Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Cutting Edge in Wood Promotion - In the Trunk

One of our more creative readers, an Italian scientist who works for Procter & Gamble in Germany, has pushed the limits, in fact the outer limits, in his quest to use his film-making skills to feature our favorite material. I'll bet you've never quite seen wood promoted like this before.

In the Trunk from Michele Martinelli on Vimeo.

Thanks, Michele. Way to Go Wood.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Notes From the Road (9) - Wellington, New South Wales

I left State College around noon on a Thursday, and after stops in Harrisburg, PA, Toronto, and Vancouver, arrived in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia at 8 in the morning on Saturday. So, even though it was around 6 pm on Friday night by my biological clock, I had to climb bleary-eyed into a wrong-sided Toyota Corolla and begin to navigate my way out of Sydney towards the outback.

By around noon I came to my first stop of the trip. The town was called Wellington, New South Wales, and my re-introduction to the culture and environment of Australia was just beginning. I pulled over in front of the town's park because I was already seeing ghosts on the road. I needed a good stop to clear my head.

Wellington, New South Wales, as seen from the fountain at Cameron Park.
Well, if I hadn't yet realized that I was a long way from the USA, this stop brought it into sharp perspective. And naturally, the first tree that caught my eye was non-native to Australia...a Himalayan, or deodar cedar.

Cedrus deodara, the Himalayan, or deodar cedar.
This monster is atypical for the species growing in its native habitat of the western Himalayans, but then that's what plants do when they're transported to different climates and planted in parks. Impressive, anyway.

The closer you get to this monster, the more impressive it gets.
But that wasn't the only impressive tree in this park. And this time, it was an important and honored Australian native that caught my eye through the fog...

Auraucaria bidwilli, The Bunya Pine.
This is a fascinating tree.  From Wikipedia...
"The bunya pine is the last surviving species of the Section Bunya of the genus Araucaria. This section was diverse and widespread during the Mesozoic with some species having cone morphology similar to A. bidwillii, which appeared during the Jurassic. Fossils of Section Bunya are found in South America and Europe. The scientific name honours the botanist John Carne Bidwill, who sent the first specimens to Sir William Hooker in 1843.
A Bunya festival was recorded by Thomas (Tom) Petrie (1831–1910), who went with the Aboriginal people of Brisbane at the age of 14 to the festival at the Bunya Range (now the Blackall Range in the hinterland area of the Sunshine Coast). His daughter, Constance Petrie, put down his stories in which he said that the trees fruited at three-year intervals. The three-year interval may not be correct. Ludwig Leichhardt wrote in 1844 of his expedition to the Bunya feast. The Bunya trees pollinate in South East Queensland in September, October and the cones fall seventeen to eighteen months later in late January to early March from the coast to the current Bunya Mountains. When there is heavy rainfall or drought, pollination may vary. The large festival harvests may vary between two and seven years. When the fruit was ripe, the people of the region would set aside differences and gather in the Bon-yi Mountains (Bunya Mountains) to feast on the kernels.
As the fruit ripened, locals, who were bound by custodial obligations and rights, sent out messengers to invite people from hundreds of kilometres to meet at specific sites. The meetings involved ceremonies, dispute settlements and fights, marriage arrangements and the trading of goods. The Aborigines’ fierce protection of the trees and recognition of the value of the timber, led to colonial authorities prohibiting settlers from cutting the trees in the 1842. The resource was too valuable, and the aboriginals were driven out of the forests along with the ability to run the festivals. The forests were felled for timber and cleared to make way for cultivation.
In what was probably Australia's largest indigenous event, diverse tribes – up to thousands of people – once traveled great distances (from as far as Charleville, Dubbo, Bundaberg and Grafton) to the gatherings. They stayed for months, to celebrate and feast on the bunya nut. The bunya gatherings were an armistice accompanied by much trade exchange, and discussions and negotiations over marriage and regional issues. Due to the sacred status of the bunyas, some tribes would not camp amongst these trees. Also in some regions, the tree was never to be cut. 
Indigenous Australians eat the nut of the bunya tree both raw and cooked (roasted, and in more recent times boiled), and also in its immature form. Traditionally, the nuts were additionally ground and made into a paste, which was eaten directly or cooked in hot coals to make bread. The nuts were also stored in the mud of running creeks, and eaten in a fermented state. This was considered a delicacy.
Apart from consuming the nuts, indigenous Australians ate bunya shoots, and utilised the tree's bark as kindling.
Bunya nuts are still sold as a regular food item in grocery stalls and street-side stalls around rural southern Queensland. Some farmers in the Wide Bay/ Sunshine Coast regions have experimented with growing bunya trees commercially for their nuts and timber.
Since the mid-1990s, the Australian company Maton has used bunya for the soundboards of its BG808CL Performer acoustic guitars. The Cole Clark company (also Australian) uses bunya for the majority of its acoustic guitar soundboards. The timber is valued by cabinet makers and woodworkers, and has been used for that purpose for over a century.
However its most popular use is as a 'bushfood' by indigenous foods enthusiasts. A huge variety of home-invented recipes now exists for the bunya nut; from pancakes, biscuits and breads, to casseroles, to 'bunya nut pesto' or hoummus. The nut is considered nutritious, with a unique flavour similar to starchy potato and chestnut.
When the nuts are boiled in water, the water turns red, making a flavoursome tea.
The nutritional content of the bunya nut is: 40% water, 40% complex carbohydrates, 9% protein, 2% fat, 0.2% potassium, 0.06% magnesium. It is also gluten free, making bunya nut flour a substitute for people with gluten intolerance."
That's a lot of history for just one tree, and you'd think would be enough for one rest stop. But there is in Wellington, I was also introduced to "The Lone Pine".

