Wood Is Alive!

Some have complained that cutting down a tree is killing a living organism. Philosophically, perhaps, it may be, although stump and root sprouting are scientific contradictions to that notion.  It's awfully hard to kill a maple forest with an axe.

Xylophiles (the Latin word for "wood-lovers") have always understood that wood is alive. Remember when Tess and I peered into that Australian blackwood table top in Bungendore, New South Wales? It was like peering into a dark, deep pool of water that sparkled with mystery. And what about that Sam Maloof rocker I filmed in Palm Desert? You can't watch that clip and tell me that chair isn't alive.

Well, wood artist Keith Skretch found a new way to illustrate the living spirit in wood. Watch and marvel. Thanks to the Woodworking Network and Keith Skretch for sharing.

Waves of Grain from Keith Skretch on Vimeo.

Mr. Skretch tells us that...
"To create this strata-cut animation, I planed down a block of wood one layer at a time, photographing it at each pass. The painstaking process revealed a hidden life and motion in the seemingly static grain of the wood, even as the wood itself was reduced to a mound of sawdust."
Stunning result. But it is a trick of the camera, after all, same as the movement of Mickey Mouse across the screen.

But my new friend and Go Wood reader Dr. Ho-Yang Kang of Chungnam National University in Korea sent me some short video clips that really, really, prove that wood is alive, and moves. First, we see a Western hemlock board getting cozy and cuddling up as it dries out under the warm breezes of forced-air drying.

Next, we see a cross-section of soft-hearted softwood begin to crack and shed a tear under the strain of being separated from its log mother.

And finally, we see a white-oak board doing a break dance.

Now, the wood isn't actually moving quite as fast as the videos imply. In fact, each frame of the video is a shot taken at fifteen minute intervals over a period of weeks. So, if you settle down to watch wood dance one evening, it's likely to be as entertaining as watching the proverbial paint dry. But, with patience, Dr. Kang has indeed proven that "Wood is Alive!" and actually does moves on its own.

For those of you who are wondering how that happens, watch future GoWood posts for an upcoming Wood Science 101 post on the wood drying process.

Tip Amount


Keith Atherholt said…
Hi Chuck,
I would be interested in scientific information that quantifies the understanding that cutting trees may end the life (as is) but prove that the "feeling" is not the same as human or even animal! Something simple to give to elementary and secondary students would be awesome. What is out there?
Chuck Ray said…
Interesting question, Keith. One of our faculty here is famous for proving that fish feel pain. I believe your point is that if it is proven that trees don't feel pain, then kids would see it differently than killing an animal, and therefore have better attitudes towards forest harvesting.

Have to give that some thought. It sort of goes along with a recent request I received to write about the impact of woodworking on children's development. The human-wood interface issue sounds like an area of interest for many.
michael said…
Very interesting post! I love how the rings of a tree trunk can tell a story, but never really seen anyone show how it is "alive."

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