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


Monday, December 31, 2012

The End of the Beginning

2012. It was to be, according to an obscure piece of stone tablet, the end. Many people around the world bought into the idea of our world ending in one big cataclysmic event, and many more made some money by selling the idea. I wish I had invested in the dehydrated food business about ten years ago.

But most people just waited for December 21st to pass, and then shrugged.

Like so many other things, 2012 turned out to be more bark than bite.  A much anticipated national election resulted in, well, not much of anything. As did elections in other parts of the world. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Unrest here, oppression there, and not enough money to go around. Never has been, never will be.

But things have been especially tough lately, not just in the wood and building industries, but in most of the industries, countries, and homes of the world. The few things that have upward trends (US housing, lumber prices, Chinese and Indian standards of living, etc.) started from very low places, and had nowhere to go but up.

But since the world didn't end this year, and since we weren't visited by our other-world progenitors who were to explain the whole mess to us and set us at peace, we will muddle on. And frankly, 2013 doesn't look a whole lot better than 2012.

But it seems to me, that like Prime Minister Churchill's Britain of 1942, the battle will be fought on a different level from now on. Great Britain of that year was the sole remaining bastion against Hitler and his war machine, and they had been steadily yielding ground while regrouping and trying to convince Americans to join the fray. But with decisive victory at El Alamein, Britain had finally reached a point where the defeats were balanced by a semblance of hope. Mr. Churchill put it all in perspective with a remarkable speech that included one of his most memorable statements.
"Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning."
- Winston Churchill, November 9, 1942
As I reflect on the past several years, the faces of dozens of folks who lost their jobs as sawyers, salesmen, cabinet makers, truss assemblers, forklift drivers, and mill managers still weigh heavily. The shuttered plants that used to be the home of so many fine old companies rest like metallic skeletons in the desert sands of Northern Africa. Though shooting wars with tanks, bullets, and bombs no longer seem to threaten most in the world, the toll in decreasing security and human dignity remains.

The old business cultures and methods that we like to remember fondly are no more, and the world around the corner seems unfamiliar and threatening in many ways.

But the fundamental transformation that we are experiencing, not just here in America but in countries around the world, is one being led not by politicians, but by entrepreneurs around the world, hard-working folks who have the amazing power of technology at their disposal. Even as old business models fail, new models spring to life, and in them are the sparks of ingenuity, energy, and self-realization that often remained dampered in the old economy.

For try as central planners might, they are always a step behind the innovators of the world. The battle for control of resources will continue, and it will certainly leave its ugly watermarks in the coming months and years. But like those embattled Britons of late 1942, we can take hope in the value of right, and the power of economic opportunity.

When I started Go Wood two years ago, I had an uneasy feeling in the back of my mind that I might run out of interesting topics to write about in a few weeks or months. But the fuel for these postings have been the events of everyday life, much of it provided by a social network of like-minded Woodites who have found the blog and become part of it with their contributions and comments.

Amazingly to me, the growth of the site continues on an exponential curve...sometime today the 200,000 reader will click on Go Wood. 2012 saw a 50% increase in the numbers of viewers over 2011, and almost all of that growth is from people who are not on the Go Wood mailing list.

I think that is because, like so many other fields of interest and endeavor, the world of wood, its people, products, and potential consumers, continues to become more connected through the Internet and next-day delivery. Even though many wood products are not the easiest thing to inspect, purchase, or ship via on-line methods, the process which delivers information of fine wood products and their inherent value to society is becoming so detailed and useful that the next generation of consumers is sure to be more aware of wood than any time since the invention of plastics.

Since global extermination is quickly receding into the history of the quirky, and most of the world finds itself in a situation of dire economic straits, but armed with the miracles of modern technology, beauty, durability and practicality will more and more find value in the world. And wood will be there.

May you find in 2013 the hope and inspiration of seeing things in a different, and brighter light.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Wood Science 101 (7) - Water Movement in a Tree

Well, now we a tree sucks up all that water...and what happens to it.

While focusing on the physical process of water movement, this intelligent young man mentioned that this process is what biologists call "transpiration".  Wikipedia explains transpiration in excellent and concise detail and complements the video nicely.

My favorite part of the video comes at the 6:00 mark; we get to watch the moment when he "gets it."

This video is a great demonstration on how the process of education is being changed by technology and social networks.  Give students a challenge, a computer, internet access, a network of smart friends (like Jeff Wartluft, who shared this video) and teachers to chat with. The education will take care of itself, to the degree of motivation and capability of the challengers and the challenged.

Aren't we all students now, really?

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Most Promising Wood Industry Story of 2012

What is it? According to Time Magazine, it's The Great Housing Rebound of 2012.
"Without a doubt, the U.S. housing market has been the most successful sector of the economy this year, and Wednesday’s Case-Shiller home price index report — which showed a fifth consecutive month of year-over-year increases in home prices nationwide — was a late Christmas present for homeowners across the country.
The housing market “bottom” was one of the biggest business stories of 2012. After years of falling home values, the data clearly showed that the bleeding stopped somewhere in the first part of 2012, and that home prices have actually begun to slowly rise since then. In addition, other indicators like housing starts, new home sales, and foreclosure statistics all point toward a healing housing sector. 
These dynamics have gotten some economists and market analysts excited about the growth prospects for the U.S. economy in 2013. Robert Johnson, director of economic analysis for Morningstar, called housing, “the big change factor in 2013,” and believes that “direct housing investment will be a meaningful contributer” to economic growth in 2013. He also sees industries related to housing — like furniture manufacturing and sales — adding to economic growth in 2013 as the housing market begins to pick up."
Not mentioned was that the Case-Schiller report included the news that even though there was indeed a fifth consecutive month of year-over-year housing price gains, 12 of the 20 cities in the survey reported lower prices in October than in September. In other words, prices are better than last year, but they're still soft in most places. And they have a long way to go to recover the price paid for most homes purchased in the last decade.

There was a lot of this type of hype about the "housing recovery" in 2012, but mostly that is all it was...hype. The (slightly) increasing number of housing starts is being fueled by investors taking advantage of ultra-low interest rates and an upturn in multi-family housing for rental property. Most Americans, however, are still absent from the housing market, buyers due to extremely tight credit conditions and sellers due to the still-suppressed pricing of housing in most regions of the country. Annual housing starts data, which showed an increase of more than 10% in 2012, is still only about half of what used to be considered a healthy level of housing activity.