One of the descendants of the original Lone Pine, the Turkish pine (Pinus brutia).
If you're not familiar with the ANZAC, or the Battle of Lone Pine in Gallipoli in 1915, then you're probably not Australian. These memorial trees seem to be planted all over the country, as are memorials to the ANZAC.  Here's their story, again from Wikipedia...
"The Lone Pine was a solitary tree on the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey, which marked the site of the Battle of Lone Pine in 1915. Pines which are planted as a memorial to the Australian and New Zealand soldiers who fought in Gallipoli are also known as "Lone Pines" or "Gallipoli Pines", referencing the original tree.
 The original "Lone Pine" was a sole survivor of a group of trees that had been cut down by Turkish soldiers who had used the timber and branches to cover their trenches during the battle. The tree was obliterated during the battle; however, pine cones that had remained attached to the cut branches over the trenches were retrieved by two Australian soldiers and brought home to Australia. The resultant seedlings were found to be Turkish pines, sometimes regarded as a subspecies of Pinus halepensis (Aleppo pine), but usually classified as a distinct species, Pinus brutia.
Alec Campbell was the last surviving member of the ANZAC force that fought in Gallipoli, and his death in 2002 at the age of 103 was a national event that was commemorated widely.

I found out the next evening how deeply the Australians still feel the spirit of the ANZAC and that Turkish battlefield of a century ago. I was in an RSL club for dinner on a Sunday night in Charleville, Queensland, when all of a sudden the lights dimmed, everyone stood up, and a trumpet sounded the Australian version of "Taps". Everyone then recited an oath of loyalty, and held a moment of silence. The whole thing was quite moving...and it made me realize how special my time in Australia was going to be.

One last thing about my stop in gave me a hint that rain, and high water, was going to be a part of my experience, and source of concern. The season was unusually wet, even for early spring, and floods in a great flat land are a thing not to be taken lightly.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Notes from the Road (8) - Woods and Sights of Queensland

Well, where to start? How about walking the bush in southern Queensland with my hosts from the Australasian chapter of the are a couple of the trees we identified and for which I was able to collect wood specimens.

Alstonia constricta, commonly called bitterbark or quinine bush. More on this interesting tree in a future post.
Wood of Alstonia constricta.

A stand of Ooline trees, Cadellia pentatstylis

Here's another large Ooline tree with two black orchids, Cymbidium canaliculatum, growing in it.
The bark of Cadellia pentastylis

The wood of Cadellia pentastylis, Ooline is like a dense, hard cherry with beautiful figuring.
Trees weren't the only thing I took in during my walkabout.  Here's an interview of a gentleman and his pet at the Stockman's Hall of Fame in Longreach, Queensland. I loved reminded me of West Texas, except for the swarms of flies and dead kangaroos along the road.

And, oh yeah, I drove a long way...about 4000 kilometers, which is about 2800 miles.  Most of it was like this - long stretches of no civilization, just long vistas, music from my phone playing on the car stereo, and the occasional "road train" to scare the crap out of me as it approached on the wrong side of the road.

Well, that's just a taste of Australia to get things started. I have hundreds of photos of different types of ecosystems, a few more interesting videos, and a wide range of thoughts to share. Stay tuned...

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Great Designs in Wood (73) - "Hollow" by Katie Paterson: A Vision in Wood Comes to Life

Here's a nice story. Artist Katie Paterson of the UK had a vision of a work in wood that would represent all the trees of the entire world as they evolved over time. What she was able to create was really stunning...not only are over 10,000 species represented, but she put the pieces all together in a way that actually makes one feel like you're inside the stem of a tree, looking at the individual cells of that make up the trunk.

And Go Wood readers had a part in the creation. Ms. Paterson spoke to the attendees of our World of Wood 2015 conference last summer, and several responded with donations to the project. Two are mentioned in the following BBC video - Gary Green and Robert Ritchie, both long-time members of the International Wood Collectors Society and participants in our conference last year.

It's nice to see the wood specimens displayed in such a way that may speak to so many people who might be bored to death if they walked into the typical wood collection room. I especially appreciate the point in the show when Ms. Paterson says, "I think I've never actually seen a piece of tree become a piece of's really nice, you know." And she says this while holding a piece of wood from a grand champion tree she obviously treasures.

That's an appreciation of wood that the whole world ought to have the opportunity to experience.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Woody Events in the Northeast

Just a quick post to bring a couple of opportunities to your attention, especially if you happen to reside in the Northeast.

Click here to see class videos...
Fallon & Wilkinson Wood ID in Furniture Workshop - October 15 and 16, 2016.

I've written before about this great class, and wanted to remind all that there are still a few seats left in this hands-on, personal experience for those who want to deepen their knowledge of wood, and how it was used by the furniture masters of the past.

And besides the opportunity to sharpen your wood identification skills, you'll get an exclusive, hard-to-get tour of the Furniture Study at Yale University, where the curators will keep you spell-bound with stories of some of the greatest furniture ever made. This has got to be one of the most unique opportunities in the world of wood appreciation, so if you've ever considered it the past, now is the time to go. It is so good, I hope to be able to make it again, myself.

They don't make them like this anymore. Recognize the wood?
Hearne Hardwoods Two-Day Open House: September 30 - October 1, 2016

Ever spend the day touring a lumber company's facility? How about doing that and meeting dozens of great woodworking organizations, including the International Wood Collectors Society? If this sounds like a good way to spend a day, come to Oxford, Pennsylvania at the end of this month. Oxford is just a stone's throw from Pennsylvania's border with New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland, and its a great drive from almost anywhere in the Northeast.  The main attraction of the open house is the "discounted slab sale" that Hearne will be offering the attendees. So if you're looking for that special piece of wood, and want to enjoy the day looking for it, then we'll see you at Hearne Hardwoods.

Here's a link to your invitation to the Hearne Hardwoods Open House.

Mike Korsak Woodworking: A Furniture Maker's Open Studio

And if you're in the Pittsburgh area, and want to attend a fine furniture makers open studio, then you can stop by and visit Mike Korsak this Sunday, September 11, between 11 am and 4 pm. Mike is opening his studio (which we've toured together on Go Wood) to visitors who want to see furniture making in its highest form.

Here's your invitation to visit the Korsak studio.

So get out there and Go Wood...

