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Showing posts from 2014

Another One in the Books

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Well, here we are again...another year in the books.

We got 2014 started slowly, very slowly, with a wooden snow roller...

Said goodbye to old friends...

Listened to a tree tell us its sad story...

And watched a groundhog nearly leap to its death.

But things began to pick up on a trip down memory lane with Allison Logging in the 1930's, the most popular Go Wood post of the year...

And we surveyed the real value of wood in modern home construction.

We paid homage to some of the greatest of all wood designs...one of the simplest, and one of the most complex.

We kept a wary eye on that crazy world through the looking glass...and another on the tinsel-town world in which productive folks are nearly always the bad guys.

We learned how man conquered the world with wood...and then contemplated the functional beauty of wooden boat that got him there.

We experienced the thrill of victory...and rebounded with wood when Earth tried to deal our Italian friends the agony of defeat.

We (meaning I…

Wood as a Fewel, According to Adam Smith

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Everyone heating with wood, or thinking of heating with wood, soon or later gets around to considering the cost of doing so. Since heating with wood has been around since man discovered the benefits of fire, you might call this a problem for the ages.

It certainly was back in 1776, when our American forefathers were declaring their independence from our English cousins. Soon to experience dearly the value of wood as a source of heat in a tiny encampment called Valley Forge, George Washington and his men knew first-hand the value of firewood when one is cold.

Less noticed than the beginning of the War of Independence, an elderly Scottish professor published a book in that year of 1776 that was to become, over the ages, the most well-known and respected classic in the field of economics. Adam Smith's treatise, originally published under the scholary title An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, was later shortened into the now-famous The Wealth of Nations, an…

A Vision of Christmas Past

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Christmas is a great time to feel sentimental. I'd just like to thank all you folks who've been kind enough to read Go Wood, and even more so to those of you who've written to add to the pieces with your own comments, or who have passed along more material.

And in the spirit of Christmas sentimentality, I like to share a short video I shot of two of the Ray clan seven years ago this season. The boys are a lot bigger now, and not nearly so cute...but the memory of them sliding down this hill in our yard on Christmas Eve is literally, for me, a vision of Christmas Past.

Here's to your own memories of Christmas Past, and blessings to you this Christmas 2014.



Peace on Earth, Go Wood toward man.

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Things are Heating Up

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Well, sorry to you wood burners out there, who are complaining that I haven't done more wood energy posts recently. Yes, I still love my wood stove...but my gas boiler and upstairs stove are so cozy, inexpensive, and easy, that, I admit it, I haven't yet starting burning wood. After Christmas I'll share more wood-energy stories with you.

Speaking of gas, I'll bet you've been a little befuddled by the controversy surrounding natural-gas production via hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The issue, like so many others these days, revolves around different tellings of the story about the same process.

The telling that seems to get the most press is similar to the one told by The Sierra Club...



Hmmm...sounds bad. But there's another way to tell the story, and that is from a perspective from those who actually perform the production process. For instance, Marathon Oil Company shares this video which looks amazingly like the Sierra Club video, but with a few differen…

Great Designs in Wood (61) - The Wood Innovation and Design Centre

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You've watched Michael Green speak on housing the world and why we should be building wooden skyscrapers. And now, theory has been transformed into reality, at the Wood Innovation and Design Centre of the University of Northern British Columbia.



Going Wood is a growing trend. And the good folks of British Columbia are leading the way.

Tip AmountOption 1 $2.00 USDOption 2 $4.00 USDOption 3 $10.00 USD

Wood Science 101 (19) - The North American Bow-Wood

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Last week we reveled in the properties and history of a great European tree, the yew, with specific focus on the legendary long-bows wielded by the British archers of a thousand years ago. But did you know that there is an American equivalent, a tree with wood of unique properties that has been utilized for many, varied uses, including wood for the bows of Native Americans?