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.

But there was at least one story that developed in 2012 that does seem to reflect hope for the future of the wood products industry in the United States. That is the story of the rising support for "forest restoration" and specifically, the story of the Four Forest Restoration Initiative in northern Arizona.

Apache-Seagraves National Forest. A forest ecosystem under attack from fire.

Forest restoration has arisen out of the great work by various industry and community groups in the West to recognize that past management of public forests, which emphasized fire exclusion and priorities on endangered species habitat, had created vast acres of overly dense, small-diameter timber. And that these stands are the primary reason we've been witnessing so many large forest fires in recent years. Forest fires that tended to not only damage the habitat being protected, but also threatening the lives and homes of local communities.

These practices, which severely curtailed forest harvesting and drove up log prices in many areas, also had the unintended (?) consequence of shutting down local timber industries. In northern Arizona alone, ten different operations producing nearly 300 million board feet of lumber and over 600 million tons of wood pulp closed in the last twenty years...and all closed before the current economic downturn.

But local interests and their partners in the US Forest Service worked hard to find a way to turn around the flawed policies of the past and get the forest resource of the area, specifically, the ponderosa pine forests of the four national forests in the region, back to work for the good of the folks.

The result was the Four Forest Restoration Initiative, or 4FRI. Under the initiative, more than 2.4 million acres will be "treated" for restoration, the primary component of which will be commercial thinning of small-diameter stems by local forest products industries. The principle industry partner is the start-up firm Pioneer Forest Products, which has started construction on a sawmill to process the small-diameter stems into lumber for finger-jointing into components that can be sold into the furniture markets. A certain portion of the biomass harvested, that not consumed by the lumber operation, will be processed as fuel for the operation of the company's dry kilns and eventually, for bio-diesel.

The project has been years in the planning, and now participants are beginning to see tangible progress. More than 1,000 jobs are projected to come to the area in next decade, as Pioneer is scheduled to start-up its logging operations next summer and the mill in the fall. And local community groups appear to be in support of the concept of "industry-supported forest restoration".

The project has a murky side. Pioneer's business plan for vertical integration of the operations from forest to furniture and biofuels sound good, but faces a daunting challenge in today's depressed and hyper-competitive marketplace. Some supporters of forest restoration seem to view industry participation simply as a way to come up with funding for environmental goals. And the details on the contracting agreement between the Forest Service and Pioneer seem to be proprietary, so I'm not sure whether the financial arrangement for the "treatments" will hold up over time. But Pioneer's management team seems to have a solid business background and experience, and the concept makes sense to me if the Forest Service has in fact given a contract to Pioneer under conditions necessary to make the business viable over the long-run.

The 4FRI is a new model for forest utilization, one similar in many ways to European timber-industry models. It remains to be seen if it can work here on our nation's more than 322 million acres of public forests. With that much public forest to manage, we need to find a model that will allow sensible harvesting, both for the benefit of local community economies and the health of the forest ecosystems. And we need a vibrant economy to consume the wood products, or no industry cooperation will be sustainable.

If "forest restoration" is the vehicle which re-kindles our nation's interest in practical and beneficial forest harvesting, then let's ride that horse. Who knows, the idea may grow, and someone may be able to make a profit somewhere along the way.

Here's hoping that 2012's most promising story of the year turns into 2013's success story of the year.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Santa's Sleigh Damaged; GoWood Team Moves in To Save Christmas

Earlier this week it was reported to GoWood headquarters that a problem had developed at the North Pole. The venerable old sleigh of Santa Claus, conveyor of jovial jiggle and childish cheer, had developed a structural problem that endangered the delivery of millions of gifts world-wide.

It was discovered on the routine pre-Christmas Eve shakedown flight Santa takes  in early December. Somewhere over central England, the oldest elf noticed a slight vibration...followed by a violent shake, and a loud crrrrraack, then snap.

"It was quite an impossible situation for a few moments," said Santa, shaken but not stirred by the incident. "The sleigh veered out of control, and the reindeer were thrown asunder like bowling pins on a Friday night. Rudolph's nose, fortunately, switched into high mode, and we were able to land roughly, but safely, near a mall in the merry olde town of Leicester.

Startled citizens of the town rushed to unhitch the dazed reindeer, which were led away for a rubdown and some warm eggnog by some local carriage drivers. Others helped push the sleigh out of oncoming traffic, while motorists, somewhat surprised but greatly annoyed by yet another holiday traffic jam, honked their horns and urged the pushers to "get a move on."
Shortly afterward, GoWood headquarters got the call that changed our week. Catching a quick flight to Rovaniemi, Lapland, we boarded a train for Santa Claus Village on the outskirts of that far northern Finnish city. The sleigh had been taken there so that non-elvish engineers and woodworkers without security clearance for the North Pole could begin the arduous but essential task of sleigh stability and safety evaluation.

Our GoWood crew gets its bearings at Santa Claus Village.
What we found there was not to our liking. Engineer Leonard Bibbo was the first to examine the sleigh. "What we've got here is a combination of structural fatigue induced by aerodynamic stresses on the airframe and various forms of wood rot to different areas of the sleigh," Len opined. Penn State wood Professor Emeritus Bob Baldwin added some surprising analysis. "I have identified seventy-two different species of wood from around the world in the sleigh's construction. Fourteen have various stages of brown rot, twenty-three have white rot, and six have soft rot. Examination of the rotted material under the microscope revealed that traces of Daedalea, Lenzites, Fomes, Poria, Polyporus, and Stereum fungi are present...which is surprising, because none of these fungi have ever been found north of the arctic circle."

Forest pathologist Dr. Eric Allen of the Canadian Forest Service concurred. "These fungi, while quite resistant to cold temperatures, need warm periods to incubate and spread, conditions not likely to be found at the North Pole. We can only conclude that the fungi must have been picked up on Santa's annual sojourns around the world, and carried back to the North Pole where they could have survived in the heated, humidity-controlled climate of the Christmas Sleigh Barn. This, I'm afraid, is conclusive proof that Santa's exemption to international phytosanitary standards will have to be revoked, and he will no longer be allowed to fly over Canadian air space."

