The heft and feel of a well-worn handle,
The sight of shavings that curl from a blade;
The logs in the wood pile, the sentiment of huge beams in an old-fashioned house;
The smell of fresh cut timber and the pungent fragrance of burning leaves;
The crackle of kindling and the hiss of burning logs.
Abundant to all the needs of man, how poor the world would be
Without wood.

Everard Hinrichs, quoted by Eric Sloane in A Reverence for Wood


Friday, December 30, 2011

Last Blog Posting of 2011

Well, I hope you all had a pretty good year, and that Go Wood made it a little better in some small way. Thanks for coming back each time...we had over 80,000 views of the blog this year, which I think just goes to show how much people really love wood and reading about the ways that we can use it wiser, more often, and more efficiently.

Thanks also to those who voted in the poll that was posted all year in the right panel on Favorite Topics. By coincidence, 110 people stated their preference, and this post is the 110th post since I started the blog about a year ago. When I started, I thought it was going to be devoted to wood energy issues, but the poll showed me that you all have a fairly broad and evenly distributed range of interests...

Bioenergy - 28
Wood Design - 34
Wood Species - 27
Wood Artifacts and History - 29
Wood Industries - 33
Housing and the Economy - 20
All of the above - 20

and six folks admitted to being spies for the plastic industry.

Well, since your votes didn't give me a single focus for the blog, I have another idea...I'll try to match the number of future posts to the breakdown of the survey. I aim to please...and to keep everyone interested.

The "Popular Posts" box was also interesting to me...Blogger keeps track automatically which posts get the most views. The post on logging the old redwood forest shot right up to the top in a hurry, which convinced me that the hunch I had that people still are interested in history is correct. I'll try to dig up more wood-related history this year. Also, the Gibson-related post coming in as the second most popular shows me that folks are always interested in current events, and I'll try to keep the future posts as timely as possible.

Oh, and if you care to share the blog with your friends, please remind them of the Follow by Email box in the right-hand column. They'll get blog updates by email without my adding them to my distribution list, which I am narrowing down with each post. I know some company servers are blocking my emails, so if you fit that category and would still like to be notified, the Follow by Email widget will probably get you back online with us.

Also, thanks to all who commented publicly on the blog and sent me personal emails on the topics posted. It really helps to hear other perspectives, and I've gotten some great ideas for follow-ups. Still have lots more topics to post seems ideas come in faster than I can keep up with. When the ideas quit coming, or if the world ends in 2012, I'll quit writing. Until then, I hope you'll continue to Go Wood.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Wood Stove Use and Maintenance

In the last post I discussed the use of green wood in the wood stove, and its potential advantage in stretching your wood supply and lowering the overall cost of your winter wood supply. If you're considering this for your own stove, you need to make sure to maintain a regular schedule of cleaning your chimney flue. If you burn a lot of green wood, you will increase the amount of creosote buildup in the flue, and if left to build up for too long, it may lead to a chimney fire.

Regular users of wood stoves who get their stove up to a nice fire every day will reduce the amount of creosote build-up, and a yearly chimney cleaning will usually suffice for daily users. However, folks who only use their stoves irregularly, or on weekends, will wind up with more creosote build-up in their chimney. If you're one of these occasional wood stove users, try to stick to well-seasoned will give you more heat and pleasure for the shorter time you're using it.

The University of Missouri has a nice informative series of documents that provide help in maintaining the most efficient and safest use of your wood stove.

Wood Stoves and Their Installation

Wood Stove Maintenance and Operation

Chimneys for Wood Stoves

Cleaning Stovepipes and Chimneys

Wood Fuel for Heating

How to Buy and Sell Cordwood

Starting a Fire in a Wood Stove

Preparing Wood for Your Wood Stove

These articles and the video pretty well cover the operational aspect of wood stove use. For those of you who haven't yet purchased a stove, but are thinking about it and would like to know how to evaluate the alternatives, I'll have another blog posting in the near future.

Go Wood in 2012!

"Green" Energy from American Elm and Green Wood

Winter has finally arrived here in central Pennsylvania. Thirty-two degrees today and the wind is howling. Time to break out the long-handle underwear and gloves.

I'm experimenting with my stoves again this year. Seems like every year I come up with something new to try. This year, I lost a big old American elm in the back of the house, and my friend Martin Melville came out and took the big boy down in a couple of hours. Martin is an artist with the ropes, and his manipulating those huge branches to avoid smashing in my roof was a thing to marvel at. He and I are the same age, and while I get dizzy pulling off my pajama bottoms in the morning, he's out there swinging around sixty feet in the air with a chain saw in one hand and a rope in the other. I think he missed his calling with the circus.

So, I get to experiment with this winter with American elm, which is something most folks these days don't get to do, since it is so rare these days. According to the nice heating value chart at, elm is about in the same class as the more common paper birch, cherry, and red maple; if you've burned those, you have a sense of what elm burns like. Pretty nice heat, but practically no coals in the morning. And it produces a light, white, fluffy ash, that both looks and smells like cigar ash. So, overall, not the greatest wood for the stove. And it's not great fun to split, either.

Another experiment this winter is mixing in various amounts of green wood. If you're new to firewood burning, you may have been warned about getting gypped into buying some green wood. Let me share another perspective on green wood.

First, if your supplier admits it's green, you should be able to get a good price on it. I'm burning a load of mixed green hardwood that Martin cut late in the year and dumped in my front yard about two months ago. I rented a hydraulic splitter, and bribed my seventeen year old son Jesse to hoist the bolts up to me; my six-year old son Wesley ran the switch (he works cheap) while I tried to avoid getting my fingers crushed by him as I turned the bolts. It all came together, and we had about three cords split in a couple half-days of work together.