Well, there is...and I stumbled across one yesterday in Winchester, Virginia. If you're a country folk, you'll recognize it by its unmistakable fruit.



The Osage-orange, or bois d'arc tree (Maclura pomifera), bears this somewhat unearthly-looking fruit pod. Slightly larger and heavier than a softball, many a young lad has had horse-apple fights with their buddies that ended up with in a sticky mess in someone's hair.

Birds seem to love the Osage-orange, and have contributed to the spread of the tree across the land.  As I stumbled around a stack of roof trusses in front of the tree, several dozen dov…

An Uplifting Story from the Coast of Maine

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Several folks have asked about Carol Chang, one of our 2013 Penn State graduates who has been profiled here on Go Wood, since she got out into the world. I updated the original post with the news that she had been hired by Weatherend Furniture of Rockland, Maine, shortly after that post, thanks to Collin Miller of the Northern Forest Center who shared the post around with his industry contacts. That simple act of extra effort by Mr. Miller resulted in the realization of a great career opportunity for a young woman who just needed a chance to show what she could do.

Well, thanks to Mr. Miller and the good folks at Weatherend, she's gotten that chance.

November 19, 2014Good afternoon Dr. Ray,How have you been? I just wanted to let you know that I am doing well and learning so much here in Maine. Gil, president of Weatherend, has been so great to work with. He truly believes in me and has put me in multiple Auto CAD training sessions. I have designed my first piece to add to the our p…

Commercial of the Year

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The Go Wood Woodie Award for the Best Commercial of the Year goes to....

[drum roll]


SPDR ETFs Carpenter Commercial!



I have no idea what SPDR ETF's are, and what they have to do with the Leaning Tower of Pisa, but I get the point...they conquer complexity with precision. Whatever they are, I'll take ten dollars worth.

Tip AmountOption 1 $2.00 USDOption 2 $4.00 USDOption 3 $10.00 USD

Wood Science 101 (18) - The Yew of Olde

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Dear Chuck, I loved the article on Yew wood. I have a question. Taxus, poison, is it the basis for "Taxotere" a chemotherapy drug. I had to endure a couple of rounds with the "bugger juice" and it about killed me. Just wondered. Also, I grew up in England and lived very close to Kingly Vale on the South Downs. There are a few very old Yew Trees still there, the area was decimated by Henry II outfitting his archers with strong bows - the forest never recovered. Yew trees were really hated by my father who said the ground was poisoned after a yew was planted - and at my house this is certainly so, very little else has been successful after I "busted a gut" getting one out on the front of my house.Love your articles...Wendy, wife of he who get-eth your epistles.... Thanks for your note, Wendy. It gives me a chance to expand on the points you've raised.

Yew is indeed a rich wood. The taxine in yew that is so toxic to humans and animals has, in fac…

Wood Science 101 (17) - Yew Better Know Your Wood

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Back in the spring, I was doing some yard work that included winching out several old stumps of Japanese yew (Taxus cuspidata) that I had cut down seven years earlier. They were pretty bad boys and resisted the call of the winch; my friend's Jeep was sliding sidewards across the parking lot and the cable was singing as the root balls clung to their Mother Earth. But finally, stubbornly, each one came out with a groan and a crackle.

After the sounds of our ritual grunting died down, I examined the roots. Amazingly, they had come out nearly completely intact. The roots were thick, and still fleshy and pliable after all those years sitting dead in the dirt. But they were semi-rigid, and made quite interesting pieces. My friend suggested mounting a big bass in front of each, but I had another idea.

I had begun work on a large (440-gallon) aquarium project. These root balls, I thought, would make great structure in the tank for my pet fish to lounge around. And sure enough, the next da…

Wood Identification in Context - The Fallon & Wilkinson Experience

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Last month I had the opportunity to attend what I think is a unique experience in learning about wood. There are other wood identification short courses out there, and we occasionally teach them at Penn State, but this one included a unique perspective that I wanted to experience. It is a two-day course...in the first day, the class is a hands-on laboratory of whittling wood samples and grappling with the concept of transverse, radial, and tangential planes of view.

