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


Friday, December 30, 2016

"2017 is Going to be Better Yet"

If you care to reflect back on 2016, I'll bet you'll have a reaction somewhat like mine...that is, you might not know what to think of the year just concluded. So let's review...

On Go Wood, we started out at the Pennsylvania Farm Show, which really got the year off to a great start. We followed that up in February with a trip out into the winter woods with Ivan Sopushynskky and Andy Blazewicz. And in March, we visited our friends at Rigid-Ply rafters to watch beams and trusses being built.

But then the year began to take a weird twist. We discovered a new breed of woody guys called lumbersexuals, and examined their techniques in firewood and in chainsawing. And we discovered a dedicated group of folks that re-created an 18th-century windmill in Holland. Perhaps the most outrageous thing we discovered this year was the Amazing Marble Music Machine. But really, that was not as weird as the Earth People of the Australian outback.

But as the year closed out, it seemed like everything else took a back seat to our American election, which certainly has to go down as one of the weirdest events in human history. Even as I traveled halfway around the world, when people found out I was American, all they wanted to talk about was The Election. And I found myself reflecting deeply about how the world really is working these days.

That is, the world seems to be being run from the screens of our smart phones. People seem to know more about what is happening in the latest virtual hot spots around the world than what is happening around the block from them.

And most of that seems to be bad.

Which is why I like this year-end observation from UK parliament member Daniel Hannan...

Yes, the world seems to be getting weirder, but I find that the folks in my town, my church, and in the plants I visit, are the same as always, warm, and kind, and caring. They share my concerns about the rest of you out there in the crazy world, but they don't seem to get too worried about it. Most are concerned about the health of their family, friends, and perhaps the company they work for. It seems like almost everyone is being touched in some bad way by the proliferation of drug abuse in the country, yet that topic rarely makes the headlines or political discussions, unless some actor overdoses. The problems and concerns of regular folks just don't seem to count for much in a world driven by ratings-hungry news organizations.

Which is why my new years resolutions for 2017 are a little boring, and will never go viral, but I think they should. Because we all need to focus a little closer to home.

In 2017, I resolve to purchase at least one wood product a month.Whether it's from an American company, or from a third-world country on Amazon, that wood product was made by someone who has their hands on wood and eats from the fruit of their labor. So my purchase dollars will support a real person going wood.

In 2017, I resolve to subscribe to the local newspaper and follow current events in my town more closely than the latest ramblings of any of the crazy nuts all over the world. Let the folks in their neighborhood deal with them...I'll pay attention to what my own city council and school board is doing.

In 2017, I resolve to double the number of real, flesh-and-blood close friends I have in the world, which means I have to make the effort to find two more. I really appreciate all you virtual friends out there, and I'm amazed every time I meet one of you. But I need a couple of more buddies to kick things around with, just to keep me grounded and honest with myself. Nobody does that like your best friends.

In 2017, I resolve to kiss my wife at least once a day, and hug my kids once a week. Those really are the best moments of my life, and I don't spend  enough time doing them.

Finally, in 2017, I resolve to improve the content of this Go Wood blog in any way I can. 2016 was a record year in the number of views of the blog. Over 30,000 views in December alone set an all-time monthly record, even though I didn't get to post much this month. If I've been given one professional duty to perform in life, its seems to be to provide you folks with entertaining and informative stories about wood. That's a good thing to be able to do for a living, and I vow to try to live up to the honor. Thank you for spending your time with me here on Go Wood.

And may you be blessed in 2017. It's going to be the best year yet.


Friday, December 9, 2016

Kiln-Drying Time Again

2017 Kiln Drying Workshop 
 January 9-12, 2017 
SUNY-ESF, Syracuse, NY 

 If you've been meaning to go to, or send employees to, a hardwood kiln-drying short course, you have that opportunity once again. For the sixteenth consecutive year, the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry is holding its annual kiln drying workshop again next month. If you're drying hardwoods, or thinking of drying hardwoods. don't invest another dime until you've spent some time with Dr. Bill Smith and his team in Syracuse.

Click here for all the information.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Santa Claus Goes Wood, Naturally!

One of the more amazing and useful sites on the internet is Zillow. You simply enter an address, and you instantly get details on the house at that address, including square footage, list of features, and Zillow's estimate of the current value of the property.

Which led me to wonder what kind of digs Santa and Mrs. Claus have up in their North Pole retreat. Hollywood movies such as The Santa Clause have the jolly olde elf living in an icy winter palace. But, you'll be pleased, and probably not surprised, to find that the Claus' homestead is predictably a warm, cozy timber-framed cottage near North Pole Enterprises.

Bursting with curb appeal, but the curb is missing.
Charm oozes from every detail of this finely-crafted wooden home. Here's the listing...