Well, back to it's being green. Since it was, Martin gave me a good price on it...real good, considering it was mostly rock and red oak, with some maple. And this stuff green is about as heavy as gold or you might thinked I'm screwed if I have to burn it this year.

Not so. What I do is get the fire going real good with some dry wood, and then feed in the green stuff according to a rate the fire can handle. In effect, I'm using the moisture in the green wood to damper down the fire, instead of using the damper rod to cut back on the oxygen flow to the fire. True, in the process of doing so I'm effectively reducing the BTU value of the wood, because energy is being consumed in volatilizing the water and sending it up the chimney as steam. But, the heating time per stick of wood is being extended because the wood burns slower, and my efficient stove can still blow you out of the room with green wood, if you want it to. Once it gets below 20 degrees outside, though, I'll probably need a higher ratio of dry wood to green to keep the rooms toasty.

Back in the days of the open fires, folks used to appreciate the sizzle that green wood put off. Here's a video I shot last week of some of that real green wood once it starts to heat up.

And I shot this next video about a half hour later. You can see the stick in the middle is really burning now, and the entire end of the stick is wet as all the water is being chased out. Believe it or not, wood this green will keep sizzling until it gets completely charcoaled.

Oh, that's another strategy for green wood. One thing that works well is to get a great fire going just before bedtime, then pack your stove full of green wood and damper it all the way down for the night. In the morning, you'll have nice dry charcoal that will produce a great hot fire for your tush in just a minute or so, once you add another piece or two of wood and crank the air to it.

So, part of being a firewood aficionado is understanding your stove, your heating requirements, and the trade-off in heat produced by different species of wood and different degrees of "green". The fun is in the learning. Stay warm!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh

"When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. 
And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh. 
And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way."
-Matthew 2:10-12, The King James Bible

So goes the story. I always thought it an interesting one, especially for the two mysterious gifts with names that I never saw anywhere outside of the Bible. Gold, that was easy, and it showed that these three wise men were serious players. But frankincense and myrrh? What the heck is that?

As a kid, I always had a vague notion that frankincense was some kind of magic dust that was somehow associated with Frankenstein. And that myrrh was a smooth, sweet, middle-eastern butter. Well, I could see how Mary and Joseph would appreciate some high-end butter, but it never really was clear to me what they did with the magic dust. The Bible never did clear that up for me.

But it turns out that frankincense is mentioned in the Bible sixteen other times, fifteen in the Old Testament and once in the Revelation of the New Testament. And from these mentions, it is clear that it is some kind of incense/spice, useful for burning as an offering or for spicing up your roasted lamb. Myrrh is mentioned fourteen other times, thirteen in the Old Testament as a fragrant spice with some apparent medicinal use, and once more significantly as one of the two ingredients (aloe and myrrh) that were brought by the merchant Nicodemus to dress the body of Jesus with after removing it from the cross and carrying it to his tomb.

Perhaps you already knew this. But did you know that both are wood products? And both apparently were, at least at the time of the story, worth their weight in gold?

Frankincense and myrrh are both resins that are produced by stripping the bark from small trees and letting the sap, or gum, run and harden on the trunk in the form of a droplet, or tear.
Frankincense (Olibanum) resin

The frankincense trees are different species of the genus Boswellia, and myrrh trees are scientifically known as Commiphora myrrha. Both are rare, and are found as small, scraggly trees in arid places in the Middle East and East Africa. Both are the source of some nice revenue for the hardy folks who have the patience and diligence to scout out the trees in the dry hills, avoid the snakes that love to lie around them, and perform the tedious work of stripping the bark from the thorny stems and pick out the dried tears.

And predictably, now, scientists are finding that these trees are increasingly endangered. In the latest issue of The Journal of Applied Ecology is a paper entitled "Limitations to sustainable frankincense production: blocked regeneration, high adult mortality and declining populations." In this paper, the authors found that the Boswellia trees in Ethiopia used for frankincense production are endangered...
"Under the ‘business as usual’ scenario, population models projected a 90% decline in the size of tapped and untapped populations within 50 years and a 50% decline in frankincense yield within 15 years. Model simulations for restoration scenarios revealed that populations and frankincense production could only be sustained with intensive management leading to full sapling recruitment and a 50–75% reduction in adult mortality. 
...Regeneration bottlenecks and high adult mortality are causing rapid decline in frankincense-producing tree populations in Ethiopia. This decline is unlikely to be a consequence of harvesting and is probably driven by fire, grazing and beetle attacks. Fire prevention and the establishment of non-grazing areas are needed. Our results show that other factors than exploitation may seriously threaten populations yielding [frankincense]."
- Groenendijk, et al, The Journal of Applied Ecology

Frankincense tree, Boswellia sacra

It's likely that the species are under similar attack in other parts of their ranges, and that the price of frankincense and myrrh will skyrocket as its availability decreases. Too bad, because the products are still popular in middle-eastern cultures and as incense in Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox services. 