We had reached a crisis point, and it seemed that Christmas 2012 was sure to go down as one of the saddest in history. But cooler heads prevailed. Cabinet master Patrick Kennedy of Superior Woodcraft stepped up to suggest a remedy.."Look, I know things look bad, and there's no way the elves can build a new sleigh with all their last-minute toy-making. But I believe we can re-furbish this old chariot in time to get Santa air-bound by Christmas eve. Let's make a few calls."

The first call was to Keith Atherholt of Lewis Lumber Products in central Pennsylvania. "Keith, we've got a problem here. We've discovered that Santa's sleigh is constructed of seventy-two different woods from around the world, and we need about twelve board feet of each by Thursday morning. And each piece has to be FSC-certified to make sure that Santa isn't arrested in certain countries. Can you help us out?"

Keith said he would have to check his inventory, but he thought he could get the necessary material together in time...but his drivers were all on the road making deliveries, and he didn't know how he could get the lumber to the airport. But a quick call to Martin Melville solved the problem.. Martin promised to cut his current logging job short in time to get up to Picture Rocks and then to JFK in time to catch the last flight to Lapland.

And were we relieved when Martin showed up in Santa Village with the load of wood! Patrick and his crew wasted no time beginning the reconstruction of the intricate cuts to replicate exactly the original sleigh construction. "Fortunately, the sleigh was designed with perfect mortise-and-tenon and dovetail joinery, with no antique hardware. Sure, the rein-hooks, rails, and steps are ancient brass, but we can shine them up and make them look as good as new. Our biggest problem will be getting the different species of wood used in the side and front panels and the seat glued and dried perfectly in time."

But thanks to some improvised radio-frequency drying technology rigged up by Ben Wilson, the panels were perfectly cured in time for final construction. Nevin Stauffer had his engineers and crews back at RigidPly Rafters design and build some new sleigh runners from the choicest pieces of Sitka Spruce shipped to them by Kevin Cheung of the Western Wood Products Association, and John McLeod of the NWPCA contributed a great pallet-based design for the seat and bag support frame. Jay O'Laughlin certified the sleigh environmentally friendly, and Mike Messina concluded that the sleigh's design would pass all political correctness tests it was submitted to. It was looking great, but it needed a couple of finishing touches.

First, bio-composites professor Nicole Brown suggested a nanocellulosic skin for the sleigh that would not only improve the aerodynamic profile to "stealth" level, but would protect the wooden structural components from any further invasion of fungal pathogens. After extensive testing of the new skin, Dr. Allen relented and issued a permit for Santa to resume flights over Canada, thereby greatly relieving the elves' concern over their large inventory of new hockey sticks and moose calls.

Loyal Go Wooder Tom Frydrych, who had been evaluating the customer satisfaction aspects of the modifications, added the piece d'resistance. Santa had complained that his hot chocolate dispenser added by the elves back in the nineties was constantly malfunctioning, the result being that his hot chocolate, and therefore his frosty old nose, was always cold. Tom solved that by installing a mini-keg of Boston Lager behind the seat, with the comment that nothing keeps him jollier than a pint or two of Samuel Adams' finest on a cold winter night.

Allie and Crew Boss prepare to take the reins.

And to make sure Santa didn't drink and drive, The Wife, who had joined the team as Crew Boss to make sure that all was done properly, volunteered to be Santa's designated driver, as long as Go Wood team cheerleader Allie Clark would ride in the back, keep the wood-fired foot warmer stoked to the max, and keep yakking to keep her awake. Allie cheerfully agreed but wondered if Santa would still visit her house if she wasn't tucked in asleep when they got there.

Santa smiled when he saw the finished product, thanked us all and assured us that the job was well done, and that we would all be transferred to the Nice List for this year. The satisfaction of another job in wood done right swept over us all, and the real spirit of Christmas rang true once again.

And we heard him exclaim, 'ere he rode out of sight.... .

Merry Christmas to all, and Go Wood this fine night!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Great Designs in Wood (36) - The Kamppi Chapel of Silence
When it comes to unusual, and creative, uses of wood, you have to hand it to the Finns. It seems that their culture causes their mental juices to flow naturally to wood as a first solution for just about everything you can think of...and some that you never would. Such as a chapel of...silence. That's right, the good citizens of Helsinki constructed an edifice of wood which has silence as its primary function. You go in, sit, or walk around, look at the wood, and...look at the wood.

In this case, you'd be looking at glue-laminated spruce from the hinterlands of Finland.

"The most prominent space of the building is a timber constructed 11.5 metres high sacral space. It creates a calm space, in which the lively surroundings seem distant: the defining elements include indirect light flowing down from above and the warm timber surfaces on the walls and fittings. The total area of the chapel building is 270 square metres housing the sacral space, an information lounge and spaces for one-to-one discussion.
Originally, the idea of an urban chapel came from the City of Helsinki. The client is the parish union of Helsinki. The parish unions of Espoo and Vantaa have participated in planning the future activities in the chapel."
- City of Helsinki

image © tuomas uusheimo
When I was in Helsinki, I didn't notice it to be an unusually loud fact, quite the opposite. No honking cars, police whistles, sirens in this pacific city. And yet, the Finns are thoughtful enough to build a shelter for those who just have to have SILENCE to think. Nice of them.

I know what I'd be thinking of...mental calculations of the number of lineal feet of timber used in the building. And looking for knots. And wondering what the place cost. I know, typical American.

On second thought, I don't think the idea is that original, anyway. I think they got it from watching classic old American TV re-runs. The original "Cone of Silence"...

Thanks to Jayo in Idaho for another Great Design in wood.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

O, Christmas Tree

There was a time, before Christmas tree plantations and plastic trees from China, when all the trees sold in cities were "natural" trees, grown of their own initiative and independence. Buyers from the city traveled into the country to acquire them from farmers who often had no choice but to sell them. The poet Robert Frost told of one such encounter in 1920.

 I had a chance last week to sit down with Dr. Henry Gerhold, a retired Penn State forestry professor who spent his entire career of over 50 years primarily researching Christmas trees. Henry earned his doctorate at Yale University studying the discoloration of Christmas trees in New Hampshire in the late 1940’s, and his work brought him to the attention of Dr. William C. Bramble, who had been studying Christmas trees here at Penn State since the Great Depression.

