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


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.