Friday, January 15, 2016

Wood Science 101 (22) - Which Log or Pellet is Right for Your Stove?

Last post I alluded to my work talking to folks about firewood and pellets at the Pennsylvania Farm show. I thought today I would share those ideas with the rest of you.

1. Firewood

People love to talk firewood, especially if they burn it for heat. This year, our display included about a dozen different sticks of firewood. But these sticks were special. All were of different species, and sizes...but they all had the same mass, or what we call in wood circles, dry weight.

Testing folks knowledge of the wood they burn.
I kept the labels turned down and let folks see if they could guess a few of the species. Most couldn't, although a few picked out oak and maple.

My favorite demonstration was to pick up a piece of black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia, fifth from the bottom in the picture) and hold it up against the piece of Douglas-fir (Pseuodtsuga menziesii, third from bottom). The two pieces are almost exactly the same length, but the locust is only about half the thickness of the Douglas-fir. When asked which piece of wood provided the most heat, many folks would guess the Douglas-fir, simply because it was twice the size.

But of course, you know the rest of the story...since the two pieces weigh the same amount, and energy value is roughly correlated to mass of the wood, then the two pieces contained roughly the same heating value, even though the stick of Doug-fir was much larger. Which then led us on the the importance of density of different species, knowing which species is which, and relating the price per cord (which is a volume, not a weight measure) to whether or not a certain cord of firewood is worth the price being asked. Sometimes we even got into the moisture content of the wood.

If you care to dig more deeply into the topics, there are many good online references, including

Firewood BTU Comparison Charts at, and

Heating with Wood: Species Characteristics and Volumes by Utah State Extension authors Michael Kuhns and Tom Schmidt, which has some great explanatory text, charts with firewood properties, and diagrams on different measures of firewood.

2. Pellets

My conversations with folks on wood pellet stoves were even more interesting, because pellet stove owners, on average, seem to know much less about wood and what makes their stove work well and what doesn't. But they all want to know the bottom line...what is the best brand of pellet?

Most of the conversations were held around the pellet pit while we watched their kids and grandkids dig around and organize the pellets.

Highlight of the farm show for two-year-olds.
As for the golden question, I explained to them that pellet stove effectiveness is a function of many variables...size of space being heated, brand of stove, quality and species of the pellets, outside temperature variation, home construction and insulation, and on and on. Where it got interesting was in a few cases, the folks countered with stories of trying Brand A versus Brand B and deciding that Brand A pellets went further. My usual response to comments of this type is..."And the outdoor temperature was the same when you tried the two different brands?"

[Deer in headlights look.]

So on the way home Sunday night, I got to thinking...there has to be a way for folks to make a somewhat reliable comparison of pellets. And this is what I came up with...

1) Buy two or more different brands of pellets, preferably by the bag.
2) Set your pellet stove on your preferred temperature setting...AND DON'T ADJUST IT DURING THE TRIAL. You can turn it down to a night-time setting each evening, if you make sure to turn it down and back up at the exact same times each day. Keep temperature fiddlers away from the thermostat.
3) Begin a week on one brand of pellets, and stay on that brand for a whole week.
4) Each day, write down the high and low outdoor temperatures for the day, and from these, calculate the average temperature for the day. (High + low)/2
5) At the end of the week, record the average temperature for the week (sum of daily averages / 7) and record the total amount of pellets used during the week.

Keep a simple chart that looks something like this:

In this simple example, we can see that even though the average temperature was about 2 degrees (F) lower in Week 1 using Pellet X, about three fewer bags were used to keep the house warm. Here we have quantitative proof that Pellet X was more effective for this home and this stove.

This trial could be extended for as many brands as you care to try, and the longer the trial is extended, the better. I would recommend running the trial for at least a month, and preferably for an entire heating season. Over the course of several weeks. you can average the weekly results for each brand, and eventually the temperature averages during which you trialed each brand will converge to nearly the same average temperature...but the total usage of each brand will differ by the effectiveness of each pellet in your home, under your heating requirements with your stove.

If you care to take your analysis to the next step, you could compare the pellet effectiveness achieved during your trial to the cost of each pellet product. For instance, say you find that at an average outdoor temperature of 30 degrees F over several months, you used 10% more of Pellet Y than Pellet X. So Pellet X is more effective in your stove, right? But, if Pellet Y is 20% less expensive than Pellet X, they Pellet Y makes more sense from a pellet cost standpoint.

Many folks worry more about ash content than they need to...the major brands are certified to PFI standards to contain less than 1% ash content, and most contain even less than that. If you find a certain brand to produce too much ash consistently over time, then you'll know it, and the efficiency and cost effectiveness testing described above will help you decide if that extra amount of ash is worth the trouble.

So, have some fun the rest of this winter, and take control of your wood heating solution. Crank the numbers and increase your satisfaction in warm, bright wood heat.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Going Wood at the Pennsylvania Farm Show

About ten years ago, I started working the Pennsylvania Farm Show for Penn State Extension. What a joy that has been.

For those of you that have never been to the show, you would find it, as I did, both a trip back into history, and a reminder of how fine most people still are these days. The show itself looks like something right out of the Saturday Evening Post of the 1950's, with cattle, horses, pigs, chickens, rabbits, and prize-winning fruits,vegetables and nuts in abundance.

This fine lady didn't like the smell of the smoked brisket sandwich I was holding.
Mr. Ed's grandson holds a press conference.
Dairy and proud of it!
Majesty in harness.
Off in the distance, a crowd swarmed around a well-lit display. Wondering, I elbowed through the crowd to get a better look...

...well, of course, it was the world-famous Pennsylvania Butter Sculpture winning entry.

That's a lot of butter.
Not far from the butter display, was the object of my interest...the wood display by the Pennsylvania Forest Products Association and the Pennsylvania Hardwoods Development Council.

Inside the Woodmobile, an exhibit that travels the state for educational purposes at fairs, schools, and other public venues.
Now, the wood exhibit is a fine thing, and it attracts a lot of folks out to satisfy their love of wood. Including this fellow, who obliged to sing and tell me a story or two.