It was in the Depression that real interest in Christmas plantations and tree species started developing. President Roosevelt had created an agency called the Civilian Conservation Corps, which put out-of-work men to work building state and national parks and making other general improvements in the countryside. It was in these camps that it was learned that the Scotch Pine (Pinus sylvestris) was the easiest of all conifers to successfully plant and grow to reclaim deserted farm lands. This reputation brought Scotch Pine to the attention of Christmas tree growers, who were looking for a tree species that would have better survival and improve profitability.

So for the next thirty or forty years, Scotch Pine was the iconic symbol of Christmas here in the United States, and Pennsylvania became the leading state for Christmas tree growth in the country. But the 1970’s brought in changing tastes in clothes, hairstyles, and Christmas trees…the country turned tacky, and plastic trees replaced the dazzling space-aged aluminum trees that were so popular in the 1960’s. They were marketed as inexpensive, easy to assemble, and forever.

This is the Christmas tree I remember...Same blue balls, same colorwheel.  It was mesmerizing to watch with all the lights turned off. Looks kind of scrawny now, doesn't it? Source: 
And they have caught on, to the point that about half the Christmas trees in the country are plastic. Now they’re pretty nice…look pretty real, pre-lighted to magnificence, and can be set-up in about ten minutes or less.  Perfect for modern man with his superficial appreciation of all things traditional.

But let’s face it, they just aren’t the same as having a fresh, piney-smelling, green tree in the house. So, as we seek desperately to find something real in our lives, real Christmas trees are making a comeback. And the masses are just discovering that, surprise! – real trees are “greener” than the plastic impostors. Who would have thought?

Henry’s work at Penn State resulted in, among other initiatives, the development of PennTIP, the Pennsylvania Tree Improvement Program, which has resulted in the continuing improvement of live trees for the market. Tastes have evolved from Scotch pine to Douglas-fir and more recently, Fraser Fir. Better logistics, including the trend toward family visits to Christmas tree farms, guarantee most buyers a tree that has been freshly harvested and smells great.

And here at Penn State, you can participate in a tradition that started decades ago, when forestry students started selling trees from Henry’s research farms for fundraisers. Their 2012 edition of the traditional Christmas tree sale is being held Friday from 3 to 6, Saturday and Sunday from 10 to 3 in the parking lot of the Forestry Research Laboratory on the corner of University and Hastings Road here on campus.

So, pitch that worn-out old plastic abomination, get out with the family, and have some fun by Going Wood.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Real Firewood Stacking

If you're nice and cozy by your wood stove, and feeling good about your own energy and stamina in splitting and piling all that wood for the winter, then good for you. But don't get too impressed by your own firewood prowess until you consider these Herculean efforts. My friend Sandy Smith here at Penn State sent me these photos to keep me humble.

Remember the holzhaus(en) we discussed back in September? Well, those were woodpiles that mere mortals would build. But real wood users need a real stack of wood, one to be proud of. And the young lady below certainly can be proud of her woodpile, and whoever built them.

No need to stop at two when you're stacking big woodpiles. You never know how long it might snow, especially if you live near the Arctic Circle...

Of course, stacking wood is always better with a partner - especially if you're building a pile that endangers local air traffic.

And there just is no better way to display your national pride than building a wood stack flagpole.

Of course, you can always stay practical with your wood-stacking skill.

Or you can go whimsical. I believe these were built by Hobbits.

And as long as you're going to build an imaginative woodpile for imaginary people, don't forget about their imaginary pets...

And don't forget the feminine touch to soften up your apparent insanity.

Speaking of insanity, try building a human maze out of firewood. Or is this a wood circle?

But if you're artistically inclined, and have a lot of firewood and time on your hands, you can always try "firewood impressionism".

But I'm sure most of you Go Wooders out there would never go that nuts over firewood. No, you'd probably keep within common sense and just use firewood for its best natural use, as cove storage in your apartment.

Man, I just looked out at my woodpile. As Sarah explained so well, I'm experiencing feelings of inadequacy.

Next year I'm going to have to get serious.  My chiropractor will welcome the extra business.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Great Designs in Wood (35) - The Phoebe Table

Wow. This table is more proof that unique innovations in design can, and frequently will, include wood to make them special. The Phoebe Table is the masterpiece of Mr. Bob Huskey of Saturn Design in Seattle.
"The Phoebe Table is composed of up to 24 crescent leaves plus a round Terminus for open shapes that can be set on each other within a 30 degree range of arc. The smallest circle is 60” diameter with 12 leaves, the largest is 90” with 24 leaves. It is 18’ long and 30” wide as a straight line with all 24 leaves. There are 30 legs available."
View the rest of the design document here.

And these are his thoughts about the mahogany veneer he used to highlight his creation...
"The top is veneered with quartersawn mahogany that is highly chatoyent with a subtle crossfire. I came across it 15 years ago and have been saving it for a piece worthy of its beauty. Each crescent leaf, as well as the terminus, is veneered as though it were a starburst radial patern. This patern originates at the implied center of the cricle of the outer edge of the crescent. A starburst pattern with a highly chatoyent wood is very active when you walk around it. The flashes and changes in color follow you as you move. That effect is multiplied in this design. Each leaf flashes incrementally differently because you are in a slightly different angle to each one. You see the starburst from twelve angles at once and the flashes all move as you do. The effect is dazzling and mesmerizing."
As is the video Mr. Huskey produced to introduce the Phoebe Table. If you like out-of-this-world design, and excellent classical guitar, this video is for you.

Phoebe's Table Dance at Saturn Design from Saturn Design on Vimeo.

Another great designer who has Gone Wood.

Thanks to the Woodworking Network for sharing this.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Great Designs in Wood (34) - The Cascade Timber Frame Home

If you're familiar with timber frame home design, you won't be surprised by the awe-inspiring home you're about to see. If you're not, be prepared for an onrush of envy.

