator monitors the blades, the computer and the progress of the log.Matt Dayton pointed out the gray patches on a barkless 12-inch diameter log he was smoothing with the lathe.

“I was skiing in Frisco, noticed all the trees that were dead and wondered if anything else could be done,” Gene said. The couple had a friend in Minnesota with a decorative log railing business who told them about a Michigan company that imported log-finishing machines from Finland. The Daytons were so impressed with what they heard they ordered two of the lathes sight unseen, at a cost of around $75,000 each.”These machines are unique in that the log turns very slowly and the cutting heads turn much faster,” Gene said. Most industrial log-finishers, he added, like those use to make telephone poles, are huge, unwieldy and not very safe. The Finnish lathes are much safer to operate and much more precise. With its computerized technology, the device can turn a log to a depth of one one-thousandth of an inch, if necessary.The new lathes arrived in Summit County in June – the first in Colorado – and the Daytons put them to work immediately. The couple already had a contract with Breckenridge to remove 50 beetle-infested trees at the town’s Nordic center by July 1. Luckily, one thorough turn with the log lathe is enough to make mincemeat of the bark beetle.”At 3,500 rpm, the thing mechanically squishes the beetle and larvae,” Gene said.When the 50 cleared trees were combined with more than 100 trees removed by the ski area to make way for the new gondola, the Daytons had a substantial inventory of timber on their hands.

“We call that ‘blue denim,'” he said. “It comes from beetle kill.” The Daytons aren’t having any problems finding buyers for their processed logs and many customers specifically request timber that has the mark of the pine beetle on it, Therese said.Two intersecting partial log walls that will eventually by part of a new outhouse at the Hallelujah Hut on Peak 7 have been erected next to the lathes in the Nordic center parking lot. The logs are smooth and fit neatly together in classic log cabin style. Eventually the Daytons plan to sell kits for small log structures like sheds and out-buildings, Therese said.

“We have to keep negotiating to get product,” she said, referring to unprocessed logs. One of the Daytons’ lathes is mounted on a flatbed trailer and transporting the machine to the timber, rather than the other way around, would be ideal. They bought the lathes to process beetle-killed trees, but concern about spread of the pest is limiting the possible locations for a permanent site.”We have to be able to bring the beetle-infested trees to a non-host area (to be turned),” Therese said. Currently, the Daytons are looking for suitable land and a site near Kremmling seems the most likely, even though locating the lathe there will entail major log transportation issues.The Frisco peninsula will host the mobile lathe for two or three weeks this month so that the Daytons can fulfill a contract with the town of Frisco to make permanent trail signs for the Nordic center. A public demonstration is planned for July 17 and 18. With more than 9,000 trees slated to be removed from town-owned land on the peninsula over the next few years, the Daytons hope to help with disposal of at least some of the timber.According to Gene, between eight and 10 of the Finnish log lathes are in operation in the U.S. at present, with 300 more in Europe. The Daytons are so optimistic about possible uses for the lathes they’ve become dealers for the machines, with an eye toward popularizing them throughout the West.”We’re just a small factor in the larger picture of (dealing with pine beetle kill),” Matt said. “We’re interested in getting more of these log lathes out there,”

In the face of the lemons of pine beetle devastation, it appears the Dayton family is working seven days a week to make lemonade. Log Lathe DemoThe Daytons will demonstrate operation of the Finnish log lathe from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. on Monday and Tuesday, July 17 and 18, at the Frisco Nordic Center on the Frisco peninsula. For more information about the lathe, or available timber products, call (970) 453-6855.