Especially interesting is the potential use of the products for medical purposes. From Wikipedia:
Standardized preparations of Indian frankincense from Boswellia serrata are being investigated in scientific studies as a treatment for chronic inflammatory diseases such as Crohn's diseaseulcerative colitis, and osteoarthritis. Initial clinical study results indicate efficacy of incense preparations for Crohn's disease. For therapy trials in ulcerative colitis, asthma, and rheumatoid arthritis there are only isolated reports and pilot studies from which there is not yet sufficient evidence of safety and efficacy. Similarly, the long-term effects and side effects of taking frankincense has not yet been scientifically investigated. Boswellic acid in vitro anti-proliferative effects on various tumor cell lines (such as melanomaglioblastomasliver cancer) are based on induction of apoptosis. A positive effect has been found in the use of incense on the accompanying specimens of brain tumors, although in smaller clinical trials. Some scientists say the results are due to methodological flaws. The main active compound of Indian incense is viewed as being boswellic acid.
As of May 2008 FASEB Journal announced that Johns Hopkins University and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have determined that frankincense smoke is a psychoactive drug that relieves depression and anxiety in mice.[11] The researchers found that the chemical compound incensole acetate[12] is responsible for the effects.[11]
In a different study, an enriched extract of "Indian Frankincense" (usually Boswellia serrata) was used in a randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled study of patients with osteoarthritis. Patients receiving the extract showed significant improvement in their arthritis in as little as seven days. The compound caused no major adverse effects and, according to the study authors, is safe for human consumption and long-term use.[13] The study was funded by a company which produces frankincense extract.
In a study published in March 2009 by the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center it was reported that "Frankincense oil appears to distinguish cancerous from normal bladder cells and suppress cancer cell viability."

Myrrh resin

So now you know "the rest of the story" on frankincense and myrrh. And why the wise men thought it valuable enough as a gift to offer it to a being they consider to be heaven-sent.

Still, it would be interesting to know what Mary and Joseph used it for, wouldn't it?

Myrrh tree, Commiphora myrrha

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Spirit of the Season, In Wood

For football fans, Christmas and Budweiser are eternally linked by video images of Clydesdales pulling beer wagons through the snow to the sound of bells and soft music.

Well, our industry friends at FinnForest have created a wood industry version of that marketing phenomenon, of a sort. Entitled "The Spirit of Wood", the video below provides us with a spiritual look at an industry that contributes so much to our shared human experience. While you enjoy the video, listen closely to the narrator. You'll hear that the "wood is produced from certified forests", and that "the transport distances to the production units are minimal", and that "all harvesting work is done on a long-term development principle". That heat from the veneering process is captured and re-used in other processes. And that "continuous internal and external quality control" is maintained at all times.

Throughout, technology and precision is conveyed as the essence of the product being touted, which is a type of cross-laminated timber panel. And vertical integration of the industry to architects and designers is shown to be key to the success of this new generation of engineered wood product. Much of the Metropol Parasol we visited a few weeks ago was made with this product from the very same FinnForest.

I got a sense of vision and the future of wood products from the video, and found it a very encouraging message at this time of hope.

Merry Christmas...and enjoy the spirit of wood past, wood present, and wood future.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Sarah Explains Woodpiles

Been spending a lot of time around the woodpile lately, and just now ran across a short video entitled "Sarah Explains Woodpiles". My curiosity was peaked as to what exactly there was to explain, so I bit.

So glad I did. In just a few words, Sarah explains the wisdom of the ages with respect to woodpiles...she gets right to the heart of both kinds of people: those who love to build them, and those who love to hate them.

Not sure if the beverage is water or vodka, but Sarah is one inspired Canuck.

What kind of a person are you, really? :-)

Friday, December 9, 2011

Finished Ski Table

The ski table is finally complete and I am extremely happy with the results. The project remained the same throughout the building process except for the inclusion of cut pegs for the mortise and tenon joint. I spent somewhere around 4-5 hours each week working on the table also bringing me close to Jackie’s time of 60 hours. All together the project came in around $250 including the wormy maple, oak tiles, stain, polyurethane and inner hardware to make the ski top move. Using rollers for bi-fold doors and cutting a ledge inside the structure, the table top is able to split open. The full design includes a continuous Alpine themed oak border; snowflake cut pegs and a hidden shadow box for ski memorabilia. The real eye catcher though and pride of this project has been the wormy maple legs and structure. After applying the clear coat the grain really started to pop and bring out the Scandinavian feel I was going for.

Check out other details and commentary in the following video!

Final Jewelry Chest

Mission accomplished! I have proudly completed my first piece of furniture. There were a few minor changes in my envisioned construction techniques but overall the final design came out exactly the same as I had planned. The final cost of the project came in a little over $430 dollars. I spent about 4 hours a week working on it, making a total of about 60 hours. The final piece has 7 drawers for boxes and individual pieces of jewelry. There are two long doors that each have two rows of five hooks for longer hanging necklaces. The final composition of wood includes: mahogany legs; maple base; oak plywood drawers faced with lacewood; maple frame doors with maple plywood door panels; oak plywood drawer frame; and a maple top. The piece is complete with copper hardware on the doors and drawers that perfectly compliments the lacewood and maple.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Christmas Shopping Ideas for the Wood-Wise

If you're thinking about the perfect Christmas gift for that special someone who likes wood as much as you do, I have a few suggestions that will greatly enhance anyone's library.

If I could have only one book to learn about wood, Understanding Wood by Dr. R. Bruce Hoadley would be it. Dr. Hoadley covers the entire breadth of wood science and technology in one straightforward, easy-to-understand, and enjoyable-to-read volume. This is a coffee table book for wood nerds. Filled with excellent, colorful pictures, and simple diagrams and charts, this book makes wood science accessible to anyone. And even the seasoned veterans of woodworking and the wood industry will learn a lot more than expected by spending time in its pages.

A Splintered History of Wood is a joy to spend time with. Author Spike Carlsen has searched the world for the best wood-related stories, and brings them together with an easy-to-read storytelling style that makes it an adventure to move from page to page. Here you read of the Quest for the World's Most Expensive Board Foot, there you read of the most unfathomable woodworking tools and the crazies that use them. And who doesn't want to know about The Ten Great Moments in Catapult History? My personal favorite was his exposition on A Barrelful of Coopers, Kegs, and Tradition...the importance of wood to the fine taste of wines and whiskeys is knowledge that every one will appreciate after a few glassfuls of the product.