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Great Designs in Wood (72) - The (New) Tallest Wooden Building in the World

Based on the architectural trends, this is a post that will be updated frequently, as we'll probably have a new leader in the wooden skyscraper race every year or so from now on. This year the focus is on the new Brock Commons building at the University of British Columbia, which you may recall we visited last year. It was just topped off this past week, with full construction of the eighteen floors completed in just sixty-six days after the completion of the structure's concrete central cores.

The building is a showcase of a bunch of leading edge technology:
"Anticipated to be the tallest mass timber hybrid building in the world at 53 metres, Brock Commons is an 18-storey student residence located at the University of British Columbia. Designed as a kit-of-parts, the structure comprises 16 floors of five-ply cross laminated timber (CLT) floor panels, a concrete transfer slab, and a steel framed roof."

And here's a short video of the building going together...

When the students start moving in next year, it will be the beginning of a whole new generation of people Going Wood. And that's a trend that is just beginning to gather real steam. Even the Smithsonian Magazine ran an article this summer that asked...Will skyscrapers of the future be built from wood?

Don't look now, but the future is here in Vancouver, B.C.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Dennis Brett - A Lifetime of Collecting Wood Specimens Lives On

Back in 1946, or so, a young lad began to collect odd pieces of wood he found around his home in the Bronx. He never stopped.

And now, thanks to his desire to leave that collection to future generations of wood lovers and scientists to study, the collection resides at Penn State. The university recently did a nice article on the donation, so you can view Dennis's story at the link below.

Thanks, Dennis. We'll work to make sure the spirit of your collecting efforts are honored in our ongoing use and maintenance of the collection.

The work of integrating the Brett collection into the Penn State Xylarium will continue over the next year or so, and if you would like to stop by sometime and see the whole thing, schedule an appointment with me sometime in the future. I'm always eager to rifle through pieces of wood with visitors.

Private gift makes Penn State's wood collection one of world's largest

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Great Designs in Wood (71) - Nakashima Woodworks

Here's an excellent story on famed furniture designer George Nakashima and his daughter, Mira, who has carried on his legacy in their workshop near Philadelphia. If you don't get wood before now, perhaps you will after watching the video.

What Mr. Nakashima did by reflecting his life story through his work, and how he passed it along to his daughter, is an inspiration to us all.

And he did it by Going Wood.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Great Designs in Wood (70) - The Amazing Marble Music Machine - Wintergatan

Have you ever watched your young one, fiddling away the hours with Legos or watching endless YouTube videos on how to do something? Well, now you know what it all may lead to.

The group Wintergatan (Swedish for The Milky Way) is "a Swedish folktronica band" from Goteburg. They play, well, folktronica music. Yeah, I know, another new thing you've never heard of. You're getting used to that by now, aren't you?

But the genius of this group is that they invented a new instrument on which to play their music, and they were inspired by old wooden music boxes and marble machines. You put them together with instruments, some electronic technology, and you have something that you have to see to believe.

To get in the mood, watch a short video of them making the machine...

Now, watch the music video of the machine, and its master, in action.

The neat thing about the project, from a Go Wood point of view, is that the group realized early on that the weak link of traditional music boxes is their soft plastic gears. So that led them to creating their machine with the great wooden gears you see in the videos. Wooden of the great inventions of the world...after the wooden wheel.

So take heart, that little genius of yours may someday be a YouTube video star...with a studio in your basement.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Wood Science 101 (26) - The Wood-Wide Web

Most of us that have studied the cellular structure of wood know that the topic can be a bit, well, dry. There are dozens of technical terms that mean nothing outside a wood technology textbook, coupled with line drawings and pictures that try to give the reader a sense of how all those cells go together and grow. But, like the study of physics, it's all a bit difficult to grasp when looking at a tree or running your hand along the smooth arm of a wooden rocker.

But one woodworker has stumbled on to a wonderful way to visually display how a tree really goes together. He started out by applying his love of wood turning to the task of seeing how thin a cross-section of wood he could turn. Once he had his extra-thin disc, he probably noticed that the less dense early wood tended to crumble away as he got too thin...leaving a web-like skeleton of a tree in his hands. Being an electrical engineer, he was probably familiar with the high-tech machines that are used to put a fine sand-blasted finish on circuit boards to eliminate any extra solder or fiberglass that could impair the functioning of the circuits. Ingenuity being what it is, he probably thought to himself...hey, I could use a circuit-board sand-blaster to knock out all this early wood, and it would look real neat.

Well, he was right.

The art work he's produced does look amazing, but to us at Go Wood the real value of his work is to bring all those wood technology drawings to life. The web produced by the intersection of the medullary cells (we generally just call them rays) with the remnant ring of dense late wood cells gives us a visual sense of just how the strength of wood is accomplished. Imagine this wood web a hundred thousand or so layers thick, and you have the stem of a tree. No wonder it's so strong.

Here's a picture of oak cells for comparison with the wood "lace" in the video.

Ring-porous hardwood illustrating the abrupt change in diameter of earlywood (EW) and latewood (LW) vessels as seen in cross-section. Between the latewood vessel zones are thick wall fibers (F). Wood rays are apparent on all three surfaces (arrows). Source: Wood: Its Structure and Properties, F.F. Wangaard, ed. 1981.

From the picture, we can see that the earlywood being removed with the circuit-board sand-blaster is very porous, and that the latewood bands that are left are held together by the thick wall fibers. Thus, the spidery bands of remnant wood we see in the video.

Any guess, then, why the art works in the video are being performed on oak? Well, in softwoods and diffuse-porous hardwoods, there is far less differentiation between the earlywood to be removed and the wood to remain. Take a look at this picture of a diffuse-porous hardwood.

Diffuse-porous hardwood showing the rather uniform diameter of vessels throughout the growth ring. In both the tangential and radial views the formation of vessels from individual vessel elements (E) is clearly illustrated. Note the presences of both one-cell wide and multi-cell wide rays in the tangential view (arrows). Source: Wood: Its Structure and Properties, F.F. Wangaard, ed. 1981. 

