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


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!

1 comment:

Sam Stoltzfus said...

Your outright fabrication of this Arctic Myth about Santa's sleigh is the reason why adults, and most kids now-days, don't believe in Santa Clause anymore. There are three things that are a dead give-away to anyone not on their forth cup of eggnog.

One, everybody knows that Lancaster County Amish Carriage Builders have been building and servicing Santa's Sleigh's for many years and, like the buggies, they'er made of fiberglass, not wood, for the last 100 years. The last wooden sleigh Santa used is setting on a front porch in Strasburg as a Christmas decoration.
"The carriage, or buggy as the non-Amish call it, may not have changed a great deal in design, but now the body of the carriage is mostly made of fiberglass rather than wood." (

Two, the part about making sure "Santa didn't drink and drive", ho ho ho, did anybody ask Santa about that. Santa's Reindeer, like any good buggy horse, know the way. Remember the one going to Grandma's house . . ."The horse knows the way to carry the sleigh . . .? My father had a horse like that.

Ad three, the wood-fired foot warmer, now come on. You would burn the sleigh up somewhere between Alaska and Russia. Santa used a corn bag to keep his feet warm. To those of you who are "new timers" a corn bag is a fabric bag filled with dried field corn, You simply warm it up by laying it on the stove for three or four hours before time of departure and it will keep your feet warm all night. And when it needs reheated, Santa simply brings it along down the chimney and throws it in your microwave for three minutes. You really did think you were going crazy when you heard your microwave at 3:00am last Christmas morning, didn't you?

So, the next time you set out to write an "Arctic Myth" like that you should get your facts . . . hey, Merry Christmas. You tried.

Sam Stoltzfus, President
Keystone Wood Specialties Inc.