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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Robert Riley, February 1, 1994. Interview K-0106. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Furniture-making process

Riley describes the furniture-making process, from green logs to a polished piece, and describes in greater detail the operations of a saw mill. He describes converting green logs into cut boards with about eight other men. The sawer and the trimmer run the saw; the trapper ensures that the cut logs stay in place on the conveyor belt; other workers stack the logs before they are taken to kilns to be dried. After drying, the lumber is cut again, sanded, assembled, finished, and packed for shipment.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Robert Riley, February 1, 1994. Interview K-0106. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

The question is, what department did you work in?
ROBERT RILEY, SR.:
In 1962 I started with White's on the yard. The yard is where we had an old saw mill. The trees came to us in ten or twelve foot logs. Then we cut the logs into boards. We cut them 1″ × 6″ × 12″. That was in the green stage. They had to be put on sticks, then they had to be carried and put in what they called a dry kiln. That lumber had to be dry kilned until it was seasoned properly before it could be cut and made into furniture. After that's done, it goes into what they call the rough-end of a machine room. That's when it's cut into certain lengths. Then it goes through a sander, it goes through a molder, it goes through a ripsaw, and the machine into certain parts and sizes. Then it moves on from the rough end of the machine room on up to the other places for sanding. Then it moves on from there on in to the cabinet room. The cabinet room is where all the furniture comes together with each piece fitting its proper side and goes in to making a chest, a night stand, a dresser or a bed or whatever the case may be. After that stage it moves on into what they call finishing. There it's totally made into a piece of furniture as it goes down the assembly line. It is in the raw and it has to be finished in a certain finish. Then we have our spray booths and our rubbers that takes that piece of furniture in the rough and carries it right through the finished product. Then it leaves from that department and goes into what you call rubbing and packing. What they do in the rubbing department is that they shine this furniture up and make it look like it looks in the store. Then it comes on down to the packing department where they put the hardware on, the jiffy wrap around it, and get it properly ready to be shipped into the warehouse. From the warehouse it goes into the truck, into the stores and then into peoples' homes. That's basically the making of a piece of furniture. I may have missed a few things along the line.
CHRIS STEWART:
When you started you said you were at the very beginning.
ROBERT RILEY, SR.:
I was at the beginning. What my job was at that time, and anybody that knows anything about a saw mill, you've got your log just like you see a tree. If you go out in your back yard and cut a tree down then put a rule on it and say that you want a twelve foot length, you would go up that rule from the end until you get twelve feet. Then you cut that log and you have what you call a twelve foot log. Or you can have a ten foot log, eight foot log, or whatever the case may be. When it comes into the saw mill the sawer has to go and take the log to the big old circle saw where it cuts the first slab off. My job was to take the slab and move it out of the way so as to be able to get the boards stacked properly with sticks between. My job was just basically to keep the slabs out of the way. The sawer and trimmer would be running the saw. As stuff moves down the conveyor I would keep everything out of the way so they could continue the flow. You cut one log and then time you cut that it'd be time to cut another one. It was called a saw mill and it took about eight to ten people to run it.
CHRIS STEWART:
Eight to ten people to do it?
ROBERT RILEY, SR.:
Right. You had your log trailer, you had your tripper, you had your sawer.
CHRIS STEWART:
Tripper did you say?
ROBERT RILEY, SR.:
A tripper. A tripper stands between the sawer who saws the log, and after the log goes up the conveyor the tripper has to catch this slab and keep the slab separated so that as the sawer is cutting it then when it gets on up the conveyor the slabs falls off on the elevator and moves on. Then the log comes back to the sawer. He in turn turns the log over again. Let me make an illustration. This is a twelve foot log, for instance, and we are going to use this. The circular saw is standing right here. The sawer has a big lever. He just pulls the lever. As he starts the round board up the saw it comes up just like this. It is cutting as it goes by here. The trip is over here and the saw is here. As it goes up here the tripper catches this slab and leaves the other part on it. As it goes on up when it gets to the end he drops the slab here. The slab goes on up and then it comes back. He then turns the log over. What he's doing is squaring this log up and getting it into lumber. As it turns over then he will go right back up this side and gets the slab so the tripper keeps it. He turns it over and what he's got is that he's taken a round log and squared it up. Now he can cut six inch boards to whatever thickness the log will allow him to cut. That's what he does. After he cuts it everything goes on down the elevator. When it gets down to the end you have a man down there. He gets that board and he hands it to a man that stacks it. When they get a certain size stack they move it out of the way and start another stack. Then they take the lumber and stick it so that the air can go between them so when you put it in the dry kiln it can get properly dried.
CHRIS STEWART:
It that what you said you put something in between them?
ROBERT RILEY, SR.:
You put sticks. In other words, what you try to do is to put a stick every two feet apart all the way down the lumber. And when it goes in the dry kiln it will dry in the kiln uniformly. It doesn't have one end dry and the other end half dry because you can't make furniture with wet lumber. It stays in the dry kiln according to the thickness of the lumber. An inch and a half board will stay longer than a one inch thick board.
CHRIS STEWART:
Was this all part of the saw mill, the drying?
ROBERT RILEY, SR.:
No. The saw mill only cuts your logs and squared the lumber up. Then to dry kiln lumber you've got to put it in a special building, and it's got to be heated day and night for X number of days at a certain temperature all the time. There again it depends on what thickness your lumber was that you were drying as to how many days. I guess it took some of it anywhere from eight to maybe ten days to dry kiln it totally properly, and that's heating it twenty-four hours a day. It was still in the rough then.