Note in the above photograph that if the uniform bands of vessels were removed through sand blasting, there would be little if anything left of the wood. So, a ring-porous, large-rayed wood such as oak is the perfect choice for the type of work being performed by the artist. Other woods that might be good candidates are chestnut, hickory, elm, ash, osage-orange, and locust.

You might think that heavy, dense diffuse-porous woods, such as many of the tropical species, would also be good candidates for this type of wood-turning skeletonization. But the sand-blasting process would have to be done on individual cells, not on bands, so that already tedious process would become extremely tedious.

So, now you know what the inside skeletal structure of a tree really looks like, and how it is all engineered by nature to support the tree's weight.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Great Designs in Wood (69) - The Haas-Lilienthal House of San Francisco

I don't think we've yet had a Victorian home on our GDiW series. There's a simple reason for that...we've focused on homes and products that might inspire new houses and products. Unfortunately, they just won't build homes like this anymore. And that's a shame.

But there is a reason for it. The intricate workmanship that went into these 19th century beauties just doesn't seem to be as valued today as it once was. At least, not valued enough to cover the costs associated with building and maintaining such wonderful dwellings. It's not uncommon to go through old towns in America and see one or more old beauties in serious stages of dilapidation, even while still being lived in. Seems like the modern economy just can't support these works of art in the numbers it once did.

But at least in San Francisco, the community got together and decided to save one of the best.

The video above highlights the superficial facelift given the house to highlight its original beauty. Now, there is a new campaign to complete the renovation. Price tag...$3 million. That explains why the vast majority of these old beauties are crumbling away.

Here's another video for you lovers of wood. The tour guide in the video is a wood lover herself, and does a great job detailing all the different woods and their uses in the interior of the home.

Another time, lost forever into history. Perhaps these homes are visual, yet somewhat discomforting hints that human civilization peaked around 1900, when even non-royalty could build actual castles of wood.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

How Many Trees are There in the World?

Here's an interesting example of scientific news, that on its surface, sounds good. The video informs us that a new study reveals that there are 3.07 trillion trees in the world...more than 8 times more than scientists previously thought.

So, you would think, then, that the message from the people at Nature would be one of relief. But the story narrated continues to push concern that we're "currently losing about 10 billion trees per year", and that "if we keep going at this rate, a walk in the woods will soon become a lot trickier."

Well, let's do some math here. Ten billion trees is 0.3% of the 3.07 trillion trees they say we have. If we continued to "lose" trees at that rate, we would have 1/3 fewer trees (only 2 trillion) in 100 years. That would still be five times more trees than scientists thought we had until this study was published.

But let's dig a little deeper. I wondered how the folks at arrived at the ten billion tree "loss". I don't find any such estimate in the original paper. Here's what the authors actually say:
"Current rates of global forest cover loss are approximately 192,000 km2 each year. By combining our tree density information with the most recent spatially explicit map of forest cover loss over the past 12 years, we estimate that deforestation, forest management, disturbances and land use change are currently responsible for a gross loss of approximately 15.3 billion trees on an annual basis. Although these rates of forest loss are currently highest in tropical regions, the scale and consistency of this negative human effect across all forested biomes highlights how historical land use decisions have shaped natural ecosystems on a global scale. Using the projected maps of current and historic forest cover provided by the United Nations Environment Programme (, our map reveals that the global number of trees has fallen by approximately 45.8% since the onset of human civilization (post-Pleistocene)."
- Nature,
So they say that 15 billion trees are the "gross loss" on an annual basis. To claim that the net loss per year is 10 billion trees, one would have to assume that annual forest "loss" is 50% higher than forest growth all across the world. That sounds fishy, since we know that here in the United States,
"Growth has more than doubled on both national forest and other public timber land since 1952 and has increased 13 percent on private timber land since that year.
On a per-acre basis, total net growth averaged 52 cubic feet annually for all timber land."
- U.S. Forest Service, 
Even supposing that the growth to removal rate is negative in tropical forest regions, it's hard to get anywhere near a 50% net loss of trees per year. For instance, according to University of Maryland researcher Matthew Hansen, the average loss of forest acreage in tropical countries of the world was only 3.9% over a ten-year period from 2005 to 2014, or only about 0.4% per year. Furthermore, that was gross loss, so regrowth was not counted.

I suspect the folks at Nature came up with their ten billion tree loss by reducing the 15.3 billion tree gross loss stated by their authors by the 45.8% loss estimated in the same paragraph since the start of human civilization...which is a gross statistical error. Unfortunately, statistical errors of this sort are not uncommon and are frequently used to weave all sorts of false narratives these days. Even if you assume that the tree loss continued at this same actual loss rate, that would mean that we would "only" have about 1.6 trillion trees ten thousand years from now, or still four times more than what scientists thought we had until this study was published.

And there is all sorts of evidence that this rate of tree loss will not occur. Food production, which is the cause of most forest depletion, is becoming much more efficient and utilizes far less acreage per ton of food than it did even fifty years ago. Agricultural advancements promise to continue this trend, and the rate of forest growth in even tropical countries may soon exceed forest removal as it has in temperate countries for some time now.

So, let's be honest...the findings of this study are good news. and bode for an abundance of trees for any imaginable future. Any "concern" that you'll have a hard time finding a forest to walk in is nothing more than an agenda-driven false narrative. Be careful when you view internet video...caveat emptor.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

"Wood - It Really Is The Future"

Here's a nice video from the Oregon Forest Resources Institute.  A little over-dramatic in places, perhaps, but most of the video is right on target. It correctly points out the effective role in carbon utilization and sequestration of wood buildings and the fact that our forest area is as large today as it was a century ago. It's an inconvenient fact for some that has been overlooked but ultimately will be accepted as truth in public perception, thanks to infomercials such as this.

Friday, July 29, 2016

How Pallets are Moved

There was a great response to last week's post "How Pallets are Made". But for complete appreciation of the role the wooden pallet plays in the low cost of your food, clothing, and pharmaceuticals, you need to understand the continuous improvements being made in supply-chain science and technology. Now, you can get a university degree in this sort of thing, there is so much to digest. But here's a couple of nice videos that demonstrate how essential the pallet is to the movement of goods around the world...and how companies are always trying to make that movement faster and more efficient. 