And finally, the book about wood that anyone can read and love, is Eric Sloane's classic A Reverence for Wood. I found a copy of this book in a souvenir store back when I was in college and I've kept a copy at my fingertips ever since. Mr. Sloane's style was to write simple vignettes and to illustrate the topic with freehand line drawings. A Reverence for Wood is only 111 small pages long, but you or your loved one will read them many, many times, in those quiet hours of reflection between chores. His books, which include other titles such as Diary of an Early American Boy, American Barns and Covered Bridges, Our  Vanishing Landscape, The Seasons of America Past, and A Museum of Early American Tools, are all excellent companions and very handy for reflecting on life "in the good old days". I wish someone would give me the whole Sloane collection for Christmas!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Great Designs in Wood (18) - Metropol Parasol

Here's an interesting design in wood that is really out there. You can get the project details and some excellent pictures of the project at this site, which calls the Metropol Parasol the world's largest wooden structure, which it really isn't...but it's notable, anyway, in many respects.

J. Mayer. H.'s Metropol Parasol, Sevilla, Spain from Pedro Kok on Vimeo.

I found some interesting divergence in opinion about the structure in the comments following the pictures and description at the link above. Here are a few samples:

"How amazing! Stunning pictures and a great illustration of how to make a beautiful city even more attractive!"

"So much wood. Why must we destroy our forests for beauty, especially for a great modern building in a cultural focus. This seems quite perverse. It is a fantastic structure otherwise."

"This is the kind of art I hate. They wasted so many trees to build something completely pointless... They should have used all that wood and money to build homes for people in Africa, that would have been a lot more beneficial."

"...The unemployment in Seville is around 23%. The community is still on debts from the Expo they realized in 92, which was also full of beautiful buildings such as this. Hence, the government just thinks about building huge and worthless buildings rather than enhancing the lifestyle of the population, promoting parks, sustainable employment, facilitating taking care systems for the increasing elder population, mitigating the social bad consequences of the crisis, promoting education, etc etc. However, once more, they've let us know how important we are for them and for their megalomaniac projects. So...please, do not bestow uniquely to the building the "artistical value" (although I like its psychedelic shape) and think more if we need it for the social well being right in a period of economic crisis. It's a kind of mockery."

"I do not see any benefit of this structure. First, it does not fit at all in the estetical ambient of the city. Second, the colour is strange and much to clear. Third, it seems that it does no give shadow because it is much too high. Fourth, I am sure that the people of Sevilla would have preferred to spend the money in really important things. It is really a shame how money has been wasted for this ugly and not useful construction."

"I simply love it! It's a fantastic way of combining art with architecture, commerce and culture. Just look at the ugly shopping centers you find world wide..., this one has bars, a museum and a market all together in an aesthetic beautiful building. The world is bad enough with hungry and poor people and a destroyed environment. Let's celebrate that we have culture and new technologies and we can create a better world! Be happy!"

Well, it is somewhat understandable that some of the citizens of Spain are upset by what they perceive as a waste of public resources. Hopefully, the economy will turn around for them and ten years from now they'll be proud of the structure.

Here's a rare chance for you to weigh in. Take the Go Wood poll at the right >>>>

What do you think?

Monday, November 28, 2011

"The World's Most Environmentally-Friendly Raw Material"

Any idea what it might be? :-)

It's nice to see the pendulum of environmental education swinging back towards sensibility and stewardship. Twenty years ago paper and lumber companies felt compelled to defend the practice of timber harvesting, and students were being taught that "trees were living things, too". But our friends in Europe, especially Scandinavia, have always appreciated the natural value of timber and wood products, including for energy. Now, as we shared in previous green building posts such as this, their leadership in wood utilization and its role in design for sustainability are greatly needed, and much appreciated.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving Thoughts

The wood stove is once again fired up and calling you to pay attention to it.

You sense an urge to make something out of wood for the season.

The short days call you outside to enjoy the chilly warmth of the sun riding low in the southern sky.

The trees, now bare of leaves, reveal hillsides and vistas that they have hidden safely from your eyes during the past three seasons. You notice trees that you never saw before, and marvel at their shapes that had been covered by their foliage. You begin to think of sources for next year's firewood.

You decide to split more wood even though you have enough for the season. The ax handle feels right in your hands at this time of year, and the cool air refreshes your lungs with every swing.

The crows watch you from the treetops, and mock you as you miss a split. You look up at them and wonder if they're really that smart. They laugh some more.

You walk around, noticing the bark and the stems of trees, and mentally checking them off in your head. A stately white oak, the unnoticed ash...wonder how long before the borers kill it? A patch of hemlocks that still hide their treasures. And there's that little white pine that you see every winter, but never during the rest of the year...will it ever break through the canopy and elbow its way to maturity?

Squirrels hurry out of your way and bark at you to get along, they've got work to do. And so you do, and as you head back to home, you smell the wood smoke from the stove and think about the fire, calling you back for another piece of fuel.

As you come into the warm air, almost too warm now that you've been out, you smell the turkey and the pies in the oven. After finding just the right piece of wood for the slumbering fire, you settle into the rocker and run your hands along the smooth, warm wooden armrests. The curl at the end almost feels alive in your palm.

And in this moment, as you gaze at the fire, before the house fills up with your loved ones and their noisy laughter, you give thanks for the little piece of the world you've been given. And you make a commitment in your heart to try to be better next year, to earn the blessings you've been given in this life.

And when you awaken, the Detroit Lions are losing again. Yep, it's Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Gibson and the Lacey Act, Explained

I just read the best explanation of the US government's proceedings against Gibson Guitar. If you are interested in the topic, and especially if you import wood or use products that are made from imported wood, you need to read it too. Written by Dan Meyer of the Hardwood Review, it lays out eight "lessons" that we in the wood products industry need to understand about the rapidly-changing world of the global wood trade.

