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Showing posts from June, 2011

The Art and Joy of Wood

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Did you know that this is the International Year of the Forest? What that is about, I'm not really sure...after all, the forests have been around for a few years before this one. Having an international celebration of the forest brings to my mind images of fur-covered pagan folks dancing with joined hands around a big oak tree, just prior to convening to Stonehenge for the highlight of the party. Count me out for that one.

But around the world, other folks with broader minds are putting together events to celebrate the forest in different ways. We're even having one here at Penn State...I'll blog more about that in the future as our furry, er, enlightened forest fans here in State College formalize the details.

Survival of the Smartest

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A couple of months I posted an article called "Survival of the Fittest", in which I focused on three key ingredients of success in difficult times: people, products, and process. My friend Sita Warren recently brought to my attention a great example of a project that combined these three elements to establish a whole new way of thinking about the future of lumber drying.

The essential technical problem facing the lumber industry is that in the evolution from air drying to kiln drying, driven by the need to offer a wider variation of lumber products in a more timely fashion, the energy cost component of the process increased significantly. So much so, that lumber drying efficiency has become a differentiating factor in the success of companies across the industry. And energy prices will continue to force more and more lumber companies to find alternative drying solutions, or get out of the business.

Sawdust in the blood

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The last post set me to reminiscing about my own roots in sawmilling...they run pretty deep. The first two pictures at the right are the proud employees of the Ray & Ray sawmill near the town of Hughes Springs in East Texas, in 1904. You can see they had good hats and big logs, back in those days.

They also had a lot of use for oxen, mules, and boys around the mill. I think this was a little before OSHA and child labor laws...or if it wasn't, they didn't pay too much attention to them. That part of East Texas was so far back in the woods in 1904 that the law didn't mess with them.  I'm pretty sure there was a still out behind that building you're looking at.

My great, great grandfather was one of the Ray & Rays; his brother was the other.  My great grandfather, that handsome-looking blade with the horse, would have been a young teen-ager in the mill shots, although I don't know which one he is. Obviously, the mill was doing pretty well; for my great-g…

Starting a lumber business

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This excellent hi-quality video was brought to my attention by Dr. Terry Conners at the University of Kentucky, who explains:
"Wood Mizer came to Kentucky to make a video of a custom sawmiller I helped get started. Granted, this fellow wants to do things the right way (retired Navy), but in the space of 2-3 years he’s gone from being a customer of another mill to buying a band mill for himself and progressed to a DH kiln with a sign at the end of his long driveway, then a retail display, then to a concrete-floored air-drying shed, then shade cloth on the shed walls, then a grinder for mulch – and he even held an Open House on a day filled with thunderstorms and heavy rain (about 100 cars showed up nonetheless!). I think he’s the only guy I know of who’s ever even tried that. In addition to sawing logs for customers (they bring to him), he’s working with a logger who brings him unusual species such as mulberry, basswood, sassafras, etc. along with the more usual redcedar and oak, m…

Tough times for ethanol

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The headlines say a lot about the problems facing the ethanol industry...
June 16... Senate vote marks start of end for ethanol subsidies (Reuters) - The Senate voted overwhelmingly on Thursday to eliminate billions of dollars in support for the U.S. ethanol industry, sending a strong message that the era of big taxpayer support for biofuels is ending.The 73-27 vote may ultimately be symbolic since the White House has vowed not to repeal ethanol subsidies fully and the bill the repeal language is attached to is not expected to make it into law. But it underscores the growing desperation to find savings in a budget crisis that is forcing both sides of the aisle to consider sacrificing once-sacred government programs.Today...
Clearfield ethanol plant to shut for summerCiting high corn prices, company plans to close facility temporarilyRead more: http://www.centredaily.com/2011/06/21/2788918/ethanol-plant-to-shut-for-summer.html#ixzz1Pvs85u5R


Wood-based, or otherwise cellulosic, ethanol is s…

A Tale of Two Projects

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Continuing in the vein of recently reported biomass news...

There are a lot of biomass projects being approved/started in the last few months, and I thought it would be helpful to contrast a couple of them to identify key success factors and hurdles for biomass.

Biomass Power - Sometimes the Right Call, Sometimes Not

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My email inbox was stuffed with biomass energy goodies this morning, of various and sundry topics. The overall tone of the various topics was positive for biomass...such as the April 1 announcement (slow email?) from Virginia that their governor Bob McDonnell announced that three coal-fired power plants will be converted to biomass power plants, each of 50 MW capacity, joining the 83 MW Pittsylvania, VA, biomass power plant in generating green energy for the citizens of that great state.



Governor McDonnell and David Christian, the CEO of Dominion Generation, did a nice job of elucidating the positive aspects of biomass energy, in general...

Wood Science 101(2) - Tung Oil

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If you watched the first of the three videos on the Hanging Temple , you may have noticed a short snippet that also caught my attention. At the 6:38 mark, we learn that
"before processing, the hemlock wood would have been soaked in tung oil to make it resistant to termites and erosion." What is this stuff that has produces such amazing results on the properties of wood?

Tung oil is produced from the nut of the tung tree, or
"Vernicia fordii (Tung Tree; syn. Aleurites fordii Hemsl.) This tree is a species of Vernicia in the spurge family, native to southern China, Burma, and northern Vietnam." - Wikipedia Woodworkers may be interested to know that tung oil, or China wood oil, was commonly used centuries before its use in the Hanging Temple...it was mentioned in the writings of Confucius nine hundred years earlier. Many today know of and appreciate tung oil as an excellent oil for finishing wood in a light and natural way:
"When applied in many fine coats over woo…

Great Designs in Wood (14) - "A Light Dance of Wood"

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So many of you indicated interest in the Sakyamuni temple piece I posted last month, that perhaps this structure, again brought to my attention by Mr. Jianwei Ren, will be of interest as well. The Hanging Temple of Mt. Heng is even more curious, in that it was built over 50 meters up the side of a sheer cliff...in 491 A.D.! How and why it got there, and the details of its construction from local hemlock forests, is told in these excellent videos made by CCTV, the Chinese State Television Company.

PA Timber Show 2011

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If you're in the mid-Atlantic region, and you feel like a drive this weekend, you may want to consider coming to State College for the PA Timber Show 2011
"Pennsylvania is home to more than 2,700 forest products companies and more than 500,000 forest landowners. PA Timber Show 2011 will offer exhibitors an affordable way to show the latest in forest product related machinery, equipment, and technological advancements."