But the second day, the class moved to the campus of Yale University, where a collection of antique furniture resides. Tad Fallon and Randy Wilkinson, as professional furniture conservators, have had the opportunity to help the museum staff identify and verify several of the pieces in the study. In the class, they lead the students through the same thought process they go through when looking at pieces that are worth thousands, even millions of dollars. And it is a real learning experience, indeed.

With their permission, a…

Standing on Guard for the Land of Pines and Maples

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Over the last couple of years, my favorite football teams have been kind of hard to watch...and one night about eighteen months ago, out of curiosity, I paused a few minutes on the hockey channel to watch the Pittsburgh Penguins.

What a mistake. I am addicted. Haven't missed a Penguins game yet this season...even though I'm not sure I always understand what's going on out there. Hockey is a sport that was unwatchable on TV before the advent of 60-inch high-def screens, because you just couldn't see that darn puck. But now, thanks to the big screens and super-slow motion cameras everywhere around the rink, those of us who didn't grow up with stick in hand can now at least partially enjoy the game.

But those penalties are hard to figure out. Smashing into an opponent seems to be a good thing to do, except when it isn't. Over the eighteen months of watching hockey commentators explain the games, I'm still not sure when a check is legal and when it isn't. A…

How Product Diversity and Cost-Cutting is Killing MacDonald's, and Possibly Your Business

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Wow, I'm falling further and further behind on my wood-related blog posts every week, as I scramble to cover too many bases, and more and more of you send me great ideas to cover. Keep the suggestions coming in, I'll get caught up sooner or later.

But today, I'm going to divert off wood specifically to talk about the weird trends in our economy, and how I believe the signals are being misread by so many. In the news yesterday was McDonald's quarterly report revealing that their profits are off by 30% from the same time last year, on a 3% drop in sales. Watch the whole video below, the reporters' comments tell a lot about the companies issues.




As they mention, increasing raw material (food) and labor costs are hurting...but the meat of the story (sorry) is in the comment..."Is their food real?"

Sad to say, Mickey D's management hasn't realized their food quality problem, as they've been busy expanding their menu and tearing down old kid-friendl…

Great Designs in Wood (60) - "Harmonie Hall"

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Here's a well-named building in Kobe, Japan, that demonstrates another fundamental truth about building with wood...that wood makes every other building material look better through association.


"The Kobe International Junior High School and Senior High School Harmonie Hall was based on an idea of a clear and open axial plan utilising concrete and wood to respond to the campus' history while creating a new relationship with the natural landscape. Harmonie Hall is an ancillary facility that includes a teacher's room, storage, toilets, and a gymnasium that can be used as both a basketball court and an auditorium.This building is designed to capture the most from the rich surrounding environment while inheriting the formal language of the campus as it exists today. Functionally, gyms tend to be enclosed spaces removed from their surrounding environment, but this time, by utilising a wood structural frame, the building is in concert with the vibrant local environment as mu…

Great Designs in Wood (59) - "Treet"

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Aasmund B. wrote from Norway yesterday to confirm that yes, they are indeed proud of the heritage evoked by their "stavkirkes". But he also wanted the world to know that the Norwegians are taking the lead in modern wood construction by building a 14-story wooden building, called "Treet", in Bergen.

Thanks again to the excellent efforts of folks at reThinkWood, we have a video that tells us about the Bergen project, including great design and project justification detail. Naturally, as this is a Scandinavian project, this is not for bragging rights...the project is all about function, efficiency, and stewardship of the earth. As it should be.




In an interesting twist of history, the Battle of Bergen in 1181, the time of  construction of the famous stavkirkes, helped establish Bergen as one of the major centers of trade in Northern Europe in the 13th century. This interesting battle was between a group called the "Birkebeiners" (meaning "birch leg-ers&q…