How about a forklift that can load and unload an entire trailer of pallets in a single move? Seeing is believing...

You'll notice that the pallets in the video above are "stringer" pallets, the first type of pallet we saw being made in last week's video of the Remmey production facility. This type of pallet serves one of two distinct major pallet markets - the one in which pallets are used as the lowest-cost, structurally-capable means of moving product from point A to point B, and ownership of the pallet is transferred from the product seller to the product buyer.

The other major pallet market is the "block" pallet, which we saw being assembled in the second half of the Remmey video. Block pallets are heavier, more costly wooden pallets specifically designed for the demanding handling requirements of automated pallet transfer systems in most of today's modern distribution systems. Because of their cost and strict control of design and manufacturing standards, these block pallets are usually rented from a pallet pooling company, which retains the ownership of the pallet. Their reliability is the key to successful use in the complex but efficient product movement systems of today. And despite the higher cost of the block pallet, the wooden version is still more cost-effective than plastic or steel counterparts.

As high-tech as the world gets, wood still holds its place...better, in fact, than human laborers. So, Go Wood, or go home.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Wood Science 101 (25) - Spotting Softwoods in Stained Furniture

One of the more useful woody sites on the web is Eric Meier's Besides having a nice alphabetical listing of several hundred of the most common woods in woodworking, he occasionally posts detailed articles and informative videos.

One of the most common questions I get at shows and by email is "how can I tell if a piece of wood is a hardwood or softwood?" Well, there are a bunch of ways, most of which are way too technical for most folks...but Eric does a great job in the following video of giving one of the simplest answers in a straightforward, yet technically sound wood science way. The secret is in understanding the science of growth rings.

And if there are no growth rings, or you want to be able to distinguish between different hardwoods? Well, sign up for one of Randy Wilkinson's wood identification classes.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

How Pallets are Made

Earlier this week we examined a wooden component and trim manufacturer, Lewis Lumber Products of Picture Rocks, PA. That post spurred Don Remmey, President of Remmey - The Pallet Company to send me the link to a video of his Beaver Springs, PA operation. I think you'll agree with me that this video has a unique value of its own to Go Wood readers.

Over the past few years, we've had several posts about the ubiquitous yet simple wooden pallet. We examined how they are, in fact, one of the greatest designs in wood ever created; their role in international trade and the regulatory efforts to ensure their safe use; and even how they have great second lives in re-purposed uses; but I've been remiss in not sharing with you just how these marvelous things are made.

Well, Don has taken care of that. Here's a nice video that shows pallet production from beginning to end. Watch as the pallet cants (which come from local sawmills) are trimmed to proper length, then ripped into boards, and sawn into the proper dimensions for the type of pallet being constructed. These boards are then laid up as either standard stringer pallets, block pallets, or custom pallets. It's all shown here in three minutes, and the folks at Remmey do it as efficiently as anywhere I've ever seen.

That's another fine Pennsylvania wood products company setting a global standard in excellence.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Re-thinking, Re-creating, Re-newing the Company

You may remember two Penn State architecture students, Matt Fink and Jacqueline Holt, who worked with me about five years ago (was it really that long ago?) on their furniture design projects. One of the Go Wood postings was about their wood shopping trip to Lewis Lumber Products in Picture Rocks, Pennsylvania, where we met LLP President Keith Atherholt. Keith and the folks of LLP have been a great partner with Penn State for many years, and quite a few of our students have toured or worked in their facility, gaining valuable real-world experience.

The most rewarding thing about working with LLP is that as a company, they have never stopped working to improve themselves, by making themselves more valuable, available, and indispensable to their customers. Earlier this year, Keith sent me a video they made that captures the spirit of their efforts.

In this summer of renewal, I offer this video as a reminder of what makes a company successful, and keeps it that way...a passionate focus on the needs of the customer, and your company's efforts to exceed those needs. There are a lot of companies out there who can do what yours you have to do it better.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Stacking Firewood the Proper Way

The last video from Wranglerstar reminded me of one of my favorites, his video on stacking firewood the proper way. He makes use of the holzhaus design, one we've featured here before on Go Wood. But the beauty of this video is the way he trains and makes use of his captive laborers.

Mid-summer is the time to get going on firewood, if you haven't already taken care of it in late winter. It's a great way to shake off the mid-summer lazies. And like Wranglerstar shows, it's a great way to engage your young 'uns in productive exercise. My two oldest firewood laborers have grown up and are doing their own thing now, but I bet they look back on the firewood experience in a lot better light than when they were doing it.

As a matter of fact and point of pride, one of said young 'uns will be part of the U.S. Army honor guard this fall at the Seattle Seahawks' home games. Easier than stacking wood, I guess, and more people than just Dad cheering him on. Funny how things work out.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Great Designs in Wood (68) - The Wind Powered Sawmill

One of my favorite YouTubers, Wranglerstar, shares this video of an ingenious design to harness the wind for sawing lumber, from Holland, naturally. It's not the fastest way to produce lumber, but you'd be hard-pressed to come up with a way that is more energy-efficient.

Just goes to show how creative we can be when we have all the modern conveniences taken from us. Makes you think that yes, just possibly, we were all smarter a couple of hundred years ago when we weren't sharing our thinking with a pocket-sized electronic device.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Great Designs in Wood (67) - Timber Frame Heaven in Texas Hill Country

If we get to pick our homes in heaven, this is what I'll be living in. Simple timber frame, simple interior design, wood so rich you can smell it right through your screen, surrounded with low-lying live oaks under a big sky. Hard to beat.

Check out the complete slide show here.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Pennsylvania Clearcut - Four Years Later

Some of you may remember the post back in 2012 in which I posted a video of me walking through a recent clearcut, talking to myself like an absent-minded professor about the species of plants and trees that were re-establishing themselves after the cut.

