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


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Certified Hardwood - From an American Desert

Here's a nice video brought to my attention by Lew McCreery of the Forest Service. It tells the tale of a hybrid poplar plantation out in eastern Oregon, one of the driest places in the country. I used to drive by this plantation on my way out to LP mills in northern Idaho and Montana. (Pleasant memory: sawmills in Sandpoint and Moyie Springs, Idaho...two of my very favorite places in the world. From the slasher deck in Moyie Springs you gaze out for hundreds of miles over the Canadian Rockies. I told the operator there I thought he had the best job in the world, and he agreed with me. I hope those mills are still running.)

Back to the tree farm. It's impressive...about 10 minutes wide at interstate speeds, if I remember correctly. Seemed longer. And growing in the middle of the Eastern Oregon desert, it looked even bigger. I used to wonder about the economics of planting, watering, and harvesting all these trees for pulpwood...didn't seem possible, I thought at the time. My doubts have been confirmed. The trees never made it to the pulp mill. But since they continued to grow, they eventually became something of value...hardwood sawlogs that can be proven to have been grown sustainably.

The video tells the tale of the companies that recognized the market potential, and how they are taking advantage of it. Enjoy, and appreciate the companies that made it work, after all.

Those of you who've never seen veneer peeled from a rotary lathe, you'll see it in the video. Hardwood veneer produced for cabinet-grade plywood is sliced from the log in a different process, a process I'll cover another time. The rotary process shown here is used for thicker veneer used in structural plywood and other engineered wood products.

If you're wondering about water for the plantation, note that the trees are separated from the mighty Columbia River only by Interstate 84. I assumed they had a way to pump water from the river to a drip irrigation system, but I'm not really sure. Maybe one of you western readers can help us out...please comment!


Peter Griessmann said...

The irrigation for the hybrid poplar plantation is provided by lifting stations with water being extracted from the mighty Columbia River. I was part of a tour when the plantations first were established and marvel at how they have flourished over the years. I travel the Columbia Gorge stretch frequently on buying trips for our woodworking supply company (Woodworker Network) and get a charge out of seeing trees where previous circle pivots existed to irrigate alfalfa. Peter Griessmann, forester and wood business owner

Chuck Ray said...

Thanks, Peter...

Anne said...

"Because [the lumber] is grown on a tree farm, it's highly sustainable." That's true only if the process leaves the soil in as good a condition as it was before. Maybe it does, maybe it doesn't. Heavy equipment is tough on soils. The implication that tree farms are, by definition, sustainable is misleading. Interesting video, though. Thank you for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Quite a bit of rotary peeled veneer ends up in cabinetry as well. The video shows core veneer being peeled on a rotary lathe, but face and back veneers can also be produced the same way.