Wikipedia has a nice introduction to timber framing...
"Timber framing and "post-and-beam" construction is a general term for building with heavy timbers rather than "dimension lumber" such as 2"x4"s. Traditional timber framing is the method of creating structures using heavy squared off and carefully fitted and joined timbers with joints secured by large wooden pegs (larger versions of the mortise and tenon joints in furniture). It is commonplace in wooden buildings from the 19th century and earlier. The method comes from making things out of logs and tree trunks without modern high tech saws to cut lumber from the starting material stock. Using axes, adzes and draw knives, hand powered auger drill bits (bit and brace), and laborious woodworking, artisans or farmers could gradually assemble a building capable of bearing heavy weight without excessive use of interior space given over to vertical support posts. Since this building method has been used for thousands of years in many parts of the world their are many styles of historic framing. These styles are often categorized by the type of foundation, walls, how and where the beams intersect, the use of curved timbers, and the roof framing details. Three basic types of timber frames in English speaking countries are the box frame, Cruck frame, and aisled frame."
The rest of the article is really good and has some nice photos of historic post-and-beam houses in Europe.

If you're interested and want to take on a new dream, check out the website of the Timber Frame Business Council, headquartered in Gettysburg, PA. Warning, though...timber frame dreaming is highly contagious.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Thoughts about "Invasive" Species

"Chuck – What would be nicer than being able to utilize invasive species for some good?  Here are some examples with Autumn Olive.  Of course Norway Maple and Tree of Heaven have been used successfully for firewood for years.  I have also used Autumn Olive and Honeysuckle Bushes for firewood.  I recently read how delicious Autumn Olive berries are in pies and fruit candy.  And there is a local beekeeper who praises the flowering schedule of Japanese Knotweed.  He even offers a Japanese Knotweed honey.  The bowls and firewood (except the bottom front) in the photos are Autumn Olive.
Have a memorable Christmas,
Jeff Wartluft
Jeff has proven the old adage that one man's trash is another's treasure. The plates pictured are beautiful, and the AO firewood will burn just dandy.

Courtesy: Jeff Wartluff

Courtesy: Jeff Wartluff

Pretty nice for a species that many land managers would like to exterminate. Maryland Master Gardener Ellen Nibali explains why in the video below. Her complaints are: that the Autumn Olive is too successful as a bird food, which leads to its prolific natural seeding process; it fixes nitrogen and makes the soil too rich so that certain poor-soil plants are excluded; it blooms with a fragrance that is so sweet that it is "almost nauseating"; and since only some birds like the berries, others which don't move away and thereby reduce the diversity of the bird populations in the neighborhood. Hmmm, must be a Republican plant.

Comments on the YouTube site where this video was posted indicate that quite a few folks disagree with the negative connotations ascribed to the Autumn Olive in the video, for the same reasons Jeff points out...the plant does have its redeeming qualities. A few of the commentators agree with Ms. Nibali that species which tend to out-compete the "natives" should be eliminated because they tend to thrive and change the landscape and the inhabitants thereof.

So the battle of man versus nature continues...the earth continually changing, man continually trying to control that change. We pick the species composition of landscapes we prefer to "save", while the species themselves fight for independence and the right to "invade" and inhabit. Bugs and disease continue to take out certain tree species, while other trees move into the landscape to replace those that are killed. We battle to stop natural evolutionary processes brought about by changing climate. And if we can't stop the bugs and diseases, then we'll stop the climate from changing.

Or we won't. The earth doesn't seem to mind us too much, either way.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Ten of the most unusual wooden products ever made

Here's a link to a nice article we like to see reported in the mass media. 

It shows ten items the article authors considered to be unusual uses of wood. We at Go Wood know that almost anything you can make, we can make better with wood. One great example is the Vespa scooter below.

This wooden Vespa is handcrafted like fine furniture by Carlos Alberto.
That's the sort of thing I ought to be puttering to work in. According to the article,
"When you think of scooters it is hard not to think of Mods with flashing chrome and wing mirrors. But this wooden Vespa is handcrafted like fine furniture by Carlos Alberto. He came across a Vespa that was in complete disrepair, so he gutted it and carved a body from wood, which he then coated in a multitude of beautiful steam-moulded veneers with stunning results." 
The thing that is stunning to me is the amount of time and love that woodworkers put into their work. Visit the article to be equally stunned by nine other items.

Thanks to Craig Rawlings at the Forest Business Network for the lead.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Hardwood Lumber Drying

  • As the economy improves, are you ready to supply the market with the best quality kiln dried lumber?
  • Do you want to better control your drying and quality cost?
  • Can you improve and better manage your drying and lumber handling options?

Hardwood lumber drying is an art that builds on a foundation of wood science. It's a lot more complicated than it looks, and a ton of lumber value has been flushed down the toilet by seat-of-the-pants kiln operators. Every serious hardwood lumber company that I'm aware of sends their kiln operators to drying schools on a regular basis. And one of the best schools still in existence is the one taught every January by Dr. Bill Smith and his associates at the State University of New York in Syracuse.

If you're already in the hardwood industry and want to sharpen your skills, or you're thinking of getting into the custom lumber drying business (yes, there is a market for that), you should consider attending the SUNY-ESF kiln drying workshop. You can find out more about the workshop at this website, or you can call Terry Sakowski at 315/470-6817.  People can contact Dr. Smith as well by email at . 

This is a weekend-long workshop that delivers real value, both to the dry kiln operator and lumber customers. It's a great way to start out a new year.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Git 'er Done

Time to get back in the woods. Jump in the cab, slam the door shut, rev the engine...and get to work harvesting aspen trees like they are asparagus. The following video from the forest equipment manufacturer Eltec shows you how precise and efficient woods-working is getting to be. And what it feels like to have real raw power at your disposal.

Of course, there is power and there is power. Here's the John Deere 1470E harvester in action, with a background of blues rock to really get the adrenalin pumping.

One more video, this one from TigerCat. It contains some excellent footage of harvesting in large Eucalyptus plantations, and they mention that their harvesters can take on 8-inch Eucalyptus in Brazil at the rate of over 600 trees per hour. Not bad. The nice thing about this video is that it provides you with a lot of detail about the different types of equipment used in harvesting operations, and the capabilities of each. And nice video from operations all around the Southern Hemisphere.

