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


Wednesday, November 18, 2015

It's a Small, Small World (of Wood)

By far the best thing about writing this blog is getting personal feedback from Go Wood readers. Yesterday, after the posting of "A Trip to the Mountain Above Turmero", I received two such pieces of an interesting modern-day version of a similar trip, and the second a piece of information that could fairly be called an incredible coincidence.

Story One

IWCS member Michael Nee shares his recent encounter with the mountains of Bolivia...

OK, you asked for it. Interesting story from Venezuela. Here's mine.

 The sandstone cliffs of Serrania de Chochis seen from our lodging. There are only two trails to the top.
Saturday (Nov. 14, 2015) we were at Chochis, Bolivia, a little town at the base of a spectacular escarpment, the highest range in the eastern half of the country, at 1245 m (about 3700 ft). We took the dirt road (after eating at places with chickens clucking around begging for bread crumbs) alongside the escarpment to one of the two places where it is possible to climb up.

The weather report was predicting a high for the day of 100 deg F. The first part was a steep climb on a dirt trail through forest with no breeze at all.

Then began the part which was more a scramble up nearly vertical places, with sometimes a rope tied to a tree to give some help. As we got higher and surrounded on both sides by vertical cliffs, our narrow gap had "forest", or rather trees growing out at an angle, including PodocarpusMy climbing companion, Daniel Villarroel, is a Bolivian getting a PhD at the Unversidade de Brasilia in Brazil.  He was specifically after a new species of Myrtaceae which he had collected in flower, but was hoping to find in fruit. We in fact did find it--and with fruit--so now he has enough material to publish it. 
 A tree in the Myrtaceae family, new to science, and this the first discovery of the fruits.

Most things we saw he was familiar with because of his research, and it was "that is a new record for this range, and it was only described two years ago", "that Schefflera of the Araliaceae is a new species, but we're not sure what to call it yet", "that species has only been collected once before and is only found on this mountaintop".

Needless to say, whenever I have the opportunity to collect wood for MADw, I get a piece. But on this trip I was not getting much wood, because we had the whole climb back down that precipitous trail and already had more material in the plant presses than when we came up. At least we had pretty near finished all the many liters of water we were smart enough to bring along, and that lightened the load a little.

The top of the range is a grassland with shrubs and small trees and full of frantastic sandstone formations. Put 18°07’53”S, 60°00’24”W into Google Earth to see where we climbed to
A view from the side of the Serrania looking down on the plains.

Byrsonima tree huddled among the rock formations on the top of the Serrania.
Then it was time to go back down, easier on the lungs but harder on the legs than scrambling up. Much of the way down I spent sliding on my behind and carefully searching for secure footholds. We did manage to find a Podocarpus in "seed" which we had not noticed on the way up, and a mystery tree which I still am completely stumped on after 30 years of working in Bolivia.

The climb up was 670 meters (about 2100 ft) vertically from the dirt road to the top of the mountain, and so it was also 670 meters back down. My legs are still sore (Tuesday).

Now the question is, why am I still doing this when it won't be long until my 70th birthday??
Great story, Michael. Answer to your last question..."Because you can."

Story Two

I was across the hall in the Hoverter Wood Operations Research laboratory yesterday afternoon, looking at specimens of our Penn State Xylarium (wood collection).  I've recently been examining specimens from the extensive collection of IWCS member Dennis Brett of New Jersey; there are over one hundred boxes of his specimens in the lab.

While digging through one of the boxes, I had the inclination to call Dennis...we hadn't talked since the World of Wood 2015 event we held here at Penn State this summer. (Sorry, forgot I hadn't posted anything about that yet...need to catch up!) Anyway, Dennis is doing fine, having just celebrated his 80th birthday in excellent health.

Now Dennis is an interesting guy. He started collecting pieces of wood as a 10-year old growing up in New York City, and made it a life-long passion. As a teenager, he joined the IWCS in its formative years, and he met and traded with some of the founders of the Society, including the original founder, Mr. Harold Nogle of Newton County, Texas. As we chatted, I mentioned the article about Turmero and its author, J.H. Standen.

What Dennis told me next blew me away. Dennis knew Mr. Standen, and had purchased specimens from him. In fact, he had a box of Standen's Venezuelan specimens in his collection...and that box was sitting somewhere in our lab, just a few feet away from me!

