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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 on...it 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 wood...it 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 Hearth.com, 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 lead...so 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!