Good Intentions Gone Wrong? Lacey Act Lessons from the Gibson Guitar Raid

In a related editorial, editor Chaille Brindley of Pallet Enterprise adds his own thoughts on the controversy that seems to have much larger implications than when it first brought wood products to the national consciousness a couple of months ago.

Don’t Fret Over It.... Gibson Guitar Case Raises Green Questions

My friends in the wood import/export business tell me that the issue of mislabeling wood imports, whether intentional or not, has been a cultural component of the business for decades and ignored for too long. As these authors point out, whether you agree with the rules or not, the trend is toward more enforcement, not less, and everyone needs to be aware of that.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Housing the World

You may remember the post we had about the tall wooden buildings, and perhaps you were surprised, and wondering why, that wood buildings were making an architectural comeback. Well, it has to do with the concept of carbon sequestration of wood in structures, under the recognition of the coming need for housing in the developing countries of the world. Remember the Ghost Cities of China? If architect Michael Green had been involved in their design, they would have been built of wood.

Listen to his compelling story in support of Going Wood.

Friday, November 11, 2011

When Wood Went to War...the Patrol Torpedo Boats

Veterans Day, one of my favorite holidays...some of my favorite people and role models were vets, and I think of them every year on this day.

Wood played a big role in World War II. Gun stocks by the millions, wooden hangars, and temporary housing and facilities all over the world. But the most memorable contribution of wood to the war effort came in the form of Patrol Torpedo boats, or PT boats. You've probably seen PT-109 that recalls the war heroics of John F. Kennedy, or the classic They Were Expendable, starring John Wayne. If you're as old as me, you grew up watching Ernie Borgnine and Tim Conway zoom around in McHale's Navy, long before their rise to fame as Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy on SpongeBob SquarePants.

What they all had in common was the lowly PT boat. These boats didn't look imposing, didn't look comfortable, didn't look safe in the middle of a war, and didn't even look respectable for an accomplished Navy captain to stand in. But any Navy veteran of WWII will tell you, they definitely contributed in a mighty way to winning the war in the Pacific. And, in case you didn't know it, they were made of wood, by woodworkers and boat builders working right here in American factories. The following series, filmed during the war by the boat manufacturer Elco, reminds us that not all contributions to the cause of freedom are made by soldiers, sailors, and marines; the hard-working folks back home keep them equipped for their service, even today.

The film provides us with great detail of the manufacturing process, and has a lot of wonderful and up-close footage of how these durable and affordable (thus, "expendable") boats were built. What surprised me in watching the videos is how many different species of wood went into them:
"It's a wooden boat. Mahogany from Africa and Honduras, white oak from Jersey, Brazialian balsa, maple, fir, Burmese teak, West Coast cedar, Wisconsin birch, Alaska and Canadian spruce, ash, poplar, and heavy green heart from the Guianas."
Enjoy, and thank a veteran today.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Logging the Redwoods back in the Good Old Days

I love old documentaries; they give us a great window into the way life used to be, much more realistically than the old Hollywood movies. This video shows the redwood logging and sawmilling process back in 1947. I wonder what these guys were paid, and bet it wasn't enough. Lot's of fresh air, though.

Watch for those pieces of lumber as they come off the saw. Unbelievable.

Oh, and be sure to catch the comment around the 6-minute mark... "...but thousands of years ago, they were to be found throughout Europe and Asia. They grew in countries that are now cold, but were at one time warm...places like Alaska, Iceland, and Greenland."

So, an upside to Global Warming...more redwoods! Hey, sounds nice.

If you're interested in the redwoods and would like to know more about their history and the economics of the redwood industry, take the time to read this excellent 1965 lecture given by Dr. John Zivnuska, who was dean of the School of Forestry at the University of California at the time. He goes into some great detail and stories of the history of the redwoods and discusses the economics involved with setting apart the Redwood National Park, which was then under proposal and was finally created by President Johnson in 1968. Dr. Zivnuska's speech reminds us that forestry really is, or at least once was, a discipline and science of multiple use of the natural resources of the forest. Gifford Pinchot would have been proud of this lecture.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

More on Guitar Wood and Manufacturing - Gibson, Martin, and Yamaha

You may recall the post on the trouble Gibson ran into when an US Fish & Wildlife SWAT team raided their factory to confiscate computers, guitars, and especially Indian Rosewood components that the government claimed was was in violation of the Lacey Act. Gibson's CEO Henry Juszkiewicz has been a frequent, public and vocal defendant of his company's wood procurement practices, as you can see, for example in the following video of just a few weeks ago...

Mr. Juszkiewicz seems to be admitting that there may have been some "clerical mistakes" on the product identification...let's hope that's all it is, and that Gibson is alone in this particular error, so that this issue doesn't spill over into our other U.S. guitar manufacturing companies. If you would like to sign a petition of support for Gibson, and to resolve this Lacey Act issue, you can do so here.

Well, that previous post has made it to the top of the list as Go Wood's most popular post, passing even our solid reporting and investigation on President Obama's biomass speech earlier this year. Since there is that much interest, I thought I would take the opportunity to share with you some neat video on three different guitar companies and their manufacturing plants: Gibson's in Tennessee, Martin Guitar in Pennsylvania, and Yamaha in China. They are interesting to'll see many of the same processes and machines. Pay special attention to the wood portions of the videos, you may catch some interesting facts about how the companies acquire, store, and handle their wood. Also, see if you can catch any differences in the processes. Anyone that can identify a process step that is different in all three plants wins a Go Wood Wooden Wienie Whistle.