Think about that for a second...a fellow collects wood samples from a mountain in Venezuela in 1949 (Dennis told me he thinks Mr. Standen was working as a consultant to Ford Motor Company at the time, which was thinking of building a plant near there), he sells many of those samples to a young man in New York City, who shares them with a professor at Penn State University sixty-six years later. And that professor, without knowing anything of the samples, or their existence a mere few feet away from him, posts the story of the collection of them using a communication technology that wasn't even dreamed of in the time in which they were collected.

Will you agree with me that the coincidence borders on the incredible?

We'll have to wait for the rest of this story...I have to go through the boxes one by one, and they don't really have any identification on the boxes. So, one of these days, hopefully soon, I'll find samples of the rare species mentioned by Mr. Standen in his travel account of so many years ago.

What a small, small, world. And while traversing it, Go Wood.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Wood Collecting, Back in Time

I may have mentioned in this space that I started a new blog, World of Wood, based on the archives of a journal of that name published by the International Wood Collectors Society. Today I posted another wonderful old adventure from the days when wood collecting really was an adventure.

And although I usually send the link to the post out only to IWCS members, I thought this one was so nice that I thought it might appeal to a broader audience. From when times were simpler...

A Trip to the Mountain Above Turmero



Monday, November 16, 2015

Winter in the Woods

As things cool off down here in the states, we start dreaming of roasted turkeys and trimming the family Christmas tree. In the back of our minds, though, we're going through the mental checklist of winter preparedness: fresh coolant in the vehicles, firewood cut and stacked, pipes winterized, and salt and shovels at the ready.

But not so tough, compared to winter loggers in the northern reaches of Canada, eh?

These high-quality videos provide excellent detail on the logging process that you don't often get...number of truckloads a day, cost of broken components, how the machines work. They give us a good appreciation of the capital and human investment necessary to keep the front end of the wood products industry humming, when the rest of us are huddled by the fire. Good job, boys.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Notes From the Road (2) - The Sound of Music

Had a full week visiting wood plants last week. The best stop was a visit to the Martin Guitar Company in Nazareth, Pennsylvania. You may recall that we took a video tour of the plant as part of a previous Go Wood post.

Well, news is good in Nazareth. Company folks affirmed that yes, the guitar business is much so, that the company expanded its manufacturing capacity to a new operation in Mexico a few years ago. When a thing is good, it will live on.

Certain things stood out to me as I toured the plant with members of the New England Kiln Drying Association. As one who has been through hundreds of wood operations, and seen the good, the bad, and the ugly, I can tell you...this operation is well-managed. Very well managed. It shows in the plant, and on the faces of the employees as they speak of their work.

In the milling operation, every unit of lumber is clearly identified and quantified.

As components are manufactured, they are tracked with precision through the process, so that both stock and custom guitars can be made in the shortest possible time.

As we learned in "The Secret of Stradivari", the internal design of a musical sound box is the key to the tonal quality of the instrument. Martin has their own internal designs, and each component is manually shaped by human hands to achieve the aged sound Martin guitars are famous for.

The sides of the guitar are curved in an interesting process, one that has been improved by the employees so that it cuts the time for this step of the process in half.

Every woodworker knows the value of proper sanding in the process. Here, in a great example of efficient cellular processing, boxes are sanded to a smooth surface prior to final finishing. One person noted the absence of dust in the factory...the guide smiled and said something like..."Five million dollars buys a heck of a dust removal system." I may be wrong about the amount, but it was a big enough number to make the tourist realize that these guitars are the products of a huge capital investment.

And speaking of huge capital investment... Marty, the company's resident robot. This thing was amazing in the precision and versatility with which it handled the guitar boxes as it polished them on two large polishing wheels. Another sign of the inevitable rise of the machine in society, even when the products being produced are highly "customized".

I never knew there were so many different types of pearl.

Now, I don't play guitar, but I might buy one of these to carry around just to look good.

And to top off a great visit, I spent some time perusing the Martin museum on site, open to visitors. Wow.

I appreciated the comment of company CEO Chris Martin in the video above when he acknowledges how fortunate he was to be born into a historic guitar manufacturing family, and not an accordion manufacturing family. And yet, he and his employees are more than just fortunate...they are living evidence that love of music, and history, and pride in your work, combined with some ingenuity and a passion to make it always better, will produce great results.