Well, I had to get back to work, so I made my way over to the Penn State bioenergy exhibit. Here's my friend and bioenergy expert Dan Ciolkosz, who organizes the exhibit each year. He's pretending to be working a little, by pointing to the bundles of switchgrass, willow, and miscanthus that he and others in Pennsylvania have been working with in recent years to develop the bioenergy industry.

As for me, I mostly just played with all the kids who stopped to dig in the little blue pool of wood pellets, and talked to their parents about firewood and pellet stoves.

If you're within driving distance of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, the 100th annual Pennsylvania Farm Show runs through this weekend, and it's free to the public. Spending a day walking around, taking it all in, watching the rodeo, and eating fried pickles, is one of those things that makes for fond memories.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Going Wood for Christmas Cheer

Everyone knows wood comes from trees, right?

But folks around the world have discovered that trees can come from wood! And just in time for Christmas.

Down under, where Christmas is usually a sunny affair, one can build a tree out by the pool with cool drink in hand.

Or, if you happen to live near the coast, a driftwood Christmas tree can build holiday memories.

Now, if you live in the rolling hills of Italy, where woodworking is truly a lifestyle passion, you can do a wooden tree, first class.

But here in the States, we have an affinity for making good things from old pallets. Why not a Christmas tree?

This last video was made by a US Army veteran in Tennessee, who is using a GoFundMe effort to build a woodshop for fellow veterans to have a place to chill when not on duty.
"So here is the goal. I'm going to open my home and shop to active duty and vets as a past time program to get them out the house or single soldiers living in the barracks some time to unwind. The goal is to keep them from sitting around and being idle and give them a place to escape that is positive. We would like to be able to have a big brother program on the weekend so our vets can help children that need a mentor. I need to replace my temporary garage with a bigger steel building. Upgrade some of my diy tools to a little better ones and stock up on some building supplies. My long term goal is to employ solders and vets as a way to fund the program further an provide job for vets that really need help.."
 What a great way to Go Wood...why not get in the spirit of the season and help them out?

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Wood Scence 101 (21) - The Mystery of Wood and Water

The SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry is holding their annual Kiln Drying Workshop again next month. While the program is considered one of the premier and must-attend workshops for professional hardwood kiln operators, there might be reasons for you to consider a trip to upstate New York in the dead of winter.

As much love for wood as I find out in the world, I also constantly see a great deal of misunderstanding of the issue of wood, water, weathering, mold, rot, warpage, and other moisture-related wood performance issues. Quick story from this weekend at the Ray mansion...I had been given a small gift-size oak barrel several years ago, designed for seasoning a bottle or two of whiskey. I had used it a few times, but made the mistake of trying it for wine (which didn't work well, because the wine needs to be consumed shortly after the bottle is uncorked), and the wine residue tainted the barrel enough so that it was no longer good for further use in seasoning whiskey.

My eye landed on the deserted barrel this weekend, and I had the brilliant idea that it would make a great in-tank prop for my aquarium. So, I picked up the barrel, headed outdoors to fill it with sand, brought it back in and sank it in the tank. It looked great.

But then the family questions began, with several of the little wood rats wondering if the barrel wouldn't "rot away" in the tank. I was aghast, and explained more than once that wood rotting is a function of wet-dry cycles in wood...and that wood that stays saturated with water will last forever, at least until some organism in the water might possibly consume it. In my fish tank, the chances of that happening are very, very small.

That experience got me to thinking about how folks really don't understand wood relationship with water, and why wood drying, seasoning, and finishing are done improperly so often. Wooden decks, roofs, and siding are the worst case scenarios, as they are constantly exposed to extremes in temperature, ultraviolet light, and temperature...and with improper drying and maintenance, they often disintegrate in short order.

Wooden furniture and crafts also tend to fall apart when improperly dried and stored lumber is used in its construction. The hardwood dry kiln operators job is to ensure that it doesn't happen...but even in the professional ranks, I find operators who seemed genuinely confused about how to make end-of-kiln-cycle decisions according to how the specific load has responded in the kiln.

I also find that more often that not, persons involved in the sales of wooden furniture give absolutely incorrect information when discussing the qualities and environmental properties of the wooden products they represent.

Crafters at the local fairs often create their works of art under conditions and using techniques and materials that practically guarantee their short life.

And non-woodites routinely make wood products purchasing decisions under misguided assumptions about how that product can be used in application.

All reasons why I would like you to consider attending SUNY's Kiln Drying Workshop next month. Even if you're not one of the folks who dry lumber for a living, you'll find that a few days spent learning the science of how to properly remove moisture from wood will benefit every aspect of your appreciation of it as one of the greatest of raw materials on the planet.

Here are some details on the workshop. Only five days left to take advantage of the early registration rates.

If you truly are one to Go Wood, you'll find it time and money well spent.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Art for the Rest of Us

Have you ever been to one of those fancy art museums, looked at a huge splat of paint on the wall, and wondered...what the...?!!!?

If so, then this next video will probably gratify your sense of a true work of art.

Thanks go to Bill for passing this along.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Entertaining the Little Ones

No woody stuff today, just a smile and laugh passed on by one of our GoWood friends, Ryszard Szymani, in the spirit of the holiday season. Godere!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

It's a Small, Small World (of Wood)

By far the best thing about writing this blog is getting personal feedback from Go Wood readers. Yesterday, after the posting of "A Trip to the Mountain Above Turmero", I received two such pieces of an interesting modern-day version of a similar trip, and the second a piece of information that could fairly be called an incredible coincidence.

Story One

IWCS member Michael Nee shares his recent encounter with the mountains of Bolivia...

OK, you asked for it. Interesting story from Venezuela. Here's mine.

 The sandstone cliffs of Serrania de Chochis seen from our lodging. There are only two trails to the top.
Saturday (Nov. 14, 2015) we were at Chochis, Bolivia, a little town at the base of a spectacular escarpment, the highest range in the eastern half of the country, at 1245 m (about 3700 ft). We took the dirt road (after eating at places with chickens clucking around begging for bread crumbs) alongside the escarpment to one of the two places where it is possible to climb up.