First, Gibson...

Next, we have two videos of Martin Guitar's factory in Nazareth, from 1939, and one a little more recently. The '39 video is great for a slice of wood products history. Hand-making classic guitars by the light of the factory window. And it has some great music as a background soundtrack...Thank You, Mr. Martin, I'm Alright.

This second Martin factory video is the first in a series of five; you can view the others on YouTube here, if you like. This first in the series has a lot on the wood handling and drying process of the company...they buy at least some of their wood green (30% MC), air dry it down to about 20% in their warehouse, and then take it down to about 6% in their kiln. Great shot of a lot of Indian Rosewood, and even some extremely rare species under lock and key. Which kind of makes you scratch your head about the Gibson situation, and understand why all U.S. producers of wooden instruments are greatly concerned about the Gibson case and further Lacey Act prosecutions.

Finally, for an international perspective and to allow us to appreciate the quality of the competition, we have a really nice video from a Yamaha factory in Hangzhou, China. Again notice the wood inventory and the "massive wood drying section" of their factory, which looks like a type of pre-dryer in which all their wood inventory is extremely well-organized and stickered. The tour guide gives us some nice detail about their attention to drying their Engelmann Spruce from Europe, Sitka Spruce from Canada, and Western Redcedar from the U.S. As I viewed that portion of the video, I found myself doubting that you would ever see Chinese officials raiding the Yamaha operation.

In fact, everything about the Yamaha factory seems massive and efficient, including the number of workers employed at the production of a great instrument. Yes, I know many of you are Gibson or Martin purists, but check out the sound the great Joe Bonamassa coaxes out of his Yamaha in the Royal Albert Hall in London. Turn up the speakers if you're able; you won't hear many finer examples of sound that wood will produce in the right hands.

U.S. guitar and piano producers, and U.S. justice officials, let's get this Lacey Act issue resolved, well-defined, and behind us. And fast. The world isn't waiting on us...they're moving ahead, improving their products and their processes as fast as they can.

Friday, November 4, 2011

IFQRG, Port Botany, AQIS...and Giant Snails

As I mentioned before, the primary purpose of my trip to Australia was to speak to the members of the International Forestry Quarantine Research Group on the work we're conducting on various phytosanitary treatment of wooden pallets. For those unfamiliar with this issue, here it is in a nutshell:

Countries around the world have agencies dedicated to the attempt to stop, or at least slow, the transfer of non-native plant and animal pest species from one country to another. Pests and diseases caused by them, such as Chestnut blight, Dutch Elm disease, gypsy moths, Emerald Ash borer, Asian Long-horned beetles, Pinewood nematodes, and many, many others are all pests that came into this country at one time or another, usually in the importation of commercial goods, or the transplanting of non-native nursery stock. Pest scientists have dedicated the last century to helping governments identify these potential pests and putting in place treatment and quarantine measures to help reduce their movement in the world. The big danger is, of course, another uncontrollable epidemic that wipes out a whole species from a continent, such as when American Chestnut was wiped from the North American forest.

In 2002, at the advice of the newly-formed IFQRG, a new international standard was adopted to help slow the transfer of forest pests. Known by its acronym ISPM-15, this standard provided guidance to countries on  the treatment of wooden pallets and packaging materials. Two methods were approved for use in the original standard, heat treatment and fumigation with methyl bromide. However, methyl bromide was targeted for elimination by the international document known as the Montreal Protocol, and was mandated for phase-out in the United States by the Clean Air Act. Therefore, heat treatment of wooden pallets and containers, as well as logs, lumber, chips, and other wood products, has been by far the most common implementation of ISPM-15 around the world.

Here at Penn State we are conducting research into the environmental and economic impact of various phytosanitary treatments, including heat treatment, methyl bromide, and alternatives, such as pallets made of plastic and other materials. We're also working with other researchers in the U.S. and Canada to develop new alternative treatments involving the use of radio-frequency drying techniques. John Janowiak and I from Penn State attended the IRQRG meeting in Canberra to update and discuss with the assembled group our findings. In particular, we went to support the approval of a guidance on microwave treatment as an alternative to traditional heat treatment.

OK, that was a pretty big nutshell. I shared it as a backdrop for the story I'm about to relate on my visit to AQIS, the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service, at their Sydney headquarters. Dr. David Nehl, Regional Program Manager of Operational Sciences in the Central East Region of AQIS, was my host and tour guide for the day. We first visited the Port of Sydney, at the area where AQIS does its inspection work. The Port Botany area, as it is called, is being expanded, and the video below is a pretty interesting presentation on how that is being conducted.

PBE Update December 2010 from Sydney Ports Corporation on Vimeo.

At the port, I was just in time to watch a container being inspected. The inspection regime in Australia is that thirty percent of the shipments headed for urban destinations, and one hundred percent of the shipments headed for locations out in the rural areas, are inspected. A higher focus is placed on those rural shipments because of the higher probability of any pest damage that could occur should the pest be transported into areas where it would be easily introduced into the native biospheres and farms.
In these first two pictures, we see AQIS inspectors observing while an incoming container is opened, and checking it for traces of fumigation. The container is opened, the load is given a visual check to identify any "red flags" that the inspectors might see, and any wooden pallets or containers in the load are checked to ensure they carry the ISPM-15 stamp. For those pallets and crates that can't be seen, the paperwork is checked to confirm that they were listed as ISPM-15 certified at the port of lading.

As I turned around from this container inspection, I spied these rather large tires. Dr. Nehl explained to me that tires like these can carry mosquitoes and other nasty species of bugs, and they all get fumigated.

