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, 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.