Joe Triglia, owner of Jubilee Flooring in Long Island, N.Y., has spent years working out a way to turn discarded wine barrels into wood flooring.  Now, with help from the U.S. Forest Service’s Forest Products Laboratory , his vision is turning into a promising business venture.

In the United States, most wine barrels are made of white oak and their useful life in the wine industry ranges from one to five years. With large vineyards using as many as 100,000 barrels per year, discarded barrels represent a significant source of wood. Triglia thought there was an opportunity to reuse the barrels for something more valuable than their common fate: being cut in half and sold as garden planters.

“When barrels are made, coopers hand-scrape the insides to release tannins from the wood,” explains Triglia. “I thought these markings, along with the patina formed during the fermentation process, created a unique and appealing look for wood flooring.”

However, straightening the curved staves so they could be milled into 3/4-inch tongue-and-groove flooring presented a major hurdle.

While combing the internet for solutions for straightening wood, Triglia came across a research paper authored by Forest Products Lab engineer John Hunt.  The paper described using a microwave drying process to straighten lumber.  “It was the answer I was looking for,” Triglia said.

Triglia came to the Forest Products Lab where he and Hunt experimented with the pilot-scale equipment, and the results were promising.  Using the lab’s equipment helped Triglia figure out what is needed to move on to commercial-scale flooring production.

“This partnership is a perfect example of what is possible when government and industry work together,” says Hunt. “We were able to use research results for a commercial application, turn a low-value waste material into a high-value product, and help advance a small business.”

Triglia has patented his method for transforming wooden staves into flooring or paneling, and is currently developing a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement with Hunt to continue their partnership.

“It’s so encouraging that an entrepreneur has a place to go that can help turn their ideas into reality,” Triglia says.  “Oftentimes you can dream something up but don’t have the technical expertise to make it happen, and you have to make every penny count. Coming to [Forest Product Lab] was like a revelation – this place had exactly what I needed to move my business forward.”