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


Thursday, April 26, 2012

Toilet Paper, Wooden Pallets, and Costco

There's a special on CNBC this evening you may want to catch. It's called The Costco Craze: Inside the Warehouse Giant. Costco is a prime mover of a lot of wood products, especially of the paper type. One preview I saw of the show highlighted the amount of toilet paper it sells (over one billion rolls) and the process their product testers go through to differentiate the best toilet paper for sale in their stores. The rest goes to companies and universities to discourage their employees from taking restroom breaks.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Knowledge in The Age of Wood

A thought provoking excerpt from Eric Sloane's A Reverence for Wood...
"[These days], when an American turns on the water and the lights in his apartment, he has little awareness of where these things come from; the greatest pity, however, is that he says, 'Who cares where it comes from, as long as it keeps on coming?' 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Other Inconvenient Truth

While digging into another project I'm working on, I ran across this video that, while not directly targeted at forest resource utilization, really does a great job of putting our land use challenges in perspective. The speaker, Dr. Jonathan Foley of the University of Minnesota, addresses in a very graphic and compelling way the impact that world population growth, and the related increase in demand for agricultural products, is changing the very face of the planet.


Monday, April 23, 2012

Springtime Means Redbuds, Dogwoods, and Charcoal

Eastern redbud, Cercis canadensis
Walking to work last week, I got some great shots of spring breaking out all around. I used to think that East Texas was the only place that redbuds and dogwoods bloomed, but as I got older and my horizons expanded past Tyler, I discovered that a few other states have the same purple and white display each spring. Growing up, I always knew that the first faint hint of purple in the woods meant that the redbuds were signaling the end of winter, the beginning of spring, and hot weather about three weeks away. In Pennsylvania, basically the same, except that hot weather is still about three months away.

In forestry school I learned that the redbud I was so fond of was properly called the Eastern Redbud, Cercis canadensis...and I figured it was called Eastern because of East Texas, but I couldn't figure out what Canada had to do with it.

Pink dogwood, Cornus florida var.

Blooming dogwoods go right along with the redbuds.  Dr. Mike Fountain burned Cornus florida into my brain, along with about a hundred other scientific names that still roll off my tongue easier than the names of my kids. I'm guessing that the dogwood tree is special to more people than any other single species of tree.

This weekend was our Penn State Blue/White weekend, which feeds our football withdrawal symptoms until oh, I dunno, the NFL draft, I suppose. For me, it was a good excuse to fire up the grill and avoid yardwork under the guise of "watching the meat." Can't be out there pulling weeds when a brisket is on the grill, can you? Don't taste as good unless an authorized meat watcher keeps things under control.

This year is special, since my friend Sandy Smith, who did such a great job in the charcoal re-enactment that I videod and posted last summer, brought me over a big bag full of the charcoal that they made in that demonstration. It's the real stuff, man, and it burns like charcoal is supposed to.

So, since I had a little free time watching the meat, I shot another short video of a critical fire and meat check, and panned around to give you a little glimpse of spring time in State College. A little barren compared to Tyler this time of year, and pretty green compared to Fairbanks, I'm guessing.

In case you're wondering, Penn State won :-)

Friday, April 20, 2012

Great Designs in Wood (23) - The Pallet House for Refugees

Well, some of you architects might take exception to my classifying this as a great design in wood...but hey, if you're fleeing into another country, or just plain down on your luck, I think this idea is great for a temporary respite, at least. And if you think about it, the concept isn't really too far removed from how the United States were settled...


Thursday, April 19, 2012

Forest Bioenergy Sustainability...What is the right level?

This was the title of the article that came across the news wire today:
"Analysis raises atmospheric, ecologic and economic doubts about forest bioenergy"
That sounds pretty dire, and I'm sure will be used by anti-wooders to their advantage. The article, as is usually the case, was too brief to understand precisely, so I clicked over and read the full paper, published in the journal Global Change Biology: Bioenergy. The paper as published was an invited editorial entitled "Large-scale bioenergy from additional harvest of forest biomass is neither sustainable nor greenhouse gas neutral". 
"Owing to the peculiarities of forest net primary production humans would appropriate ca. 60% of the global increment of woody biomass if forest biomass were to produce 20% of current global primary energy supply. We argue that such an increase in biomass harvest would result in younger forests, lower biomass pools, depleted soil nutrient stocks and a loss of other ecosystem functions. The proposed strategy is likely to miss its main objective, i.e. to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, because it would result in a reduction of biomass pools that may take decades to centuries to be paid back by fossil fuel substitution, if paid back at all. Eventually, depleted soil fertility will make the production unsustainable and require fertilization, which in turn increases GHG emissions due to N2O emissions. Hence, large-scale production of bioenergy from forest biomass is neither sustainable nor GHG neutral."