This shot gave me new insight on the global import business, and the wood packaging issues we in the wood industry don't usually think of. Here's a great old cycle that someone is going to restore...and we can assume the seller either built the crate himself or had one built locally, not necessarily by a certified pallet/container manufacturer. Fumigation!

 Here's a typical load that the inspectors tag for quarantine and fumigation...randomly packed and stacked boxes, non-treated wood packaging, the works. This load has passed quarantine and is ready to move on.
Aha! What do we have here? Looks like a cross-section piece of a softwood species, possibly with some stain on the cambium layer, wrapped in a vinyl sack. These are popular with the Asian population of Sydney to produce cutting boards and other useful things from. AQIS inspectors find lots of these trying to sneak through in their nondescript packaging. Fumigation!
Here's a nice wooden crate with IPPC stamps all over it.
The on-site fumigation chambers. Fumigations requested by AQIS are carried out by approved third-party sub-contractors, who stay pretty busy from what I could tell.
Some imports require more than fumigation. Here's a nice El Camino (1968, maybe? Any El Camino experts out there?) being spray-washed, and I mean thoroughly. These guys were washing the undercarriage of the car to get off any road soil that might transport an unwanted pest onto the backroads of the great Australian countryside. The soil is then washed into a water treatment facility before being discharged into the bay.

Too many other great port shots to share here....

 But back at the lab, Dr. Nehl introduced me to many of his staff, and showed me the work that comes in from all over the country. His lab is where hard-to-identify insect samples are sent for the AQIS entomologists to have fun with. And to collect. This tray is one of about two hundred, I would guess, that lined one wall in the lab, filled with different dead bugs. This is one part of the trip that I thought our Penn State College of Ag Sciences dean, Bruce McPheron, would have loved to share with me. He's a big bug guy.
 This was a great example of a furniture piece that was obviously made from less-than-dry wood. You can see the hundreds of beetle holes that were left when larvae in the tree emerged sometime after the table leg, or post, was turned, carved, finished, and shipped.  The inspectors probably noticed the piece upon inspection of a warm container where the nice little wood beetles were incubated and born.
Well, every visit has at least one "most memorable" image, and this bad boy was it for me at AQIS. They told me the scientific name of this giant snail, but I don't remember it...I was lost in a vision of being slowly and slimily devoured by this thing. Apparently they're common in south east Asia, and down as far as Java, and he hitchhiked to Sydney with air cargo. I don't know how much they can eat, but I bet they sure slime up everything in sight. I can understand why they're trying to keep these guys away. Probably make a pretty good steak, though.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Jacqueline's Jewelry Chest: The Base

I completed the base this week. I used 1” thick maple and cut it into 3” wide strips for the frame. I mitered the edges and used a biscuit jointer to attach the entire frame. I then attached two more 3” strips to the inside of the frame in order to support the frame of the drawers that will sit on top. To attach these strips to the frame I used pocket screws.

I then attached the mahogany legs to the bottom of the frame using pocket screws again. Finally I added a ½” thick by 2” wide maple skirt around the outside of the legs to give the base a clean finish.

And last but not least…. SPOIL ALERT…. I couldn’t help myself but to mock assemble all of the pieces so far. Here is a sneak peak of what the final product should look like!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Firewood and Forest Pests

It's the time of year when we're all scrambling for a little  more firewood because we didn't get quite enough over the summer. I always try to get my wood as close as possible to my home, if not off my own lot, but then again, I live in central Pennsylvania where wood is everywhere.  Many of you folks live the cozy life in cities made famous by pro sports franchises (ok, I'm a little jealous), and you need to go a ways if you buy or collect a large amount of firewood.

If you do, the USDA APHIS (Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service) wants you to limit your firewood transportation to a maximum of fifty miles. So much so, that they made this video just for you... least, they made it for somebody. And lest you laugh, consider that this video has won an award! From the website of The Nature Conservancy:
"As fall settles in across the country, cords of wood are being stacked and fireplaces, wood burning stoves and campfires are ablaze. There’s a romance to this season, but did you know that moving firewood long distances can spread invasive insects that kill trees?
The Nature Conservancy’s Don’t Move Firewood campaign is raising awareness about this important—and costly—issue. Across the country, invasive insects and diseases like the Asian longhorned beetle, emerald ash borer, and sudden oak death are destroying street trees and forests.
The Conservancy has created numerous humorous videos to help spread the word. Most recently, Super Rangers and the Legion of Bugs–an animated video featuring a Legion of Bugs’ plot to overtake the nation’s forests – won a Yosemite Film Festival Sierra Award for Animation. The video, which warns about the dangers of moving firewood, fits with the film festival’s mission to “recognize and award progressive, eye-opening, independent cinema and writing of all genres and to foster an appreciation and understanding toward the preservation and majesty of our natural world.”
Invasive insects can be devastating for communities. In Worcester, Mass. an infestation of Asian longhorned beetle discovered in 2008 required the removal of 30,000 of the city’s street trees. In 15 states across the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic region, more than 20 million ash trees have been killed by the emerald ash borer.
Not only do these tree-killing insects destroy the shade and beauty of our communities, but they are adding up to major damage to our wallets. A recent study funded by the Conservancy estimates that the costs of damages associated with these pest infestations in both urban and rural areas are nearly $1.7 billion in local government expenditures and approximately $830 million in lost residential property values, totaling more than $2.5 billion dollars annually. Many of the insects featured in this study, including the emerald ash borer and gypsy moth, are known to move frequently on infested firewood. 
Do Your Part This Fall and Winter
Follow these tips from the Don’t Move Firewood campaign:
  • Obtain firewood near the location where you will burn it – no more than 50 miles from where you'll have your fire.
  • Don’t be tempted to get firewood from a remote location just because the wood looks clean and healthy. It could still harbor tiny insect eggs or microscopic fungal spores that can start a new and deadly infestation of forest pests.
  • Aged or seasoned wood is not considered safe to move, but commercially kiln-dried wood is a good option if you must transport firewood.
  • If you have already moved firewood, and you need to dispose of it safely, burn it soon and completely. Make sure to rake the storage area carefully and also burn the debris. In the future, buy from a local source.
  • Tell your friends and others about the risks of moving firewood – no one wants to be responsible for starting a new pest infestation."
- The Nature Conservancy 
This world of invasive pest monitoring and control is one that governments all over the world take seriously. Next post, I'll share how our research at Penn State with wooden pallet systems led to our attending a meeting in Canberra, Australia...and how folks in that part of the world deal with the issue.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Ski Table Legs