Well, I happened to stop at the same place for lunch again earlier this week, so I took the opportunity to once again walk the same portion of the property and shoot some follow-up video. I'll post both videos below so you can watch them sequentially or simultaneously, if you care to. By a bit of luck, I noticed that if you start the videos at the same time, they sync up pretty nicely for a great comparison. You can mute either of the videos by clicking on the speaker icon in the lower left corner of the video...I muted the top one and enjoyed them that way.

First, in 2012...

Next, just this week, nearly four years later.

I think the videos speak for themselves, but I'll reiterate the main points...
  1. This was a very large clearcut, in total probably 100 times larger than what is taught in forestry school as a "sustainable" clearcut.
  2. It was conducted on a very poor upland site,
  3. It has not been re-planted or managed in any way since the harvest.
  4. Basically, this is a "worst-case" clearcut from an environmentalist's point-of-view.
  5. The site has regenerated itself naturally.
  6. Evidence of human impact, such as the densely-compacted log landing site and road, is slowly being erased by natural forces and the encroachment of the less-compacted surrounding forest.
  7. The biodiversity at this point, about ten years after the harvest, is extremely high, much higher than the remnant forest left across the road.
  8. The growth rate of this young forest is much higher than the adjacent mature forest, thereby making this large acreage a CO2-gobbling and oxygen-producing machine.
  9. The site is home, resting spot, and dinner table to a prolific number of wildlife species.
  10. The sawtimber and pulpwood that was produced from the site provided jobs and products for the benefit of mankind - and will do so again in about fifty years or so - unless it becomes "protected" by well-meaning but misguided environmental regulation.
Go Wood.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

An Oak for Renewal

As I type these words, I'm a couple of hours away from my annual physical that happens every three or four years without fail. I made it to sixty a couple of weeks ago, and surprisingly, still feel pretty good. And just as surprisingly, I'm also feeling pretty good about things, in general.

I know, I know, things are pretty bad out there right now. People ask me all the time about the economy, and I have to find the silver lining on the truth by saying that well, the companies that made it through the last ten or twenty years, are still hanging on, and although their business isn't as great as it could be, or should be, at this time of year, at least there is some business to be done.

But best of all, I find encouragement in the attitudes of the survivors. Let's face it, it's been a long last decade or so, unless you're in the position of finding a high level of joy in increased numbers of jobs in poverty-stricken countries. (Which is, in fact, a good thing.) But it's hard to rejoice in the betterment of others on distant shores when companies and their employees are shutting down all around you. And it's just not manufacturing...check out this list of retailers that shut down just in 2015. I don't think it's been this hard to find a job in the United States since the 1930's.

Even so, the folks I work with every day have adjusted to the "new normal" and are making the best of it, and in the process, retaining and renewing a sense of hope.

Speaking of hope, I send out best wishes to our cousins in the UK who are beginning a whole new journey. I know a lot of our Go Wood readers are from the British Isles, and for all of you, whether you desired the Brexit from the EU or not, please know that we're excited for what you are going to make of your great country.

And as sometimes happens, I ran across a passage in my reading last night that fits perfectly with the spirit of the times, at least for those looking for renewal. Once again, it's a passage from our old friend Leo Tolstoy in his greatest of all novels, War and Peace.
At the edge of the wood stood an oak. Probably ten times the age of the birches that formed the forest, it was ten times as thick and twice as great as a man could embrace, and evidently long ago some of its branches had been broken off and its bark scarred. With its huge ungainly limbs sprawling unsymmetrically, and its gnarled hands and fingers, it stood an aged, stern, and scornful monster among the smiling birch trees. Only the dead-looking evergreen firs dotted about in the forest, and this oak, refused to yield to the charm of spring or notice either the spring or the sunshine.
"Spring, love, happiness!" this oak seemed to say. "Are you not weary of that stupid, meaningless, constantly repeated fraud? Always the same and always a fraud. There is no spring, no sun, no happiness! Look at those cramped dead firs, ever the same, and at me too, sticking out my broken and barked fingers just where they have grown, whether from my back or my sides: as they have grown so I stand, and I do not believe in your hopes and your lies."
As he passed through the forest Prince Andrew turned several times to look at that oak, as if expecting something from it. Under the oak, too, were flowers and grass, but it stood among them scowling, rigid, misshapen, and grim as ever.
"Yes, the oak is right, a thousand times right," thought Prince Andrew. "Let others - the young - yield afresh to that fraud, but we know life, our life is finished!"
A whole sequence of new thoughts, hopeless but mournfully pleasant, rose in his soul in connection with that tree. During his journey he, as it were, considered his life afresh and arrived at his old conclusion, restful in its hopelessness: that it was not for him to begin anything anew - but that he must live out his life, content to do no harm, and not disturbing himself or desiring anything.
So he concluded. But six weeks later, after spending time in the country around fresh young faces with dreams and hopes for the future, he passed the old oak again on the way home.
It was already the beginning of June when on his return journey he drove into the birch forest where the gnarled old oak had made so strange and memorable an impression on him. In the forest the harness bells sounded yet more muffled than they had done six weeks before, for now all was thick, shady, and dense, and the young firs dotted about in the forest did not jar on the general beauty but, lending themselves to the mood around, were delicately green with fluffy young shoots.
The whole day had been hot. Somewhere a storm was gathering, but only a small cloud had scattered some raindrops lightly, sprinkling in the road and the sappy leaves. The left side of the forest was dark in the shade, the right side glittered in the sunlight, wet and shiny and scarcely swayed by the breeze. Everything was in blossom, the nightingales trilled, and their voices reverberated now near, now far away.
"Yes, here in this forest was that oak with which I agreed," thought Prince Andrew. "But where is it?" he again wondered, gazing at the left side of the road, and without recognizing it he looked with admiration at the very oak he sought. The old oak, quite transfigured, spreading out a canopy of sappy dark-green foliage, stood rapt and slightly trembling in the rays of the evening sun. Neither gnarled fingers nor old scars nor old doubts and sorrows were any of them in evidence now. Through the hard century-old bark, even where there were no twigs, leaves had sprouted such as one could hardly believe the old veteran could have produced.
"Yes, it is the same oak," thought Prince Andrew, and all at once he was seized by an unreasoning springtime feeling of joy and renewal. All the best moments of his life suddenly rose to his memory. Austerlitz with the lofty heavens, his wife's dead reproachful face, Pierre at the ferry, that girl thrilled by the beauty of the night, and that night itself and the moon, and...all this rushed suddenly to his mind.
"No, life is not over at thirty-one!" Prince Andrew finally decided finally and decisively. "It is not enough for me to know what I have in me - every one must know it: Pierre, and that young girl who wanted to fly away into the sky, everyone must know me, so that my life may not be lived for myself alone while others live so apart from it, but so that it may be reflected in them all, and they and I may live in harmony!" 
Well, good for Prince Andrew, good for the greatness of Great Britain, and good for you if you can sense the opportunity in the air. Life is sweet, and short, so enjoy it and share it while you can.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Notes From the Road (7) - Sawing in the Swamps