These videos point out three interesting and important concepts:

  1. Research and development by the heavy equipment companies, and subsequent investment in it by timber companies and loggers, is greatly increasing the efficiency, and thereby lowering the cost per ton, of wood delivered to the sawmill, pulp mill, and pellet mill. This is a primary reason why wood products are still relatively cheap, by comparison, to most other consumer goods. And why timber companies have been able to remain profitable even through an historically bad national housing market.
  2. These increases in productivity allow the forest manager to significantly improve harvesting operations, not only from an operational standpoint, but from the perspective of stand ecology. Notice the tracks and high-flotation tires and the relative ease with which ground is covered during the harvesting, and the precision of the selective capability the logger has in operating one of these beasts. Better decisions and more precise execution make for better stand management options, and residual stands that more easily recover to full productivity.
  3. These machines greatly increase the safety of, and decrease the number of man-hours of labor needed for any logging job. Higher efficiency makes for safer working conditions, but also decreases the number of jobs available. When you compare the amount of human labor going into these operations to the old videos in prior posts (here, here, and here) then it dawns on you why jobs seem so scarce and hard to get these days. There are only so many people who can write software for cell phones. If you're fortunate enough to be the operator of one of these babies, then you're lucky, indeed.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Go Wood (Pellets)

I haven't mentioned wood pellet heating much on Go Wood, since I'm a firewood devotee. But wood pellet stoves are the renewable energy heating solution for folks who want to go green with their heating, but just aren't into splitting and stacking, or don't have room to store firewood. Wood pellets are wood chips, particles, and sawdust that are refined to the proper size and shape and then extruded into pellets, the size of which are optimized for flow and feeding into the combustion chamber of the pellet stove.

My new friend Dr. Christian Rakos at Pro Pellets Austria, who is also the President of the European Pellet Council, is featured in the following video, and suggests in it that the pellet market in Europe will grow from its current level of 10 million metric tons per year to over 100 million metric tons within ten years. In order to encourage this level of adoption by European heating consumers, the Europeans have put their heads together and produced a pellet standard, called ENplus, for the pellet supply chain in Europe that will provide consumers there with a high-quality, reliable energy product.

The key to the upcoming dramatic increase in pellet heating in Europe is that due to the population density of the Continent, they are able to establish pellet logistics and delivery systems that give the potential customer comfort in knowing that having pellets delivered is no different than working with any other fuel supplier. Thus, Mr. and Mrs. Smythe don't have to be sturdy woodsmen or heating nerds to feel comfortable about owning a pellet stove...they just need the desire to save the planet and a little money at the same time. It's a market that seems sure to grow.

Here in America, the Pellet Fuels Institute has also organized an effort to produce a national wood pellet standard that focuses on the same product parameters as the European standard. Pellet producers are not required to produce to this standard, but most of the larger companies do, so American wood pellet consumers can have the same assurances as our cousins across the pond. Distribution channels here in the States are not as mature as the European model yet, but any pellet stove owner can pick up pellets at the nearest Big Box or hardware store, if they're not within delivery radius of a pellet supplier.

Wood pellets are more efficient in combustion than firewood, which means you get more BTU's per ton than with firewood. This higher efficiency is offset by the higher cost of pellets; so on average, the fuel cost of heating with purchased firewood and wood pellets works out to be about the same, which is to say, far less than oil, propane, and electric heating. And since pellets are manufactured to screen out bark and dirt, the combustion process is cleaner, with less ash to clean out of the stove each week.

Wood pellet stoves. Wood heat for the rest of humanity.

P.S. Click here if you're interested in learning more about the wood pellet industry in Pennsylvania...

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Best is Yet to Come

I've been reading a book lately written in 2001 by Howard T. and Elisabeth C. Odum, called "A Prosperous Way Down". The title refers to a concept of managing global resources through the inevitable economic decline we're all about to endure. I'm studying Dr. Odom's formulation of an environmental metric called Emergy as an alternative to Life-Cycle Analysis...I'll talk a little more about Emergy in a future post or two.

For now, though, on the day after our election, it seems appropriate to describe the world into which we seem to be descending. Dr. Odum explains...
"Like a  giant train, the world economy is slowly cresting its trip up the mountain of growth. It may be ready soon for its long trip down to a more sustainable level. The developed nations that were leading on the way up are poised for leading again, but this time down... 
Precedents from ecological systems suggest that global society can turn down and descend prosperously, reducing assets, population, and unessential baggage while staying in balance with its environmental life-support system...The reason for descent is that the available resources on Earth are decreasing. Each year more effort is needed to provide the fuels, water, wood, fish, soil, food, electric power, and minerals on which everything else is based.  More and more of the economy goes into concentrating what remains with less left for the private lives of people. More and more of the resources supporting the developed nations are diverted from people in other countries by the global economy. The present levels of our urban civilization cannot be sustained indefinitely on the worldwide declining concentrations of resources."
That pretty well summarizes the progressive view of society, and suggests its plan of action. Less consumption, fewer people. If you think about the policies being pushed by President Obama and his supporters, this belief system pervades just about every policy they put forward. And as we've seen in the last two national elections, a small but significant majority of the country believes it, too. Decades of environmental activism, progressive education, and liberal media have made their mark on our national psyche.

Even though there seems to be a lot of evidence to the alternate view that our natural resources are not as threatening as we take them to be, we'll accept the progressive premise here today. After all, we'll be following that course as a nation for another four years at least. That is, we'll all be shrinking our expectations and adjusting to new normals in the way we think and consume as we struggle with a mountain of debt brought on in the last couple of decades by a too-generous dispensation of the American Dream. That too will change, according to Dr. Odum. On housing, he writes:
"Once society corrects the excessive salaries and unearned flow of money and emergy to the rich...the housing industry can build smaller, more efficient units available to those with ordinary incomes. The United States now has extensive little-used housing in second homes, excessive tourist facilities, and unused rooms in luxury residences. With lower incomes and less money available for housing, much of this excess can come into general use. Many larger homes can be converted into duplex arrangements or small families can live together. More durable living structures will develop.
Personal living space will decrease. More people will live together in the older houses. Second vacation homes will be hard to keep. Older, energy-saving architectural designs (such as passive solar technology) can be used that take advantage of nature, like planting deciduous trees for summer shade and winter sun...If forest management provides wood on a renewable cycle, houses with fireplaces and wood-burning stoves for auxiliary heating can become more useful, desirable, and stylish." 
Hey, I didn't know I was espousing progressive views by talking up wood heat. Maybe I should ask for a raise here at the university. Darn, there I go thinking like a capitalist again.