The weather report was predicting a high for the day of 100 deg F. The first part was a steep climb on a dirt trail through forest with no breeze at all.

Then began the part which was more a scramble up nearly vertical places, with sometimes a rope tied to a tree to give some help. As we got higher and surrounded on both sides by vertical cliffs, our narrow gap had "forest", or rather trees growing out at an angle, including PodocarpusMy climbing companion, Daniel Villarroel, is a Bolivian getting a PhD at the Unversidade de Brasilia in Brazil.  He was specifically after a new species of Myrtaceae which he had collected in flower, but was hoping to find in fruit. We in fact did find it--and with fruit--so now he has enough material to publish it. 
 A tree in the Myrtaceae family, new to science, and this the first discovery of the fruits.

Most things we saw he was familiar with because of his research, and it was "that is a new record for this range, and it was only described two years ago", "that Schefflera of the Araliaceae is a new species, but we're not sure what to call it yet", "that species has only been collected once before and is only found on this mountaintop".

Needless to say, whenever I have the opportunity to collect wood for MADw, I get a piece. But on this trip I was not getting much wood, because we had the whole climb back down that precipitous trail and already had more material in the plant presses than when we came up. At least we had pretty near finished all the many liters of water we were smart enough to bring along, and that lightened the load a little.

The top of the range is a grassland with shrubs and small trees and full of frantastic sandstone formations. Put 18°07’53”S, 60°00’24”W into Google Earth to see where we climbed to
A view from the side of the Serrania looking down on the plains.

Byrsonima tree huddled among the rock formations on the top of the Serrania.
Then it was time to go back down, easier on the lungs but harder on the legs than scrambling up. Much of the way down I spent sliding on my behind and carefully searching for secure footholds. We did manage to find a Podocarpus in "seed" which we had not noticed on the way up, and a mystery tree which I still am completely stumped on after 30 years of working in Bolivia.

The climb up was 670 meters (about 2100 ft) vertically from the dirt road to the top of the mountain, and so it was also 670 meters back down. My legs are still sore (Tuesday).

Now the question is, why am I still doing this when it won't be long until my 70th birthday??
Great story, Michael. Answer to your last question..."Because you can."

Story Two

I was across the hall in the Hoverter Wood Operations Research laboratory yesterday afternoon, looking at specimens of our Penn State Xylarium (wood collection).  I've recently been examining specimens from the extensive collection of IWCS member Dennis Brett of New Jersey; there are over one hundred boxes of his specimens in the lab.

While digging through one of the boxes, I had the inclination to call Dennis...we hadn't talked since the World of Wood 2015 event we held here at Penn State this summer. (Sorry, forgot I hadn't posted anything about that yet...need to catch up!) Anyway, Dennis is doing fine, having just celebrated his 80th birthday in excellent health.

Now Dennis is an interesting guy. He started collecting pieces of wood as a 10-year old growing up in New York City, and made it a life-long passion. As a teenager, he joined the IWCS in its formative years, and he met and traded with some of the founders of the Society, including the original founder, Mr. Harold Nogle of Newton County, Texas. As we chatted, I mentioned the article about Turmero and its author, J.H. Standen.

What Dennis told me next blew me away. Dennis knew Mr. Standen, and had purchased specimens from him. In fact, he had a box of Standen's Venezuelan specimens in his collection...and that box was sitting somewhere in our lab, just a few feet away from me!

Think about that for a second...a fellow collects wood samples from a mountain in Venezuela in 1949 (Dennis told me he thinks Mr. Standen was working as a consultant to Ford Motor Company at the time, which was thinking of building a plant near there), he sells many of those samples to a young man in New York City, who shares them with a professor at Penn State University sixty-six years later. And that professor, without knowing anything of the samples, or their existence a mere few feet away from him, posts the story of the collection of them using a communication technology that wasn't even dreamed of in the time in which they were collected.

Will you agree with me that the coincidence borders on the incredible?

We'll have to wait for the rest of this story...I have to go through the boxes one by one, and they don't really have any identification on the boxes. So, one of these days, hopefully soon, I'll find samples of the rare species mentioned by Mr. Standen in his travel account of so many years ago.

What a small, small, world. And while traversing it, Go Wood.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Wood Collecting, Back in Time

I may have mentioned in this space that I started a new blog, World of Wood, based on the archives of a journal of that name published by the International Wood Collectors Society. Today I posted another wonderful old adventure from the days when wood collecting really was an adventure.

And although I usually send the link to the post out only to IWCS members, I thought this one was so nice that I thought it might appeal to a broader audience. From when times were simpler...

A Trip to the Mountain Above Turmero



Monday, November 16, 2015

Winter in the Woods

As things cool off down here in the states, we start dreaming of roasted turkeys and trimming the family Christmas tree. In the back of our minds, though, we're going through the mental checklist of winter preparedness: fresh coolant in the vehicles, firewood cut and stacked, pipes winterized, and salt and shovels at the ready.

But not so tough, compared to winter loggers in the northern reaches of Canada, eh?

These high-quality videos provide excellent detail on the logging process that you don't often get...number of truckloads a day, cost of broken components, how the machines work. They give us a good appreciation of the capital and human investment necessary to keep the front end of the wood products industry humming, when the rest of us are huddled by the fire. Good job, boys.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Notes From the Road (2) - The Sound of Music

Had a full week visiting wood plants last week. The best stop was a visit to the Martin Guitar Company in Nazareth, Pennsylvania. You may recall that we took a video tour of the plant as part of a previous Go Wood post.

Well, news is good in Nazareth. Company folks affirmed that yes, the guitar business is much so, that the company expanded its manufacturing capacity to a new operation in Mexico a few years ago. When a thing is good, it will live on.

Certain things stood out to me as I toured the plant with members of the New England Kiln Drying Association. As one who has been through hundreds of wood operations, and seen the good, the bad, and the ugly, I can tell you...this operation is well-managed. Very well managed. It shows in the plant, and on the faces of the employees as they speak of their work.

In the milling operation, every unit of lumber is clearly identified and quantified.

As components are manufactured, they are tracked with precision through the process, so that both stock and custom guitars can be made in the shortest possible time.

