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Friday, August 29, 2014

Rare Reading: Hough's American Woods

Kim Steiner made me aware of a most unusual opportunity for the discriminating wood/book collector.

The Society of American Foresters, through the auction house of Bonham's of San Francisco, is offering for sale an original set of Romeyn Beck Hough's reference classic, The American Woods, with an expected selling price of $20,000 to $30,000. These books, which feature thin veneers of 324 species of wood found in United States in the 19th century, were subscribed to and purchased in individual volumes, most often by public libraries. However, complete fourteen-volume sets are extremely rare nowadays, thus the extreme price they bring at auction.

http://www.bonhams.com/auctions/21845/lot/219/

These books have a great history history.
"This remarkable work was the lifetime achievement of Romeyn B. Hough, who devoted himself to the study of American trees, and who is best known for his Handbook of Trees of the Northern States and Canada, long a standard reference work in American dendrology. In this work, Hough sought to describe the woods found in America, with a detailed description in an accompanying pamphlet, and with thin cross-sections of actual woods mounted and labeled in accompanying stiff cardboard mounts. These provide a unique record of American wood types, arranged geographically. Generally each species is shown with wood cut on traverse section, radial section, and tangential section. The samples are so thin as to be easily translucent. The age of these specimens gives them tremendous importance from an ecological standpoint, as well as their great interest to students of American furniture and woodcrafts. The trees available to Hough at the time make such an endeavor impossible to contemplate today. Parts I-IV cover New York and adjacent states, part V covers Florida, parts VI-X describe the Pacific Slope, parts XI-XII cover the Atlantic states, and part XIII southern Florida. Part XIV contained a continuation of the work on the trees of Florida with text by Marjorie Hough, using specimens and notes prepared by her father before his death in 1924.
Hough explained the unique nature of the work thus: it is `illustrated by actual specimens, and being in this way an exhibition of nature itself it possesses a peculiar and great interest never found in a press-printed book. The specimens are....about 2 x 5 in. in size, and sufficiently thin to admit of examination in transmitted light...Looked at in reflected light they appear as in the board or log... These specimens are mounted in durable frame-like Bristol-board pages, with black waterproofed surfaces...and each bears printed in gilt-bronze the technical name of the species and its English, German, French and Spanish names. The pages are separable...and are accompanied with a full text...giving information as to the uses and physical properties of the woods, and distributions, habits of growth, botanical characters, habitats, medicinal properties, etc..., of the trees...The woods used for the specimens are personally collected by the author and are sectioned and prepared by a process of his own device'.
Complete sets of this work are very rare. The volumes were priced at five dollars each, a high price reflecting the work involved in assembling them. Since subscribers came and went over the 25-year period of publication and many only bought the volume or volumes on the areas that interested them. The rarity of complete sets can be judged from the fact that Stafleu and Cowan record the work as being complete in 6 volumes."
- www.donaldheald.com 

But if you want to gain possession of the real thing, you have until September 22nd to do your research on the SAF set and settle your mind on your bid. If you win the bid, and care to share its splendor with the other readers of Go Wood, just let me know, and it will be so.

Good luck!

P.S. If, like me, you find the price of this set a little too steep, you can purchase a modern reprint of the set that has been released to rave reviews. Entitled "The Woodbook: The Complete Plates", it can be purchased online at Amazon.com.

Update, 10/21/2014: The collection was sold for $22,500, including fees.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

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.

Friday, August 15, 2014

It's That Time Again to Start Thinking about Wood Heat

Well, maybe not down where you live, but The Wife and I were sitting out shivering at the public pool yesterday watching Little Rays #6 and #7 swimming. Yes, here at least, the autumn chill is starting to settle in, and of course, any logical person's thoughts turn to heating, and whether or not the wood pile is large enough.

More of that in future posts. This time, though, is a nice little video from the folks at the Biomass Energy Resource Center (BERC) up in Vermont, where winter and wood heating go hand-in-glove. Thanks to Adam Sherman of the center who shared this nice video with us.



Ahhh, I can already smell the hot cider! :-)