Whatever you think about Dr. Odum's views, you have to admit, so far his vision is coming true. More from man-caused reasons than true natural resource constraints, but there you have it. Perception is reality.

Well, the good thing about the brave new shrinking world we're choosing to believe in is that our young folks are well-trained for it. The following video is an inspirational look at the ingenuity they'll tap in their quest to enjoy their "prosperous way down." I do believe in President Obama's words of last night that "the best is yet to come", although I may not see it in the same way he does.

That's a bright young man. He'll do just fine in the world, whatever it brings him.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Great Designs in Wood (33) - Metamorphosis 1

The nice thing about researching advances in wood utilization is that, contrary to what most people think, the world of wood use is ever-changing and advancing. We've talked a lot about that in the realm of bioenergy, but it's just as true in the world of wood construction.

The Metamorphosis house of Tunquén,Casablanca, Chile is an example of how home owners and their architects are re-thinking how they use wood to relate to their environment.
This stunning project is a 2007 remodel of a home built in 1990.  It was pretty nice for that time, but looking dated. Architects José Ulloa Davet and Delphine Ding changed that by retrofitting the home with a new skin, a ventilated wooden facade. This was a new concept to me, and a little research on Wikipedia reveals that the general concept falls under a heading of rainscreen cladding, which is...
"...the attachment of an outer skin of rear-ventilated cladding to a new or existing building. The system is a form of double-wall construction that uses an outer layer to keep out the rain and an inner layer to provide thermal insulation, prevent excessive air leakage and carry wind loading. The outer layer breathes like a skin while the inner layer reduces energy losses. The structural frame of the building is kept absolutely dry, as water never reaches it or the thermal insulation. Evaporation and drainage in the cavity removes water that penetrates between panel joints. Water droplets are not driven through the panel joints or openings because the rainscreen principle means that wind pressure acting on the outer face of the panel is equalized in the cavity. Therefore, there is no significant pressure differential to drive the rain through joints. During extreme weather, a minimal amount of water may penetrate the outer cladding. This, however, will run as droplets down the back of the cladding sheets and be dissipated through evaporation and drainage.
By insulating the structural wall externally the following benefits are achieved:
  • Thermal bridging is somewhat reduced because there are no interruptions caused by floor slabs, however vast thermal bridging is more than likely introduced by means of continuous furring strips. Options do exist to help reduce the amount of thermal bridging introduced or even eliminate the thermal bridging altogether by truly insulating continually across ALL structural members with not breaks or bridges in the insulation except for the finite fasteners used to attach the cladding to the building (negligible by ASHRAE 90.1 standards since their thermal bridging effect is so slight)
  • Temperature fluctuations are minimized due the achievement of higher effective R-values (lower U-Values) therefore creating a much more efficient wall assembly and dramatically reducing the loads on HVAC systems.
  • Interstitial condensation is prevented as vapor pressure and wall temperature restricts condensation to the ventilated cavity.
  • Heat from the sun is dissipated so that the temperature is dispersed in the cavity and ventilated through openings."
Before and after.
I was frustrated in my efforts to find out the species of wood used in either the external skin or in the beautiful internal remodel. If there are any readers out there who know, please share with us in a comment. What I do know is that the overall impact is one of total immersion in a wood environment, without being overwhelmed with the folksy feel wood sometimes conveys. This structure says ultramodern and wood at the same time.
Another great job of Going Wood. This is one structure I would pay to travel and see. And of course, sip a few margaritas while contemplating the essence of sea gull behavior.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Wood Heat, There When You Need It

Watching civilization grind to a halt this week in New Jersey and New York has me reflecting on  the most underrated value of wood heating. That is, whatever comes, you can cook and keep warm if you have a wood stove and firewood. Generators and kerosene heaters are OK, but most folks have an aversion to keeping fifty or a hundred gallons of flammables stored around the house until doomsday, so they wind up with a couple of hours worth of generator power before they head out for the long lines, gas cans in hand. Solar generators are a little better as far as being "off the grid", but they won't run much in the middle of a winter storm. And gas stoves usually work, but they rely on the pumping station having power, and on the gas line network remaining intact.

That's why wood stoves are so great. As long as you have wood, or can scavenge some, you have heat and hot meals. You have a way to cook those frozen foods before they go bad. And sleeping on the floor or a couch in front of a glowing wood stove is a whole lot better than sleeping in a bedroom watching your breath form icicles on your eyebrows.

My storm preparations included loading up my indoor wood rack to make sure we had a full complement of dry wood; purchasing some Amish oil lamps and plenty of oil; and loading up on canned soup. And oh, yes, I filled up the cars with gas and parked them in locations away from creeks and trees.

As I loaded the forty or fifty cans of soup onto the grocery store checkout conveyor, the young lady gave me a puzzled look and said, "You like soup!" When I mentioned I was preparing for the storm, she looked perplexed and asked what storm I was talking about. When I explained that a huge hurricane was headed our way and was only about six hours away, she acted surprised, and then asked "Do you think they'll cancel classes tomorrow?"

I laughed when a radio talk guy said that he had checked with friends in NYC and was assured that they were ready...their iPads were fully charged. That's emergency preparedness for you in the 21st century. It seems less funny now, and a sad commentary on our ill-placed dependence on public systems and the grid.

Fortunately, there are at least a few thousands of folks in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia who are sitting warm and toasty around their wood stoves right now as millions of their neighbors sit shivering in the dark or in shelters. They are now fully appreciating that wood heat was used by our forebears as a means of survival, not merely for cozy ambiance. Although we in State College didn't lose our power (the storm seemed to swirl all around Centre County but never really dealt with us severely), I was prepared to keep my family warm for months and fed for at least two weeks without power.

And eventually, it will happen. Last year, we lost power for four days after a September ice storm. There are people in the know who say that eventually, many millions more of us will experience some kind of event that will make Sandy look like a dry run. It doesn't sound good, but it sounds a little better with a wood stove ready and waiting.

