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 30, 2014

Great Designs in Wood (56) - The Tall Composite Structure

I've posted videos before on this topic, and the good news is, that they keep getting better. Which is a sign, I think, that this concept has legs. Best sign of all is that young, sustainability-oriented minds seem to really latch on to the concept. And as they do, the concept of the wooden, sustainable city comes that much closer to reality.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Go Climb a Tree

Well, what else are you going to do this weekend? Sit around and chow down on burgers and beer while watching forty-two football games? Come on, do like these guys, and go find a local tree to climb. Experience the exhilaration of swaying branches while breathing in clean, fresh air. This is the way to Go Wood.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Great Designs in Wood (55): A Visit with Furniture Maker Mike Korsak

I was able to break free last week and visit Mike Korsak, a furniture maker with ties to Penn State. Mike sort of "evolved" into this entrepreneurial venture into furniture-making, and it's was nice to see someone with a desire and talent be able to get out and do his own thing for a living.

Mike specializes in what I would call "art" furniture...many of his projects wind up displayed in art galleries before moving on to their owners. Here's a link to his website, and below are a few examples of his work.

"Echo and Narcissus." These pieces are featured in the video.

An Asian-inspired bench.
And another view.

"Figured Out."

"In Time."

Walnut Tall Cabinet.

I hope you enjoy the visit...please excuse my limited videography skills. Technical difficulties forced me to have a commercial break, but please watch both segments, I think you'll enjoy.

And here's the shorter second segment...

Thanks to Mike for sharing a portion of his day with us.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Wood Science 101 (16) - Wood Weight Estimation Finally Pays Off

A couple of weeks ago, I was passed on an email with pictures from a Penn State student asking about the species of a log on display at a local bike shop. He wanted to know, because the log was the object of interest in a contest - guess the weight of the log and win a mountain bike. It looked like an oak, but I decided to stop by the shop since I go by it every day on the way home, just to confirm.

Measurement of the rays, which were very visible through the gashes in the bark from the grapple that skidded the log from the woods, confirmed that it was indeed a red oak, and probably a northern red oak (Quercus rubra) or a scarlet oak (Quercus coccinea).

Information conveyed back through channels to the student, I got to thinking about the poor, undernourished nine-year-old waif living under my own roof. Being the sixth of seven in the Ray clan, he had become quite used to hand-me-downs, and had never had his own new bike. Wouldn't it be fun, I thought, if we made an adventure of measuring the log together and entering the contest?

This undertaking, however, was fraught with potential downside...the biggest being, of course, that he wouldn't win, and I would fall forever from his eyes as the king of everything in the Kingdom of Wood. But, since I've discovered that Dad is pretty much completely discredited by the time each offspring reaches about the age of thirteen, I was only risking about four years. And, I figured since timber estimation has always been one of my strengths, we might actually have a pretty good chance. And if he won, the upside would be priceless.

So, on the last day of the contest, off we went to measure the log. It measured 8'4", with a 30-inch diameter at the top end and 38-inches at the butt. Since the butt had some pretty good swell, I figured a 33-inch average diameter, and a couple of eyeball measurements along the length made me feel pretty good about that estimate.

Now, at this point, I could have used any of a number of timber-estimation formulae that have been published over the last century. But, in a case like this, I always tend to follow the principle, Keep it Simple. And nothing is simpler than using a volume table built on empirical data.

So, once again, I conferred with Doctor Google...and found a Log Weight Chart at The folks at Sherrill Tree, a company that sells gear for professional tree climbers, had posted a chart from the US Department of the Interior, which probably originally came from the US Forest Service. I knew this would be a pretty accurate reference since some government research team seventy-five years ago had probably spent years cutting and weighing green one-foot sections of different species of trees found in our forests.

Ah, the green thing. I knew that many of the contestants would look up the weight of wood and use a number from a dry-weight (12% moisture content) table. Sorry folks, not the right thing to do. I made sure to ask the owner when the log was harvested and weighed...did they weigh it right on the landing immediately after cutting, or did it sit around for a few weeks before they figured out which log was going to be used.

He confirmed for me that the log had been harvested the last week of August, and had been weighed immediately upon harvesting. Since we had a fairly normal, slightly cool and wet, summer, I figured the green weight data in the table would probably be about right, once I performed a little of my magic on it.

Part of that magic included figuring out the weight of that bottom foot of the log, which had a pretty good notch out of it. From the table I decided to apply 375 pounds to each foot of the log, 375 being my interpolation of the weights listed for red and white oak averaging between 32 and 34 inches average diameter. 375 times 8 gave me 3000 pounds. Now for that extra 4 inches and the notch.

Since I knew the butt was 38 inches in diameter, a further extrapolation from the table told me that a one foot section would weigh about 500 pounds. So, one third of that would get me an additional 167 pounds. Then I thought about all the notches I've ever hefted, and seventy-five pounds for a large one seemed about right. I closed my eyes, focused on the numbers in my head, and one visualized...3093.

So, we wrote down 3093 on Wesley's slip, and left the rest up to the timber gods.