As we learned in "The Secret of Stradivari", the internal design of a musical sound box is the key to the tonal quality of the instrument. Martin has their own internal designs, and each component is manually shaped by human hands to achieve the aged sound Martin guitars are famous for.

The sides of the guitar are curved in an interesting process, one that has been improved by the employees so that it cuts the time for this step of the process in half.

Every woodworker knows the value of proper sanding in the process. Here, in a great example of efficient cellular processing, boxes are sanded to a smooth surface prior to final finishing. One person noted the absence of dust in the factory...the guide smiled and said something like..."Five million dollars buys a heck of a dust removal system." I may be wrong about the amount, but it was a big enough number to make the tourist realize that these guitars are the products of a huge capital investment.

And speaking of huge capital investment... Marty, the company's resident robot. This thing was amazing in the precision and versatility with which it handled the guitar boxes as it polished them on two large polishing wheels. Another sign of the inevitable rise of the machine in society, even when the products being produced are highly "customized".

I never knew there were so many different types of pearl.

Now, I don't play guitar, but I might buy one of these to carry around just to look good.

And to top off a great visit, I spent some time perusing the Martin museum on site, open to visitors. Wow.

I appreciated the comment of company CEO Chris Martin in the video above when he acknowledges how fortunate he was to be born into a historic guitar manufacturing family, and not an accordion manufacturing family. And yet, he and his employees are more than just fortunate...they are living evidence that love of music, and history, and pride in your work, combined with some ingenuity and a passion to make it always better, will produce great results.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Back to the Fur for the Future

Here's a great video from 1950 forwarded by Aaron E. out in Oregon, which features, among other great stories, parachuting beavers.

I bet Dylan would love to get a job like this.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Humans Need Not Apply

In the last post, we discussed steps that could be taken to "grow" the forest products industry in the Northeastern United States. A group of Northeastern government officials had invited my ideas for growing the industry. One might ask..."why?"

Are the politicians of the region suddenly feeling an urge to increase the profits of an industry that has been politically incorrect for decades in the region? Are they worried that the abundant forest resources of the region are going largely under-utilized? Are they worried that too many cabinets, flooring and furniture pieces are being manufactured in distant locations?

Of course not. They need keep their jobs. And the forest products sector is one that once offered hundreds of thousands of jobs in the Northeast...but that number is dropping precipitously. For instance, wood industry employment in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont decreased by one third in the decade from 2003 to 2013. The good news is that the number has rebounded by 10% since the dog days of early 2010.

Wood-Products Manufacturing Jobs in Northern New England
Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont
Source: Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages, Bureau of Labor Statistics, United States Department of Labor.

But the longer trend is hard to ignore. Even through the "boom" years of the housing market from 2003 to 2005, industry employment remained flat. And anyone who has visited industry shows over the past decade knows why. Technology is helping business owners replace humans to keep their costs under control.

In my advice to the government officials, I ignored the impacts of technology that were already underway, and focused on the other areas of costs which are being imposed largely by government policy. The hope is that by trimming their sails a little, governments could reduce the non-market costs imposed on businesses and enable them to invest a little more in their work forces.

But even under the best case scenario, those hopes for increased employment seem more like fairy dust with each passing year.

Back in the 1980's, my graduate research led me to programming an "expert system" that helped employees of a gypsum wallboard plant diagnose process problems in real time. The project required me to spend a summer on-site at the plant. On my first day, a local real estate lady showed me a couple of apartments, during which she asked me what I would be doing at the plant. As I gave her the simplest explanation, her immediate reaction, in a sweet but sincere Southern drawl, was "You're not going to take our jobs away, I hope?"

The question somewhat startled me, because I had never considered that possibility. I quickly assured her, that no, of course not, my system didn't replace any simply helped them do their job better.

For some reason, she didn't seem convinced. And I had a funny feeling in the pit of my stomach.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Turning the Ship of State

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to speak with the Agriculture sub-committee of state and province representatives at the Eastern Regional Conference of the Council of State Governments. Over breakfast, I was able to share with them what I perceived to be actions that would grow the forest and wood products industries in the northeastern U.S. and Canada. They were very cordial and seemed open to the ideas presented, and many follow-up questions were asked.

Here are the bullet points I went over, very quickly, with the group. As you survey the items, please remember that I was not there to give them a run-down on what actions were being taken, or what initiatives are currently being considered or are popular in industry. I approached the development of the list as an accounting matter...that is, what could state and federal governments do that would improve companies' bottom lines, and thereby attract more investment in the industry? What policy actions would generate more in revenue or cost savings that they would cost the companies in compliance?

Here's what I came up with...