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

First They Come for Your Chickens, Then They Come for Your Firewood, Then They Come for You

Well, let's start off on a pleasant note, before we get into the sad and bizarre.

"Urban chickens" are in the news recently, as homeowners across the country choose to raise chickens in their backyard. The video below was featured in an excellent article in that explains how some folks are finding themselves fighting local ordinances in order to raise fryers and eggs.

This type of experience got out of hand, with tragic consequences, for Andrew Wordes of Roswell, Georgia. The story was reported in the local Georgia news media, but I never heard of it up here in Pennsylvania. Chances are you didn't hear of it, either. It's a tough one to report, and even harder to understand. The reporting on the blog site is one of the few I could find that provides enough detail to understand how things ever came to be how they did...

The story begins back in 2009 when Andrew Wordes, otherwise known as the Roswell Chicken Man, began his fight to raise chickens on his property. In February 2009, the city of Roswell, GA started to cite Andrew Wordes for raising livestock in his backyard. Wordes, who had started raising chickens on his .97-acre homestead in 2005, decided to fight back. And guess what...he Won.

But sadly that’s when the real trouble started….

You see, the story actually has very little to do with chickens. While the city of Roswell, and cities just like it across America ,would like people to believe it’s as simple as chickens - the real story is about the rights of property owners.

In a map that was published back in 2003, as part of Roswell’s 2030 Comprehensive Plan for city improvements, one thing becomes painfully obvious. The city had already planned to take Wordes property.

The Map showed that the city had major plans for his property. In fact, Wordes property sat right in the middle of a planned city park. His property was being targeted for “city improvements”, and this fight had nothing to do with chickens. The chickens were really just the catalyst for the city to unlawfully seize his land.

After initially winning his fight in municipal court, the City of Roswell made Wordes life a living hell.

The Harassment Begins…

  • On Dec. 14, 2009, the city council approved a new ordinance banning roosters and using lot size to limit how many chickens a resident could keep. Wordes claimed that the harassment started immediately after the meeting, when Roswell police ticketed him for no insurance and a number of other moving violations.
  • In September of 2010, Roswell prosecuted Wordes under the new ordinance claiming he had too many birds for his lot size. The judge found him not guilty since he had the chickens before the ordinance became law.
  • In September of 2010, he was convicted of grading sediment on his land without a permit and having inoperable vehicles in his yard. He was sentenced to community service.
  • In November of 2010, code enforcement served Wordes with a nuisance citation. After winning twice in court against the city, the county then got involved and actually cited him for “not properly stacking his firewood.”
  • In 2011, the 84 year-old women who held Mr. Wordes mortgage was harassed by the city into selling Wordes mortgage for forty cents on the dollar. The city then began the foreclosure process. 

  • While in the process of trying to save his home, Andrew Wordes was arrested by Roswell Police on the day that he was to bring paperwork that would’ve delayed his bankruptcy and the foreclosure on his home.
  • Wordes was jailed for violating his probation after the city claimed he only served 122 of the 150 hours of community service that he had been ordered to serve. He then served 99 days in jail.


Then tragedy struck...

I came across this story because of the firewood component. In another video, Mr. Wordes explained that the city actually cited him for improperly stacking his firewood on the ground, instead of on pallets! I suppose this ordinance was initiated by some well-meaning administrator hoping to reduce pest infestations in firewood piles...but are we really at the point that we have laws that mandate stacking of firewood on pallets? If so, I'm going to have to go into the pallet business to keep enough around to stack my ten cords on.

The whole story is really sad, and I think the world is a smaller place without Andrew Wordes, The Chicken Man of Roswell. The reports indicate that his many friends and neighbors think so, too.

