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


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The National Wood Collection at the Forest Products Lab

I've been quite busy with a new project this summer. This spring, I was made aware of an old collection of wood samples that had been stored away for the last fifty years in a closet at the end of a hall. I've moved the collection over to my lab and have been working to uncover the mysteries of multiple collections, old deceased wood professors, and beautiful samples of wood I've never even heard of. All together, we have something over 2,000 species of wood and 6,000-8,000 specimens here at Penn State. All partially documented in the 1950's and before.

I've been trying to build a database of the collection in order to get a better handle of what it contains. Finally, it occurred to me to take a visit to the largest such collection in North America, the US Forest Service collection at the Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, Wisconsin. Headquartered in what is called the Center for Wood Anatomy Research, it is truly an interesting place to visit. The collection amassed there is overwhelming...I could get lost in there for weeks just looking at blocks of wood. Click here for an interesting write up of the collection, which consists of over 100,000 specimens of some 14,000 species. I consider this collection one of the rare jewels in the world of wood, and it's great that the US Forest Service has preserved it for posterity.

Mike Wiemann, a botanist who has worked with the collection for the past twelve years, was my host on this visit, and as he explained various facets of the collection it occurred to me to shoot a video of Mike showing us around the collection.

He kindly agreed, so here it is...

Sorry, the auto-focus seemed to fuzz out in the second half of the video. I'll take better care in the future.

Mike helped me understand the whole concept of institutional wood collections and the relationship between them. As I work to resurrect the Penn State collection, I'll be working in collaboration with the Mike and the FPL to ensure that our labeling and organization is consistent with professional standards. And of course, I'll keep you posted on interesting aspects of the collection as I uncover them.


Donald P. Oaks said...

You can give credit to Dr. White as a major contributor toward the existince of the wood collection. He was the wood utilization professor at the time of my graduation from the PSU School of forestry in 1959. Doc White was a beloved character in the school and accross campus. The Collegion campus newspaper ran an annual contest to vote for "Dr. Snarf" a cartoon college professor and Doc White won every year that I was on campus. It's great that you have discovered his treasure and are reviving it. Does the now school of Environmental Sciences even offer a course in wood indentification?

Donald P. Oaks CF ACF Class of 1959

Chuck Ray said...

Donald, we have been offering wood ID courses, but they may go away with the evolution of the new majors. Not sure at this point. Some argue that despite not having a specific wood science degree program, other students such as forestry and ag engineering majors would like to have wood ID offered. We'll see.

Chuck Ray said...

By the way, thanks for the tip on Dr. White. I have been working on the supposition that Dr. Newell Norton was the only faculty member who worked on the collection, but have since found that Dr. Jorgenson also contributed to the collection. It makes sense that Dr. White also had his hand in it.