Showing posts from August, 2013

Forest Fires and Climate Change

Wondering why we're having all these huge forest fires out in the western United States in recent years? Has Smokey Bear retired?

Actually, Smokey did his job too well. And in combination with the recent long, warm summers, fires, BIG fires, are the result, as Matt Hurteau, Penn State scientist and director of the Earth Systems Ecology Lab here in the Department of Ecosystem Science and Management, explains. And the possibility is that these fires could get worse in coming years.

Which is why I say, let's cut more timber while the cutting is good! Well-managed timber stands are far less likely to be consumed by fire than unharvested, fire-suppressed wilderness. Furthermore, living, working forests are more likely to meet societal needs than fire-ravaged wilderness. And the recurrent regeneration of the harvested forests will help reduce local climatic variation and dampen global climate change as the young saplings soak up all that bad carbon dioxide out there.

Let's make …

Great Designs in Wood (45) - The Traditional Finnish Log House

This weekend was the signal weekend for us here in central Pennsylvania, that weekend that is just cool enough in the mornings that we know Fall is here and Winter will be here before we know it. Some thoughts turn to hunting or football. Mine turn to firewood, and getting the house and yard ready for winter. Problem is, every year that goes by, it takes more to get me outside and working.

That's where YouTube has helped out. I may not be able to work outside like I used to, but I can sure watch others do it. And after doing so, I feel motorvated to get up and push wood around, or something.

This year, I've been a little under the weather all summer and feeling sorry for myself. I needed something especially inspiring. Even more inspiring than impossibly humongous stacks of firewood. I needed to see real men doing something to remind me that I aspire to be a real man one of these days.

And then I found the Finnish carpenters.

These guys are building a house the old-fashioned w…

Wood Science 101 (12) - Extracting Lignin from Wood in the Laboratory (Part 1)

Back in an earlier post of this series (Wood Science 101 (3) - Lignin) we discussed the miracle of lignin and it's bright future in materials research and development.

This morning I was able to capture part of the progress of this ongoing science on video. Brett Diehl, a graduate student here at Penn State, has been studying the process of lignin extraction from various wood species. In the following video, Brett explains what lignin is, why he is studying it, and how the specific extraction process works. Here he covers the first part of the process, extracting what are called "extractives" from the wood in a multi-step process in preparation for the actual extraction of lignin. It is the final process of actual lignin extraction which Brett hopes to be able to improve upon.

Current commercial pulping techniques, which utilize pressure and harsh chemicals, beat the structure of the lignin pretty badly, resulting in low yields and quality, and therefore higher cost of t…

Wood Science 101 (11) - Where Does Cork Come From?

You may be a connoisseur of fine wines and wondered about corks. They look like wood, but their spongy feel makes them seem a little different than wood.

The fact is that natural corks are produced from the bark of the cork oak, Quercus suber. And this bark is stripped right off the live tree, in fact several times during the life of the tree. Your first reaction is probably something like "Doesn't that hurt the tree?" Amazingly enough, the cork oaks not only survive the harvest of their bark, but seem to thrive in spite of it.

Here's a great video shared by the International Wood Culture Association that tells the story of the trees and their unique product.

The really fascinating, and important, thing to understand about cork production is that from a ecological standpoint, we should all want more cork to be harvested and used, not less. You may be aware that there are cork substitutes, such as artificial corks and screw tops, being promoted by unscrupulous wine me…