I could sense Ivan's anticipation mount as we turned off the highway. We'd been seeing nothing but southern pine and swamps for a while, and he seemed to know he was about to experience something completely different from the Carpathian mountains. He asked me to stop so he could take a picture of the sign for the Goodwin Heart Pine Lumber Company.

Saw blade on sign...excellent.
As we headed down a gravel road into the swamp, Ivan sat at attention and started taking pictures non-stop. I'm not sure how he translated the sign below in his head, but it was perfect. He was suddenly completely interested in alligators and where they might be lingering.

Vot does "Dead End" mean, exactly?
At the end of the road, we rolled through the gate of George and Carol Goodwin's passion...the headquarters of their Goodwin Lumber Company. George figured out a few decades ago that pulling old longleaf pine and cypress logs from the swamp and rivers in the area could be profitable, and he's been buying and sawing them ever since.

Carol runs the business from a nice office in the front of the property, filled with samples of products made from their products.

Carol's office.

Have you ever seen a floor medallion filled with pine?

Curly heart pine...a unique and elegant look for cabinetry.
George runs the headrig, and as I watched him turn the logs I recognized the experience of one who has been opening great logs for a long time. Each one was turned deliberately until the perfect face presented itself. And what appeared was some of the most beautiful art that nature can provide.

As we stood watching George and his hands at their trade, the unique smell of the old-time Gulf Coast mill took me back to my roots. Fresh-sawn heart pine, with its high pitch content, produces a profusion of that sweet smell that one never forgets, and mixed with the sour smell (think vomit) of fresh cypress, it made for the perfect sweet and sour combination. As we used to say in our mill houses just outside the big mills in Diboll..."smells like money."

You know it's a great business that turns old reclaimed stumps into enduring home construction treasure.
You've seen pecky cypress boards or wainscotting? Well, here's what it looked like before it met the saw.
As nice as the mill visit was, I think what happened next really left the biggest impression of Southern hospitality on Ivan. The Goodwins not only booked our hotel room at a local inn, but they insisted on paying for it...and then they treated us to a fine dinner in one of the nicest trendy restaraunts in Gainesville. And hearing that Ivan preferred vodka to our American whiskey, George made sure that we sampled plenty of single-barrel gold just so Ivan had basis for a fair comparison. I believe our sample size was sufficient.

Dr. Sopushynskyy, looking cool after having checked around the back of the tree for a gator.
Having witnessed the production of one of the finest wood products on this planet, Ivan wanted to learn more about these Southern pines and their ecosystem. We began to explore the coastal southern pine forest the next day.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Wood Science 101 (24) - Wood Identification Technology Pushes New Boundaries

You probably recall the three videos I posted back in 2013 from the French wood scientist Jean-Claude Cerre, showing high-resolution macrophotographs of various woods. Last summer, we featured Jean-Claude as a keynote speaker at our World of Wood conference here at Penn State, via a long-distance video call projected into our auditorium directly from his laboratory in France. Many wood scientists around the world, including here at Penn State and at our national Forest Products Lab in Wisconsin, have begun to undertake similar efforts to push the boundaries of wood identification and study to new heights, one that wood scientists and botanists of previous generations could only try to imagine.

Well, Jean-Claude has produced a new video with even more advanced techniques, and it is a marvel to behold. Enjoy.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Notes from the Road (6) - Ivan eats Real Fried Chicken (RFC)

As we headed south out of Virginia, the warmth of the southern sun and the allure of real home cooking got us off the interstate. Ivan was hungry and not particular, but I wanted him to experience The South. As we passed fast food joints one after another, I explained that we were on a mission to find real southern food. And then I saw it.

The square 1950's plastic sign by the road said "MARY'S DINER". The building looked like an old shut-down business of some sort, but I saw what I was looking for...lots of cars parked out front. As we ambled in, past the gum ball machines in the front entryway, I knew we had found heaven. The smell of real southern fried chicken mixed with the clink of forks on real plates instantly set my mind at ease and my stomach into overdrive.

I gazed across the restaurant, ascertained that this was a buffet-style eatery, and the line was at the back. We tried to appear nonchalant as we made our way back, but the folks at each table scrutinized us as we passed and instantly recognized us as strangers. Thankfully, the first waitress we met smiled and asked sweetly, "Ya'll want menus or buffet?" I could have kissed her.

As we reached the line, a literal feast of freshly-fried love met our eyes, and the steam of hot mashed potatoes and collard greens filled our nostrils. The first hostess, a charming young lady of 75 or so, asked what we would like. Knowing that we had a long drive ahead, I opted for a light lunch...fried chicken and pork chops, mashed potatoes and gravy, corn on the cob, collard greens, carrots, green beans, cornbread, biscuits, and a huge slab of pecan pie. All with about three huge glasses of sweet, sweet tea to wash it down. Ivan followed my lead exactly. The last thing I remembered was him muttering "Vedy gud" a dozen or so times between bites.

We came to an hour or so later in the front seat of our rental car. Next stop, Atlanta, Georgia.