Recommendations for Growing the Forest Industry in the Northeast

  1. Focus on efforts to reduce constraints on the general economy, primarily regulation and taxation. Wood products will sell in a strong economy, but be deferred in a weak economy.
  2. The state should be selling, not acquiring, forestland. Private owners have incentive to actively manage each acre of land according to their stewardship and personal objectives. Public managers are biased toward minimal intervention due to conflicting interests of stakeholders. Private acres produce logs, syrup, and tax revenues. Public lands produce maintenance expenses for public activities, take woodlands out of production, and yield no tax revenue. Divestiture of public lands would result in lower log costs as buyers harvest to finance the land purchases and stewardship objectives, and resulting harvests of mature forest lands will result in increased species diversity, productivity, and carbon uptake of forest lands.
  3. Forest ownership and corporate sales tax laws could include discounted taxes on logs, lumber, and components sold within the state, to encourage local processing of the state’s forest resource.  Companies in the wood products supply chain will be encouraged to open facilities in more states in order to take advantage of the tax benefits. This in turn will reduce transportation costs and fuel consumption at all stages of the supply chain. Important: Note that helping the wood products industry means decreasing the taxes on in-state products, not increasing taxes on exported products.
  4. Harmonize transportation and logistics regulation within and between states. Make a road-legal truck in one state or province road-legal in any county in the multi-state region. One permit covers all, like one auto registration is valid in any state. Current regulatory inconsistencies are resulting in many companies moving to leasing transportation purely for administrative convenience, which adds cost to and reduces the margin on the final product.
  5. Implement an immediate ten-year moratorium on new Endangered Species listings, while existing listings are reviewed for evidence of successful vs. non-successful rulings and policies.
  6. Implement an immediate twenty-year moratorium on New Clean Air and Water regulations, while existing regulations are monitored for efficacy over a minimum twenty-year horizon. This will give other countries a chance to catch up to our level of environmental pollution control and to incur the same cost of doing so that our manufacturers work under.
  7. Reorganize state and federal agencies so that wildlife and environmental employees are dispersed into agricultural and commerce departments where they can develop policy in conjunction with, not against, producers.
  8. Promote cheap energy, not "green" energy. A growing economy and a healthy wood products industry requires the least expensive energy that can be had, and plenty of it. A policy focus on green energy necessitates energy conservation and higher energy prices, both of which deter industry growth. Stop current EPA “Clean Power Plan” which forces the replacement of coal power production with natural gas power production; this will increase the cost of electrical power and natural gas, both used in abundance by the forest and wood products industries. Eliminate subsidies for green power generation; recognize that biomass CHP applications are typically and best used by timber and agricultural harvesting and processing facilities as process by-products. Also recognize that biomass processing for energy production on distant shores is inefficient and at some point drives up the raw material cost for local forest industries. Promote, through education, the use of firewood, wood pellets, and, in communities with dense populations in forested areas, wood chips for residential and light industrial heating.
  9. Reverse all impacts of the Affordable Care Act, through repeal if necessary: eliminate barriers to interstate competition of health insurance. Dramatically increasing healthcare costs deter new employee hires and limit companies’ ability to offer competitive wages.
  10. Recognize that punishing consumers through policies like the Lacey Act extension to wood products and requiring “certified’ wood products in public building projects do not help most local wood products industries – they only drive compliance costs up and consumers to more affordable alternative materials. Prohibiting U.S. companies from importing and selling imported wood products at lower price points will not drive customers to local wood products at higher price points; it will drive them to cheaper alternatives to wood, and dull their purchasing preference for complementary wood products. Requiring certified wood products in government building contracts increases the cost of such projects and limits the number of companies that can compete for the business. Initiatives like these also subliminally place in consumers’ minds the idea that "non-certified" wood products are illegally and unsustainably harvested, when the reality in all but the most extreme cases is quite the opposite.
  11. Modernize building codes to reflect the development and potential of new engineered wood products that make tall wooden buildings attractive projects for future developers. Wooden buildings not only make use of wooden construction materials, but encourage the use of complimentary wood products in interior trim, furnishings, and artwork.
  12. Classify loggers as a “strategic, at-risk” occupation and support the viability of the profession with administrative support, investment tax credits, subsidized harvest insurance, and catastrophic health, liability, and property coverage.
  13. Celebrate the forest and wood industry with local and state-wide “forest fairs” and woodworking shows. Let people know that state and federal officials agree that “Wood is Good.”

I recognize that not many people in the industry will agree with all the above recommendations, because every company is running a different business model. Even fewer folks in the general public will agree with or understand all these points...many, if not most, are "politically incorrect". But, I formulated these recommendations not with an eye to their potential acceptance, but as an objective accounting-based assessment of what will work in companies' financial favor, and what works against them. There are probably more that I didn't think of; feel free to share with me if you care to, and I'll see that they are passed along.

Whether or not my short meeting with these state senators and representatives will have any impact is hard to say. I came away from the meeting with a sense that they had heard very similar stories and recommendations from many other industry representatives; nobody in the room appeared shocked by anything said. There were many interested follow-up questions, and a bit of discussion among the folks around the table. And a few approached me afterward with requests to follow-up with them with more detail in the near future.

I came away with just a glimmer of hope that the mighty ship of state can be slowly turned in a more productive direction. I also better appreciate the tough job that our state and provincial representatives have...they face a divided public and competing industries on one side, and complex and heavy-handed federal regulations on the other. All we can do is continue to communicate our great wood story to these folks, in a respectful and factual manner, and rely on their common sense to prevail before all our companies are driven out of business or to foreign shores.

P.S. Thanks to my many wood industry partners who shared their thoughts and cost numbers with me as I prepared for the meeting. Your input added a credibility to my comments that I could read in the faces of the folks in the room. They believed that what I was saying really was what many in our industries are experiencing. Way to Go, Wood.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Logging of Long-Gone Days

Here's a well-done video compilation of wondrous pictures of the old days of logging and sawmilling. You never get tired of looking at these old photos if you really have wood in the blood.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Great Designs in Wood (65) - The Wooden Mosque of Choubin

In this Great Designs series, we've seen wooden temples in China and the great stave churches of Scandinavia. Here's another great example of how wood seems to be a universal medium for expression of spiritual fervor...the wooden mosque of Neishabour, Iran.

The narrator in the video tells us that the builder was...
"using the wood because it is nature. There is something in it, it is not made by a human being; it's made by nature....The trees are producing oxygen, as well as fruit, and of course wood."
Just another confirmation that people all over the world recognize wood as "the world's most environmentally-friendly raw material."

So, Go Wood.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Butternut Lumber on the Way

Yesterday, when I went home for lunch, I found my drive blocked by a familiar truck. Sure enough, I found my friend, professional logger and tree climber Martin Melville, shimmied up a small butternut (Juglans cinerea) tree in my front yard, just about to crank up the saw. So, with another interesting thing to video, and knowing how nifty Martin is in a tree, I fired up the trusty smartphone and watched him take it about 30 minutes. Amazing.

In the video I say that the tree was killed by the walnut canker disease, which is misleading on my part, because that could be confused with the Thousand Cankers Disease which is wiping out black walnut (Juglans nigra) across the country. The butternut, or white walnut, has been under attack from a different enemy, the butternut canker, and it is that disease to which my tree has succumbed. It suffered the classic symptoms: dieback of lower branches, followed by a canker at the base and then a few others climbing the trunk a few feet apart. This process has been going on for four years now, and it looked like the tree only had this summer, and possibly next, to go.