I've written before on the impact of runaway regulations on wood businesses, and this takes that and the story of the raid on Gibson Guitar to a whole new level of Orwellian surrealism.

It's hard to believe that we're at the point that folks are getting cited and thrown in jail for back-yard chicken and firewood-stacking violations. And the fact that it all seems to have been a thinly-veiled attempt to take this man's property, for a public park of all things, gives it all a sinister feel, one that warns us that we better think a little more deeply about what we perceive to be our "common good".

Rest In Peace, Chicken Man.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Great Designs in Wood (22) - The Hive of Worcester

Here's an interesting addition to our "Great Designs" collection. It falls in that category of "non-traditional" wood designs that may perhaps be the key to the future of wood-based construction.

The building is called "The Hive" and is a new library for University of Worcester, which promotes itself as the UK's "third greenest campus". The really interesting story here is that the building was originally designed as a steel and concrete structure, but the design team worked to change the design to a wood-framed building by utilizing glulam beams and panels, which they claim saved 2000 tons of CO2 emissions over the original design...a feature that fits perfectly with the University's carbon-management objectives.

The result is an ultra-modern structure which exhibits the clean lines, both inside and out, of modern architecture, while capturing the intrinsic values of wood utilization.

"The Hive which will open in July is the UK’s first purpose-built joint-use library serving the University of Worcester and the county that incorporates the county archive, a local history centre, accommodation for the County Archaeologist’s team and a ‘one stop shop’ for the local authority: It’s a pioneering response to the challenge of providing a wide range of public services in an age of austerity whilst promoting social and environmental sustainability.

Visit this site to see and read more about the library, set to open this summer.

One interesting side note about the project is found in the comments on the site. Once again, as we saw in the post on the Metropol Parasol in Spain, there seems to be considerable criticism of the project, partially directed at the modern architecture itself, and partially directed at the cost of the building in difficult economic times. I found it interesting in the quote above that the designers cite "an age of austerity" in the promotion of the design. That may be a great marketing angle for wooden the buildings of choice in an austere age.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Take Me Out to the Ball Game

More great video that promotes the source and use of wood in society. Paul Lyskava of the Pennsylvania Forest Products Association sent this out last week...
"As part of its Opening Day broadcast earlier this week, ESPN presented the attached video, entitled “Reincarnation of a bat”. It is a beautifully shot and highly informative piece showing the entire development of a baseball bat from the harvest of a tree in a Pennsylvania to delivery into the hands of Major Leaguer.

It includes scenes from the selected harvest in a PA forest, to a trip to a sawmill in Warren County, PA for initial processing and drying, then delivery to Louisville Slugger for the final manufacturing and finishing process.

They say the a picture speaks a thousand words. This video is certainly an example of that truth."

Monday, April 9, 2012

Great Designs in Wood (21) - The Philadelphia Furniture Show and Pallet Furniture

On the way back from Saratoga Springs a couple of weeks ago, I made a detour through Philly to attend the 2012 Philadelphia Invitation Furniture Show. It was an excellent show in an historic location, the Old Armory which is the historic home of the First Troop Philadelphia City Cavalry. The place reeked of history and was a great venue in which to appreciate the finest of wooden furniture and art.

Even upon entry the wood aficionado is greeted by something we don't see much of anymore, such as double wooden oak doors that were about fifteen feet high. Here's a picture of my six-foot one son standing by the doors. I had a tough time just getting past these to admire the rest of the show.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Ecosystems Science and Management

Last week I mentioned the change going on in the wood industry. Well, change is happening in academia as well. For the past twenty years, in fact, forestry and wood science programs in the various North American universities have been changing focus to better reflect the concerns of society.

Here at Penn State, our School of Forest Resources was established in 1907 as the Department of Forestry at The Pennsylvania State College, four years after the start of the Pennsylvania State Forest Academy at Mont Alto. The Penn State program absorbed the State Forest Academy in 1929. A wood products undergraduate curriculum was added in 1941, and a wildlife and fisheries science curriculum was added in 1981. Today, the school proudly continues its three missions of resident education, research, and outreach in Forest Science, Wildlife and Fisheries Science, and Wood Products. And the Penn State School of Forest Resources is supported by the largest alumni group of any such school in the country.