Two days later, The Wife's phone rang, and the voice on the other end asked for Wesley Walker Ray. She mentioned that she was Wesley Walker Ray's mother, and what did they want with him?

She was astounded to hear, that Mr. Wesley had guessed the closest to the weight of the log...his guess of 3093 was only three pounds from the actual weight of 3090. He was the winner of a new $1,599 mountain bike.

A future great mountain-biker.

We picked up his bike yesterday, and after being trained on all the high-tech functions of the bike by the good experts at The Bicycle Shop, Wesley mounted it and rode it home, climbing a darn steep hill in State College "using only half-effort" he yelled at us as we coasted along side him in the car. The smile on his face was bigger than those 29" tires on the bike.

So, Going Wood all these years has finally paid off for me. Guessing the weight of an oak log...$1,599. Seeing that smile...priceless.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Is There Anything Better than a Wooden Boat?...

...I found myself wondering, as I toured Giesler Boat Builders factory in Powassan, Ontario. The tour was part of the annual meeting of the International Wood Collectors Association that was held in nearby Huntsville, Ontario.


At the moment I was shooting the video below, I couldn't think of anything better than to own one of these beauties. I found myself thinking that wooden boats are one of those things that we modern folk think of as unobtainable playthings of the rich and famous, whereas this tour made me realize that hey, these are really practical products for real folks, and have been for centuries. Our tour guide (sorry, I lost his name) was simply great in his explanation and detail of the process, and by the time we were ready to leave I was sorry I didn't have the checkbook along.

From the Giesler website...
"Why buy a Cedar strip boat ?
There are several advantages of wood construction besides its natural beauty. 
First of all, wood has strength. The weight to strength ratio of wood is better than most other materials being used in boat construction. This means that wooden boats are lighter and stronger than most boats made from other materials. Wood will also withstand constant flexing, thus giving cedar strip boats a softer, quieter ride, even in the roughest waters. Wood boats are also easily repaired without the need for complicated equipment , hazardous chemicals, or extensive labour. With the development of new adhesives to make the joints water tight, advances in varnishes and paints to minimize maintenance, plus the natural beauty and warmth of wood, you can see that a cedar strip really is the natural choice."
 Now this is a great way to Go Wood.

Friday, September 12, 2014

How Man Conquered the World...Using Wood

Here's another Friday week-ender, this time from the creative folks at The Danish Wood Initiative.

It tells the story of how the wood industry was born, and why it will someday rule the world "in a good and wise way".


If this simple message is so compelling, you may ask, why don't regulatory agencies, like our own EPA, get it? You might not be surprised that the answer lies in the concept of organizational self-preservation. Forbes contributor Larry Bell explains the tangled web in his January 2014 article, EPA's Wood-Burning Stove Ban Has Chilling Consequences For Many Rural People. While it uses the case of wood-burning stoves and boilers as an example, the same process applies to regulation of furniture and panel emissions, factory and dust emissions, health and safety, forest management, and on and on and on.

This is a good opportunity to recognize all the good folks who are working to get the "Wood is Good" message out there. Waaaay too many to list here, but we know who you are...and we salute your efforts. Readers, why not acknowledge your favorite group in the comments below?

Go Wood!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Make Mine Freedom

Thought you might like something a little different on this Labor Day. In an interesting look at how university Extension has always used social media to educate folks, here's a cartoon from 1946 from the Economics Extension department of Harding College, now Harding University. This conservative little college in central Arkansas put at the core of its mission teaching fundamental American values, and produced a series of cartoons like the following that extolled the virtues of the American economic system.

At the time, with World War II over, war-weary folks all over the world were looking for new ways to cast off the old and usher in the new. Great Britain, in perhaps one of the most instructive elections in history, cast off the Conservative government of Winston Churchill in favor of the socialist Labour Party. British folks were tired of sacrifice and want, and voted for the folks who promised plenty. In Communist Russia, Joseph Stalin reached his pinnacle of power as his country's victorious repulsion of the German invasion promised a new era of peace and prosperity that the Communists had not been able to achieve in the previous twenty-nine years. China was only a couple of years from the Communist revolution of Mao Zedong, triggered by mass starvation in the wake of the disastrous war with the Japanese and subsequent Chinese civil war with the forces of Chiang Kai-shek.

The economic professors at little Harding College saw all this and, in response to the rise of American socialist and communist parties, decided to tell the story in the way that folks would understand. The result was this entertaining, educational, and stunningly prophetic cartoon entitled "Make Mine Freedom." It's a great view for a slow moment on a Labor Day holiday.

Listen carefully...much of what your hear will sound very familiar to you. In an especially prophetic moment, the seller of ISM promises "...ISM even makes the weather perfect every day!" They must have had their advocates of catastrophic climate change even back then.

The last two-and-a-half minutes are especially startling in the accuracy of its message.Labor and racial strife, crony capitalism, politically-correct public officials, and farm regulation that constrains production are all predicted as the inevitable result of ISM. It seemed humorous and practically impossible in the America of 1946...not so much so in 2014. As we discussed in this note of a couple of years ago, many wood products companies are feeling the pressure of the heavy hand of ISM these days.