Martin comments around the 20:00 minute mark about the extent of the disease in the forest, and makes an apt comparison to the chestnut blight. Both are so pervasive now that mature trees of either species are few and far between.

From Wikipedia:
"The most serious disease of Juglans cinerea is butternut decline or butternut canker. In the past the causal organism of this disease was thought to be a fungus, Melanconis juglandis. Now this fungus has been associated with secondary infections and the primary causal organism of the disease has been identified as another species of fungus, Sirococcus clavigignenti-juglandacearum. The fungus is spread by wide-ranging vectors, so isolation of a tree offers no protection. 
Symptoms of the disease include dying branches and stems. Initially, cankers develop on branches in the lower crown. Spores developing on these dying branches are spread by rainwater to tree stems. Stem cankers develop 1 to 3 years after branches die. Tree tops killed by stem-girdling cankers do not re-sprout. Diseased trees usually die within several years. Completely free-standing trees seem better able to withstand the fungus than those growing in dense stands or forest. In some areas, 90% of the butternut trees have been killed. The disease is reported to have eliminated butternut from North and South Carolina. The disease is also reported to be spreading rapidly in Wisconsin. By contrast, black walnut seems to be resistant to the disease."

I hated to see one of my favorite trees taken down, but with the World of Wood 2015 conference coming up next month, this was a good time to say my goodbyes and call Martin.  Mike Powell here at Penn State is going to saw this and several other neat logs up as a sawing demonstration at the conference, and the lumber will be auctioned off.  It will be nice to see my tree sawn and watch the beautiful lumber appear. I'll have Mike saw at least one one-inch board so I can make specimen samples for our Penn State wood collection, complete with vouchers, leaves, and nuts. That's the real beauty of nature - death of one organism provides bounty for another.

So, if you're a wood worker who has been looking for some nice butternut boards, you know where you can get some the third week of July. Hope to see you here.

P.S. Today is the last day that our conference hotels are holding room blocks. You'll still be able to reserve at the discounted rate after today, if rooms are available, but the hotels aren't guaranteeing availability after today. So, get your room while they're still there!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Stand Up for Forestry

A funny thing happened this week. I picked up a copy of The Forestry Source, which is an official monthly publication of the Society of American Foresters. Since I haven't been an SAF member since my college days, I thought it would be interesting to see how much forestry issues have changed in that time of several decades.

As I thumbed through the issue, I thought to myself..."a lot."

Then, the funny thing happened. Not two hours later, I received an email from my old friend and former Ibberson Chair professor at Penn State, Harry Wiant. Harry retired from here about seven or eight years ago, I guess, and went out to live with his family in Seattle. I occasionally still get a nice email from him, and it's either another one of his country music recordings, or something related to forestry. This time, he was making a direct reference to the very issue I had just been reading...and he had some thoughts to share, including a speech he used to regularly give. Many foresters loved this speech, but near the end of his career Harry found his point of view in the minority, at least among policy makers and educators. Times were changing, and 21st-century forestry is not what 20th-century forestry was. Much of what Harry warned against in this speech have now come to be.

Whether you agree with his viewpoint or not, I think you'll agree that his speech gives us a frame of reference for what professional forestry values once were. With Harry's permission, I reprint it here for posterity.


The Forestry Source this month is a painful obituary of a once proud profession.  Many of us saw this coming years ago.  National forests are a non-productive disaster, forestry schools have little forestry left, even in the names, and the nightmare sought by the Greenies is reality.  I am thankful I was in the profession when it was a profession.  Goodbye forestry!

Here is my talk in case you have lost it; I fear the last couple sentences was a dream.


Harry V. Wiant, Jr.
1997 President, Society of American Foresters

This speech, with minor variations, has been presented over two dozen times at SAF and other forestry meetings. I always provide a disclaimer, indicating that the opinions I convey are my own and not necessarily those of SAF.


The Society of American Foresters has been a major part of my professional life, but I had never considered running for a national office.

Actually, I was becoming very discouraged . It appeared to me that many foresters were giving up in the struggle for meaningful forest management and were accepting politically correct but scientifically dubious management philosophies. I decided it was time to retire. A call from a well-known leader in our profession, asking me to run for Vice President, changed my life.

While visiting my daughter and son-in-law, both attorneys in Seattle, I wrote my campaign statement expressing forthrightly my concerns and agenda. "Dad, you can't win with a statement like that," my daughter exclaimed. Many were surprised when I did win in one of the largest voter turnouts (52%) in our history.


The philosophy I espouse, and the one that I'm convinced is shared by a majority of foresters in SAF is, briefly:

1. We love the forest but do not worship the forest. There is a world of difference.
2. We believe management of nature is not just an option but a necessity for human survival.
3. We believe biodiversity is a good thing but does not always over-ride other considerations. That's why we use hoes in our vegetable gardens.
4. We believe large segments of the environmental community have moved from legitimate concerns for clean air and water to eco-nonsense which threatens our economic prosperity and basic freedoms.
5. We believe forest management must be science based, and, like medicine, incrementally improved as new facts are learned.
6. We believe the biocentric philosophy undergirding much of the environmental movement today depreciates human beings and could have devastating consequences to our society.

I will expand discussion of some of these "tenants" in later sections.


Foresters generally have a broad education, but their unique knowledge is that relating to growing trees for timber production on a sustained yield basis. Warren Dolittle, a Past President of SAF, wrote in 1966:

" professional foresters, timber production is the one use of the land which is our undisputed responsibility. We manage forest lands for other uses too, but other groups and scientists usually claim primary responsibility for the disciplines representing these uses. So, let us take good care of our responsibility for growing timber before some other group lays claim to it."

Forestry schools and SAF, when considering membership requirements, accreditation of forestry programs, and certification of foresters, forget Warren's admonition at their own peril.


Ecosystem management, touted as a "paradigm switch" , is more politics than science. Proponents stress that its implementation will require "cooperation" by federal, state, and private landowners. In addition to the likelihood that it will encroach on our freedoms, this approach is hampered by the difficulty of defining and delimiting an ecosystem and the hopeless complexity of trying to manage one if you can figure out what and where it is.