We hit Atlanta at five o'clock, which was the wrong thing to do. Fortunately, we were headed in, and everybody else in Northern Georgia was headed out. Just as we hit downtown, the GPS told us to exit and we headed a few blocks north. In about a half-mile, we saw Carlton McLendon Rare Woods and Veneers, navigated across a few lanes of traffic, and pulled the car up behind the building.

The owner of the business, Richard Kuehndorf, met us at his back door. I had met Richard online through my wood collection efforts, and he had invited us to stop by. The business was a simple affair, just a couple of small brick buildings from the 1920's. He led us to the back building first. What I saw next, it is fair to say, blew me away.

As Richard opened the door, the delightful, distinctive smell of old wood engulfed us like a warm wave in the Gulf of Mexico. From the concrete floor to the rafters, old planks and timbers were stacked loosely by species. This is one of those points where I really miss the video I shot, because the stories Richard shared with us over the next hour or so overwhelmed my feeble brain and all I can recall was Wood Everywhere. But the one thing I do remember is that Richard showed an obvious love and respect for the original owner of the business, under whom he had learned the business himself. From the company's website...
"Carlton McLendon is well known around the world as the founding father of the Victorian reproduction furniture industry. Even though he sold his operation in 1970 to retire, you can still see his furniture actively sought after in the antiques markets today. 
After a short while he realized he didn't like being retired and decided to share his knowledge of wood. He naturally had active resources and made them available to the local craftsman and do-it-yourselfers. In 1976 Carlton decided to go full blast into the retail environment with the purchase of a historic building in midtown Atlanta. Only a few years later he bought the building next door to expand further. We have grown with Atlanta and are proud and prospering in the same buildings for 40 years later."
Mr. McLendon passed on a few years ago, but his spirit lives on in Mr. Kuehndorf's mindful stewardship of the business. If you're ever in the Atlanta area, and you're a true wood lover, pass up all those tourist traps and hit Rare Woods and Veneers. It will be one of the best days of your life. Tell Richard you know me and he'll give you the Go Wood discount, which is a free cup of coffee.

As good as this day was, this trip was just starting to warm up. Ivan was about to find himself in the swamps of Northern Florida.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Notes from the Road (5) - Travels with Ivan

You've met my new Ukrainian friend, Dr. Ivan Sopushynskyy, as we took short trips here in Pennsylvania to a logging site and to a truss and beam operation. But in March and April, we got serious and really hit the road. The next few posts will hit the highlights of our waypoints.

We headed south to Florida and back in March, and to the Great Lakes in April. I discovered that as interesting as our Pennsylvania timber industries and forests are, they are in many ways similar to those of western Ukraine where Ivan is from. So, in order to help him get a fuller experience of the diversity of the American forest industries, I knew we had to hit the road. And hit it, we did.

Unfortunately, I can't share my excellent documentary photography and videography from the southern leg with you. Through some type of technical glitch I still don't understand, I somehow lost all my photos and video in the process of transferring them to my laptop computer on the last day of the trip...and didn't realize it until a few days later, when I couldn't find them. Luckily, Ivan took some good stuff at a few key points on the trip, so I'll use his for the southern swing.

We stopped first at our state capitol in Harrisburg, where one can view a level of architecture and building magnificence that will probably never again be equalled. When you take the full tour, you're simply blown away by the level of thought that went into every chamber of the building.

The Chamber of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. The painting is Apotheosis of Pennsylvania, Photo by Ruhrfisch -

From Harrisburg we continued south a few miles to the Gettysburg battlefield. I've had the opportunity to tour the site many times, and it gets better every time. Showing the battlefield to Ivan, I realized that as fascinating as our Civil War seems to us, it is only a vague concept in ancient history to non-Americans. And as such, I found it difficult to explain exactly why the war happened in the first place. I'll say this - I saw the battlefield in a very different light this time, as I struggled to explain not "what" happened, but why it happened at all.

Ahhh, the brave Texans of General Hood's Division. Most of them never came back from the Wheatfield or the Devil's Den at the foot of Little Round Top.

For you Texans out there.

As much difficulty as Ivan had grasping our American Civil War, he warmed up considerably to our history at our next stop - Monticello, the home of President Thomas Jefferson. I've shared a tour of this great place before on Go Wood, so I can't add much to that prior account...except to say, that our conversation turned to the real meaning of liberty, and a country's right to exist, with an earnest intensity as Ivan digested the spirit of the great man in light of Ukraine's current struggle to establish it's own place in the world.

We continued to head south through the Virginia mountains, and spent the night in Galax, Viriginia, home to the headquarters and operations of Vaughn-Bassett furniture company. Bright and early the next morning, we met Jim Stout, the director of manufacturing technology for the company, and he led us through the vast maze of the the largest bedroom furniture plant still operating in the United States. There's a great story behind the company, and its persistent struggle to survive, thrive, and provide jobs to the folks of southwestern Virginia (which you can read about in a book detailing that story, Factory Man by Beth Macy.)

From Galax, we headed into the Deep South. Ride on with us in the next post.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Great Designs in Wood (66) - Fabulous Furniture

Jeff Wartluft forwarded an email with these pictures attached. No details with them, but they are all so unique they're worth posting just for inspirational purposes.

This first table looks like it was harvested from the Lord of the Rings forest.

Remember the post on the reciprocal frame roof? Well, here's a really, really big one.

Love the symmetry of the legs and the table top.

Welcome home.

For the forest child who has everything.

Wonder what this guy would do with a redwood?

Elegance with function.

Does anyone else see "grub" when you look at these chests?

Absolutely awesome staircase.

What a great conversation table...for wood scientists to bore their guests.

The ultimate trophy room gun cabinet.

Now here's one I can afford...and would use.

As my daughters would say....Ahhhwwwwwwwwwww.

OK, now this one I want. Pass the rum and be quick about it, matey...arrrrgh!

Far better than a metal hook...

Very popular with first-time mothers.

Now that's what I call  a wood turning.

What a great way to save an old heart for posterity.

The end stool makes it.

Not sure what the slide is, or bowling ball?

What a great way to end...with a hot soak in a magnificent wooden vessel.