Send a link to this post to someone you know who is waiting for the power to come back on. They may not appreciate it now, but they'll thank you later in better times when they make that investment in their personal and family safety by Going Wood.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The OneOak Project of Britain

Watching the footage of the downed trees from Hurricane Sandy, I found myself mentally drifting from the plight of the poor folks to thinking of all the nice lumber that is about to be harvested, and hopefully, sawn into lumber. (I know, bad...but honest!) I was reminded of the story of the OneOak project in the UK. Although not a tree downed in a storm, the OneOak was an historic old monarch that was harvested as part of an educational effort. And what great wood it produced.

The Sylva Foundation in the United Kingdom states its mission as "reviving Britain's wood culture", which is a sentiment most readers of Go Wood will sympathize with and support. The Foundation has an excellent website dedicated to the project, which you can visit here.
From the outset, the incentive of the Sylva Foundation has been to bring people closer to the importance of woodlands and of wood in modern society. With this in mind, the felling, in January 2010, was witnessed by 250 school children and 200 other guests. A year later they were invited back to each plant a young oak, so fulfilling a cycle of sustainable forest management. 
The tree was grown initially for its timber, being planted in 1788; the year The Times was first published, when Mozart was working on his last symphony and when the French Revolution was just beginning to stir. It became the most studied oak tree in Britain: it has been weighed, measured with lasers to create a 3D model, studied by a dendrochronologist, and had its carbon content estimated. It has also been featured by dozens of artists, sculptors and photographers. Now, it is being brought to Edinburgh thanks to funding from the Scottish Forestry Trust.
The foundation held an exhibit this month of the tree's products, and an impressive one it was. The photograph on the left is an example of some of the fine utilization of the wood from the old oak. Click here to view more of the exhibit.

The best part of Sylva's effort was in using the project to educate local children, and instill in them the natural affinity for wood that results from understanding where it comes from. And how it is produced.

The video below is a compelling capture of the educational experience, as well as the excellent technique used by the foresters, loggers, and sawyers that processed the OneOak. The best moment of the video is about five minutes in, when the children begin to buzz and cheer with excitement as the feller begins his work...and the excitement reaches a peak as the children begin to chant "Chop it down, chop it down, chop it down!" You hear a gasp of excitement as the tree leans, and then crashes to the ground with that distinctive crackling thud that only a falling tree can make. And the kids squeal and break into applause.

It's an American environmentalist's worse nightmare come true.

OneOak-project launch and tree felling from Conrad Weiskrantz on Vimeo.

Go Wood applauds the Sylva Foundation of the UK for its dedication to the good cause of wood education and appreciation.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Whatever happened to Climate Change?

I heard an interesting statistic on the presidential debates last week. All together, there were over 50,000 words spoken by the candidates at the four debates. Some were interesting, others, not so much. But there was a glaring omission in all the debates...the phrases global warming and climate change weren't mentioned, not even once, by any of the candidates. Somewhat surprising, since "green" initiatives have been a cornerstone of President Obama's administration, and issues like the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Solyndra, and the proposed Canadian oil pipeline through the Midwest have raised awareness of the issues to probably their highest level in the consciousness of the average American.

Why not, if so many people are tuned in to the subject? You would think that each side would want to take their own high ground and exploit the other side's weaknesses. The answer is, the climate issue has become dangerous ground for both sides. And that is because of four reasons, as clarified in this article in The Week.

  1. "All the solutions are politically toxic." As the author of the article points out, all man-made solutions to man-made climate change involve either increasing taxes, or increasing regulations, which leads to higher energy costs.
  2. "Voters like being in denial." It is the authors perception that voters would prefer not to deal with a potential threat that is farther away, than say, a century, at the cost of current dollars. Gee, I wonder why?
  3. "It's all about Ohio, stupid." Much of Ohio, like much of Pennsylvania and all of West Virginia, is coal country, and both candidates have used anti-coal rhetoric in their political pasts, despite both being proponents of "all of the above" energy strategies. Everything, that is, except coal.
  4. "Romney and Obama are letting their surrogates make their case." In other words, the surrogates tell the smaller, targeted crowds what they want to hear, out of the national limelight.
Sort of what President Obama does here, in this MTV interview. I didn't know there were MTV interviews, did you?

The President tells a pretty good story here, which is why I was surprised he didn't at least throw out at least a mention of this in the debates. However, there is one additional progressive step toward climate change action that the president should take credit for, but seems shy about. As blogger Gina-Marie Cheeseman points out in a recent post on Triple Pundit:
"What is surprising is that he didn’t mention the EPA rule, finalized in August, under the Clean Air Act that deals with emissions from power plants. The rule limits carbon emissions from new power plants to 1,000 pounds per megawatt hour of power produced. It seems to me that rule should have been mentioned as third on the list of things the Obama administration has done to deal with climate change."
You see, Gina-Marie, it's that coal thing again. That EPA rule, which would never be passed by Congress in its current make-up, effectively forces the power companies to shut down their older coal plants and disincentivizes any future coal plants. Which is accomplishing exactly what President Obama intended, back in 2008 when he admitted that his energy policy plans would make electricity rates 'necessarily skyrocket'. Inexpensive coal power production is down over 40% since the President has taken office, even though coal energy production has gone wild in China and India, as he admitted in the video above. You see, they prioritize their national economies ahead of climate change regulation. Silly, isn't it?

Source: Energy Information Administration,

I'm not sure if we will follow the President on his course or not. I observed a hint of how the coal country folks are leaning right now. Last week, on the road from State College to Western Maryland, and then over to Gettysburg, and Harrisburg, and back, I started counting yard signs. Just counted one sign per yard, and ignored the obvious campaign offices. Ten miles from home, I counted sign number 100. Tally: 94 for Governor Romney, 6 for President Obama.

So, I guess the governor feels like he doesn't have to raise the issue, and the president doesn't want to. All I know is, with more coal mines shutting down every month, I'm taking steps to lower my own electricity consumption. Which, of course, is exactly what progressives want me to do. But I have a surprise for them, which falls into the area of unintended consequences. It's called natural gas. More on that later.

Actually, I think it is a good thing for climate change and scientific issues like it to stay out of the political campaigns. Maybe then we could have rational discussions about it, like the one below. And then, we could let the free market decide.

If more interviews were like this, we might reach better agreement on how to improve our national energy policy. But until we do, campaign contributions and back-room deals will make those decisions for us.