The most serious problem with ecosystem management, in my opinion, is that the inherent complexities and uncertainties will provide our opponents with even more weapons to halt all meaningful forest management, further impacting the timber industry and rural communities.

The idea of returning our forests to some imagined condition in the past, usually severely limiting human influence, is troublesome also. I often say, trying to point out the absurdity of this notion, that I am kind of partial to the ice age. Why don't we return our agricultural lands to a pre-human condition so we can solve all our problems through starvation?


Every forester today should read "In a Dark Wood" by the philosopher, Alston Chase "Broken Trust, Broken Land" by the forester-sociologist Robert G. Lee , and "Saviors of the Earth" by the forester and environmental educator Michael S. Coffman . These authors trace the development of today's biocentric thinking, in many ways a return to primitive earth worship. Chase defines biocentrism as the belief that all things are interconnected (the "circle of life" espoused by New Age folks) and no organism is more important or valuable than another. It is a deadly philosophy dressed up in politically correct sentimentalism.

Karl Wenger, our Vice President, wrote in a letter in the J. For. (Nov. 1996):

"...native peoples set the forest afire annually, sometimes twice a year. Then during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, land was heavily logged without regard for the future. Fire followed and woodland grazing was widespread. Wildlife populations were decimated, erosion filled the streams with sediments, and floods were frequent and damaging. That current land management practices are threatening or endangering 1,300 species of the survivors of that period, as claimed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, is simply not believable." He is absolutely right!


Someone must produce! We cannot just trade trinkets produced in the "Cottage Industries" promoted by our eco-friends. In my speech, I point out here that the lights on in our meeting room are on because someone dug coal, or someone built a dam, or someone drilled for oil, or someone constructed a nuclear power plant. Again, someone must produce! Robert Lee, in a paper entitled, "The Futility of Seeking Common Ground," (Proc.For. Prod. Res. Soc., 1991) states:

"There is not a well-articulated ground in this debate. Advocates for radical change in forest management practices are seeking to revolutionize the social and moral order by challenging industrial capitalism and promoting "biocentric ethics" in place of "homocentric ethics.""

Eco-extremists have a nightmarish plan for us, viewed as utopian by them, as " would concentrate in urban vast lands in the interior of North America return to a wild state. " (Am. Sci. 84:166). The Wildlands Project, returning over half of North America to the wild state and pretty much eliminating man's access, may take 200 years to accomplish, by their estimate. Unfortunately, at the rate they are succeeding today, they will reach their goal much sooner. People and jobs receive scant attention by them.

While visiting in Seattle, a cold, rainy evening prompted our desire for a fire in the fireplace. A quick trip to the store provided neatly wrapped artificial fireplace logs. Printed on the box was:

"No trees were cut to produce these logs. Only sawdust, a waste product, was used."

My daughter suggested a big rubber stamp print on each piece of lumber:

"No trees were cut to produce this lumber. The boards fell out while producing sawdust to make composite fireplace logs."

A forester suggested the other day that on every roll of toilet paper, every ream of writing paper, plywood sheets, etc., we should print "Product of our Renewable Forests."


It has been my pleasure to serve on North Carolina Congressman Charles Taylor's
Forest Science Panel. He was a sponsor of the "Salvage Rider" which was bitterly fought by eco-extremists. At a public meeting in Asheville, NC, a reporter asked me, "Do you think the Salvage Rider was a good thing?" Amazingly, my answer, "Yes, and it's too bad we can't manage our public lands so we don't need a Salvage Rider." was quoted correctly the next day in the local press.

Also, it was my privilege to testify on "Criteria of Forest Health" before the Committee on Resources Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health, chaired by Helen Chenoweth, Congressional Representative from Idaho. She, like Charles Taylor, supports real forest management. I testified as President of SAF and independently as a forester and concerned citizen.

The SAF report on this topic was provided. Testifying independently, which I clearly differentiated, I stated:

* as humans we experience the joy of birth, the vigor of youth, slowing down with age, and finally, death; few of us believe the "hands-off" approach is appropriate for maintaining human health.

* the same is true for forests; a well-managed forest is the healthiest possible.

* criteria of forest health include an adequate cadre of professional foresters; the flexibility to manage the forest unhampered by poorly conceived environmental laws, frivolous appeals and lawsuits, and tax codes that discourage
long-term investments; strong forestry research programs in the USDA Forest Service, universities, and the private sector; and that forest management remain science based with a complete toolkit (prescribed fire, herbicides, clearcutting,

I summarized by saying that the answer to forest health problems is more not less forest management, and that the primary responsibility for managing our forests should in the hands of those best qualified to do the job - foresters!

A later witness, obviously an environmentalist, said, "I can't believe the arrogance of anyone saying that they can manage the forest better than god." Those few words tell us volumes.


One of my more thoughtful critics, not implying that most are not, wrote saying the environmentalist would welcome SAF trying to stand up to them since they outnumber us so. He has a point. Recent data indicate the mainline environmental groups in the U.S. have a membership about 350 times that of SAF and budgets that total more than 80 times ours. Those are challenging odds. Alston Chase is quoted as saying it took the Sierra Club 100 years to reach the first 100,000 members and just two years to recruit the second 100,000 and Greenpeace, which started in the U.S. in 1978, is adding 10,000 new subscribers to its publication every month. Truly, the environmental movement is an eco-Goliath.

I suggest SAF has three little stones, TRUTH, SCIENCE, and ECONOMICS. With the proper sling, such as the TV campaign, perhaps we can prevail.

An article by an environmental educator, J. H. Lehr (in press or published in Soil & Ground Water Cleanup Magazine), wrote:

"The world has just witnessed an environmental backlash that lasted less than two years.
... a newly elected Republican Congress was thought to be set on dismantling abusive environmental regulations. Some were sure they would succeed. Others...were not. They knew that the environmental movement, for better or worse, had done too thorough a job brainwashing the world's population...Yes, the battle is over...One can only be in awe of the leadership of the environmental movement for laying so strong a foundation that even logic, common sense, good science and economics could not knock the building from its moorings...
Today we are an environmentally activist society - so you may as well lean back and enjoy it. Continue to speak the truth, advise reason, logic and good science, but don't be disappointed when such wisdom is ignored. With psychic hotlines a 300 million dollar industry today, what can we expect..."