For this week I focused in on the detail, or at least the beginnings, of the coffee table legs. After using the CNC Router last week, I used a hand router to curve the edges and give a smoother look to the legs. Following this, I inserted a different bit into the router to cut the mortise for the mortise and tenon support joint. Since the mortise is located in the center of the leg, I had to use the hand router over other machinery in wood shop. Next week I will begin work on the tenon to be inserted between the two legs. The part of the tenon that extends past the legs will need to be smaller than the center to provide support and so the joint works properly.

I forgot to mention in the last post that a groove has been cut in the top of the legs to allow for the laser cut tile inlay that will be added in the later stages.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Best of the Rest - Bungendore Wood Works Gallery, Part 2

Some details in the life of David Mac Laren, founder of the Bungendore Wood Works Gallery:
"My wood working career started in 1971 when I responded to an 'apprentice wanted' notice in the window of a woodworking gallery on Lexington Avenue and 27th Street in Manhattan...we made stack laminated furniture much in the style of Wendal Castle as well as natural edge furniture in the style of George Nakashima...As I shaped and sanded, I saw gorgeous black walnut and zebra wood and cocobolo glisten with a deep lustrous finish. I was possessed, obsessing with finishing, and hooked on woodworking. 
"In 1978 I returned to Australia...[and] settled on a rural property south of Bungendore...opened the Bungendore Wood Works Gallery in 1983. I gave some American Black Walnut to seven or eight woodworkers in the region from Braidwood to Tharwa, and said 'make something with it.'
"My personal design 'ethos' has been to consider hardwood as a basic starting point. I resist using veneers or bent laminations...I developed the 'X' frame table and various styles using that basic design...and this design is derived from considering hardwood with its basic and simple characteristics: its hardness and strength.
"I devote all my time to the Gallery now. It has grown to become a premier, world class gallery..."

Indeed it is.

I'm going to have a hard time culling them down, but I'll share with you a just a few more of my personal favorite pieces currently in the gallery, selected mostly on the interest of the wood species used.

Let's start with this rocker. Stunning. A chair too beautiful to sit in. Made from Quilted Queensland Maple, which seems to be one of the favorite woods in the gallery. Crafted by an artist named Tony Kenway, this is the chair I hope my kids decide to buy me when they learn to appreciate my grouchiness and think me cute in my old age.

Mr. Kenway also performed the wondrous "Cunji" dining set featured in the last post.

How about this hall table for an eye catcher? Made from Blackwood and Eucalypt Burl, it kind of reminds me of the movie "Zulu". Great movie, great table.

And while on hall/display tables, take a look at this one. That top is Birds-eye Huon Pine, and it has Blackwood legs. Didn't catch what the vase burl was. I still see the shimmering of that table top in my minds eye, and it stayed with me throughout my days down under. Great story on Huon Pine, from an official Tasmanian website...

"Huon Pine

Huon pine is one of the slowest-growing and longest-living plants in the world. It can grow to an age of 3,000 years or more. Only the bristle-cone pine of North America lives longer.

Huon pine is found in western Tasmania (not far from Strahan), on the Central Plateau and in the Huon Valley.

Huon pine is a relic of Gondwana - the first pollen records date back 135 million years.

International headlines were made with the discovery of a stand of Huon pines on the west coast still growing from a base root more than 10,000 years old. All the trees are male and are genetically identical. No individual tree in the stand is 10,000 years old; rather, the stand itself has been in existence for that long.

In the early 1820s, convicts on Sarah Island, in Tasmania's remote west, constructed ships from Huon pine. The wood contains oil that retards the growth of fungi, hence its early popularity in ship-building. Later, piners on the Franklin and Gordon rivers felled Huons and floated them downstream.

Today, the tree is wholly protected and cannot be felled. However, wood on the forest floor, or buried in river beds, remains usable after hundreds of years and is still prized by modern woodworkers."

There were many great wooden boxes on display in the gallery, and my favorite was, what the heck, I'll show you several...

Red Cedar
Huon Pine

My favorite...Lignum Vitae...but this is the Australian lignum vitae, probably Bulnesia spp., not to be confused with the hardest commercial wood in the world, Guaiacum officinalewhich is listed as an endangered species. Still, pretty darn hard. This box will set you back $4,400
 Where to stop?  Well, for its uniqueness among the pieces in the gallery, I'll close with this clock, made entirely of wood, gears and all. Zebrawood, ebony, and silver (mountain) my opinion, worth every penny of its $28,000 price tag. Where would you get another like it?

Well, back of the gallery, and one more stunner. This piece practically glows as you look at it.

Australian Blackwood



For any more, you'll have to visit the Gallery's online store. I'll vouch for the fact that no wood aficionado will be disappointed in anything they receive as a Christmas present from the Bungendore Wood Works Gallery.

A Go Wood hat's off to David MacLaren and his gallery...what a great life's work and contribution. If you ever find yourself passing through New South Wales, you have to find time to make a side trip to'll never regret it.