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 does...so 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

Source: http://www.texastimberframes.com/galleries/residential-timber-frames-secluded-hybrid-home
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 - https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9661672

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 for...kids, or bowling ball?


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

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Firewood for the Lumbersexual

As you can imagine, lots of feedback on Monday's lumbersexual post. Some of you are just downright uncaring! But Bob Mayer from Indiana was much more understanding... he shared the following video that demonstrates that the modern lumbersexual is really much more competent than the Dinty Moore video would have you believe. It demonstrates that indeed, the world is changing, and you're just not looking at things in the right way.


Tuesday, April 5, 2016

A (Real) Logger Speaks Up

Occasionally I get a ping from my logger friend Martin Melville, who you may remember swinging from my butternut tree last summer. Yesterday's lumbersexual video reminded me of a recent blog post of Martin's, describing the real world that the logger operates in. Thought you might enjoy what a real logger sees from his side of the world.
"Loggers are typically disempowered. We are on the bottom of the pecking order. We wind up dealing with scenarios that others- -foresters, sawmills, and land owners—create. I have often been told that “foresters don’t respect us.” Contract provisions require us to (figuratively) sign our lives away and post our first-born as bond. Sawmills often pay more for timber on the stump than they do for logs delivered to the mill. One outcome is that we are very good at finding ways to “make it work.” If there’s a “rock” (read: barrier) in the way, what are (in today’s jargon) the possible work-arounds? Another result is to invoke the prayer of St. Francis: Lord help me change the things I can, accept the things I can’t change, and the wisdom to know the difference. The list of things beyond our control is long: weather, the cost of fuel, the cost of equipment, whether the guys show up for work, contract provisions, (sometimes) the timber we cut, the rate we can charge per ton or per thousand board feet. For instance:"
You can read the rest of Martin's post here at his blog, martinstrees. 


Monday, April 4, 2016

Lumbersexual Chainsawing

Sometimes an ad strikes a chord that really gets to the heart of the matter. This one says so much about the world we live in.
"For over 80 years, Dinty Moore has fed the lumberjack-sized hunger of hardworking men. Unfortunately the number of lumberjacks is dwindling. But the good news is that lots of men aspire to look like a lumberjack. Dinty Moore believes these "lumbersexuals" can do more than just look like a lumberjack."

Dinty Moore - Lumbersexual Campaign - Chainsaw from BBDO MPLS on Vimeo.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Notes from the Road (4) - Glulam Beams and Roof Trusses

You've all been there.

You're sitting in church, and the preacher has just made a rousing appeal to your higher senses. Your heart quickens, you get a lump in your throat, you raise your eyes toward the heavens, and you find yourself wondering...

How did they make those great wooden beams up there?

Well, now you know.




The folks sharing this mystery of the universe are the good folks of Rigid-Ply Rafters, a Pennsylvania company based in Richland, just east of Harrisburg. It's really a rather simple process. The lumber components are glued on the face, then stacked into the appropriate design in the large clamping device seen in the video. Then the clamps are tightened on each side; the beam is held until the glue is cured; and then the beam is removed and trimmed to final dimensions.

Rigid-Ply also makes prefabricated roof trusses, and I shot this quick video mainly to time the process.



Two-and-a-half minutes. That's pretty darn quick, especially when you compare it to the time framers spend building the same thing on-site. And the steel plate fasteners provide a much stronger connector than nails driven in at angles by framers hanging in the air by one arm. So, the modern prefabricated wooden building component is generally a higher quality product produced more efficiently than the stick-built buildings of days past.

Unfortunately, that good story is not the end of the story. Efficiency is a never-ending process, and at some point, human workers just aren't cost-effective enough.


Looks like the best skill for the future is to be a robot technician.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Notes from the Road (3) - Winter Logging the Pennsylvania Woods

Last week I was out showing around a VIP visitor to Penn State. Dr. Ivan Sopushynskyy is a visiting professor from the Ukrainian National Forestry University and he's here for a few months to look around and see what he can learn to enhance his research and teaching over in Ukraine.

My friend Andy Blazewicz is a consulting forester here in Central PA, and he offered to take us out to a job site. We visited a site where he's overseeing a 53-acre clearcut designed to enhance wildlife habitat and to provide hunting opportunity for the landowner. The following video gives you a sense of what it's like to be out in the woods while logging is going on. Andy talks forestry to Dr. Sopushynskyy and logger Rocky Souders tells us about his Bell harvester.



I'll post more from our travels together over the next couple of months.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Wood Science 101 (23) - How Wood is Made

I recently republished an article on the World of Wood blog that has gotten great feedback, so I thought I would pass it along to our Go Wood readers as well. Originally published in 1949 in the Bulletin of the Wood Collectors Society, it may be perhaps the simplest and therefore best narrative I've read on that miracle of nature, How Wood is Made.

Thanks again to my friends of the International Wood Collectors Society for allowing me to share this great story with all.

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 chimneysweeponline.com, 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.