After one of my talks, a forester reported to me that his daughter was given a t-shirt in kindergarten which pictured a loaded log truck. Printed underneath was "If only trees could scream!" It starts in kindergarten but continues through our educational system. A college textbook of ecology says:

"Consider the ultimate form of external environmental disturbance - total destruction of the habitat, such as might result from logging of a forest, or an asteroid collision, or a nuclear holocaust."

The challenge is almost overwhelming. As I said in my campaign statement:

"A vote for me is a call to battle. I cannot promise victory, nor can I promise fame and glory... But you will know you fought the good fight."


The campaign statement (J. For., Sept. 1995) read:

"It has been a generally orderly retreat, but a retreat nonetheless. Now our backs are against the wall, and powerful voices in our ranks urge surrender. I heard the early salvos in northern California. Facts proved inadequate against a foe unhampered by truth, and the once-powerful redwood industry dried. Next, clearcutting, undoubtedly our best silvicultural tool, came under attack in my home state of West Virginia. Foresters stood shoulder-to-shoulder, but we lost ground steadily. Now school children are taught by propagandized teachers that clearcutting is a despicable and evil practice. The Pacific Northwest, probably the best timber-growing region in the world, has been lost to anti-utilization forces. Thousands of families and hundreds of communities have suffered in the name of the Northern Spotted Owl. The public does not understand that the owl was never the real issue; it was merely the excuse used by those determined to stop timber cutting and destroy the timber industry. Increased paper, lumber, and housing costs; use of metal studs in construction; and even lowly plastic bags in grocery stores testify to our defeats. There are those among us who say it is not "us against them," as if we can wish an enemy out of existence. "Ecosystem management,""sustainable forestry," and a dozen other vague and meaningless terms are incorporated into the surrender document. Some of our number are even accepting the ludicrous notion that forests should be returned to some "pre-settlement" condition. Should we do the same for agricultural land so we can all starve? The flag under which SAF should rally should proclaim our devotion to science-based forest management, with the main focus on furnishing basic human needs…wood for shelter, paper, and hundreds of other necessities. I, for one, would rather lose under that standard than see SAF become just another weak and vacillating organization under the banner of political expediency. Foresters know how to grow trees on a sustained basis, and that is the primary strength of our profession and its reason for existence. We have demonstrated time and time again that good forest management is compatible with the other uses of the forest: watershed, wildlife, and recreation. We have a proud history, but do we have a future? The forestry profession is viable only as long as forest industry is strong. Park rangers do not need forestry degrees! I recognize this is not an uplifting "all-is-well" message. I truly fear for the future of the profession and SAF. A vote for me is a call to battle. I cannot promise victory, nor can I promise fame and glory. If you join me, I must warn you that your character, motives, and intelligence will be assailed. But you will know you fought the good fight. Perhaps we can reverse a prophecy I penned some time ago in somewhat biblical form.

"In the latter days an anti-wise-use force will arise and will deceive many. It will reign for one generation. Mills will be closed, prices will rise, and once-productive forests will be filled with dead and dying trees. The sound of the saw and the ax will be heard no more. The woods will be the habitation of agitators, negotiators, and commentators. But this too shall pass. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. The people will cry, "Why are we wasting this renewable resource? We cannot afford homes as our fathers before us, and lowly paper is beyond our means. Ecosystem management is a false god with a thousand faces, equating humans and salamanders, and calling no management ‘good’ and good management ‘bad.’ It is used by those destroying our means of production." And a new generation of foresters will come forth, once again guided by science-based reason and the knowledge that the stand has always been the basic silvicultural unit, and timber the most important product of the forest. It will be understood that man cannot live by bread and shelter alone, but he surely cannot live without them."

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Notes from the Road (1) - Loading Big Wood

Out on the road last week, it occurred to me that some of what I do and see out there would interest a few of you, occasionally. So I'll start a new series, Notes from the Road, that will feature brief clips of what people are saying and doing out there in the world of wood. Maybe I'll go back and re-post a couple of previous notes from my travels for you newer readers.

The thought occurred to me just as a couple of forklift operators were set to load a trailer in Winchester, Virginia, last week. It's an example of something I thought other people would be interested in do they get those whole-house truss packages on the trailer? They used to stack smaller bundles on the trailer, and then strap the whole thing together...but that took a lot of time.

Now, with some planning, care, and synchronization, they can do it all in less than three minutes. Pretty ingenious.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Wood Science 101 (20) - World of Wood 2015

I hinted a couple of months ago that we would be holding something big this summer at Penn State. Just how big, I didn't fully realize. This is going to be bigger than the time Mrs. O'Leary's cow kicked over the lantern while it was being milked. Although with less destructive results, hopefully.

World of Wood 2015 will soon be upon us. From July 20th until the 23rd, some of the most interesting wood people in the world will descend on State College to discuss just about every issue, every detail, every lignocellulosic factoid on wood known to man. Where else, tell me, where else where you be able to listen to a world-class furniture artist share his knowledge with you and then relax with a scientifically-developed ice cream cone?

Where else, tell me, where else, will you be able learn how DNA sequencing and high-resolution computer vision is being applied to the battle against illegal logging, and then compete in bidding for various fascinating specimens of [legal] exotic specimens of wood?

Where else, tell me, where else, can you learn to identify wood species by their cellular structure, and then apply that knowledge to identify the wood in a one-of-a-kind 18th-century piece of history?

Where else, tell me, where else, will you be able to learn about the fossil forests of Ethiopia, and then tour a world-class arboretum to see living relatives of those very fossils?

And where else, tell me, where else, will I be on July 20th, 21st, 22nd, and 23rd?

No where else than the World of Wood 2015.

Where else, tell me, where else, can you stand in the shade of a 100-year-old American Elm?

So, if you're not doing anything else the third week in July, and want to talk wood all week while sipping suds and soda, join me, The Wife, and about a hundred of only our closest friends in this extravaganza of xylophilic delight.

Who knows, you may find yourself the topic of a future post on Go Wood. :-)