Santa's HouseThe North Pole

3 beds2 baths2,500 sqft

A toy-lover's paradise nestled on 25 idyllic acres at the North Pole – perfect for spirited reindeer games. The home, constructed in the 1800s of gorgeous old-growth timber logged on site, is steeped in Old World charm but offers modern-day amenities, thanks to a 2013 renovation.

A welcoming entryway leads to the living room with a floor-to-ceiling river rock fireplace for roasting chestnuts. The gourmet kitchen is a baker's dream, boasting an oven with 12 different cookie settings. Cookies are served directly from oven to table in the adjoining dining room.

Boughs of holly deck the hall leading to the master bedroom, which features sprawling mountain views. Jingle all the way to two charming guest rooms that guarantee visitors are never left out in the cold. Cuddle close to the wood-burning stove in the queen suite. Or bunk up in the cozy loft. The more, the merrier.

Tiptoe down the hall to Santa's quiet study. An impressive writing desk is flanked by the same sewing table Santa used to make the original teddy bear. Substantial built-in shelving stores toy prototypes.

Over the river and through the woods is a state-of-the-art toy-making facility with workstations for 50 diminutive craftsmen. Nearby are a garage, with space for Santa's all-weather sleigh, and stables that board eight live-in reindeer, plus a bonus stall for red-nosed company, eagerly awaiting Christmas Eve. 


  • Lot: 25 acres
  • Floor size: 2,500 sqft
  • Home type: Single Family
  • Year built: 1822
  • Last remodel: 2013


  • Santa's Toy Workshop
  • Reindeer Stables
  • River Rock Fireplace
  • Sleigh Parking Garage
Sounds pretty nice, and looking pretty good for a home built in 1822. Another testament to the durability of solid wood construction.

You can see a video and slide show of Santa's pad here...

Enjoy this good holiday season, and when buying gifts, remember to Go Wood. Everyone loves it.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Notes from the Road (12) - The Crichtons of Maryvale

The highlight of my two weeks in Australia was a day our group spent at Maryvale, an outback sheep/cattle station. Our hosts, Robert and Jenny Crichton, were characters straight out of one of our Western movies...think John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara with Australian accents. I told Jenny she was my dream woman...a finely dressed, elegantly coiffed lady running a ranching household about fifty miles from the nearest civilization. Which is where I'll have to be when The Wife reads this.

Jenny Crichton welcomes us to Maryvale.
I'll let Mr. Crichton tell you about the station...

I passed up the 4WD tours of the station, opting instead to re-charge my batteries napping on the porch, listening to the birds, squawk, rattle, chirp, and ring away the hours while I slipped in and out of consciousness. Upon awakening, I discovered a small group of men discussing the wood collection owned by the Australian government and their future disposition in times of budget-cutting, and found a common theme...those wood collections that exist in public and institutional hands seem to be slowly but surely disappearing. Fortunately, not in Pennsylvania.

Robert's favorite tree on his spread...a lemon-scented gum, Corymbia citriodora. When you crush the leaves between your fingers, you get the freshest, most pleasant smell of lemon. Easy to see why it's a favorite.

Out back in the outback.
On a walkabout on Maryvale station.

A porch I'll always remember.

A few cants were sawn for the wood-workers in attendance on this Lucas mill, an amazingly adaptable portable mill that can saw really large diameter logs.
Easily the best picture I took on the trip. Two of the Crichton grandkids, enjoying our presence in that carefree way only three and four-year-olds can grasp.
After doing a short walkabout of the property around the house, it was time for a barbeque. The Crichtons, with the help of some of their neighbors, put on a feast of beef and local delicacies that we enjoyed as we watched the sun set on the Queensland horizon. A really great day had drawn to a close.

A couple of days later, I caught up with Robert, and he graciously agreed to tell me a little more about what it's like to be a cattleman these days in Australia. I think you'll find the conversation interesting, and somewhat familiar, no matter where you live.
GoWood: You've lived on the station for your whole life. What are the biggest changes from the time of your youth in both culture and stewardship of the land?
Robert Crichton: Certainly. Some of the biggest changes I've seen are the number of people we can support. When I was eighteen I came home from school, and the place was twice as big as I've got now, but it supported four families, my father's family and the families of the support staff. Not only were there the four families but there were several single people as well. I think that's the most significant change, the number of people that actually live on the the station, and that's very typical of most of the places out here.
GW: How many acres are on the station now?
RC:  Fifty-five thousand.
GW: What about the productivity of the land?
RC: That's another very significant change, and that's all about the first big change, changing from sheep to cattle. When we could no longer run sheep because of the dingo problem, plus the fact that the price of wool was not particularly high, we moved to cattle because the dingoes did not impact the cattle herds as much. It was terrible, the cost it was, particularly for breeders. We bred sheep at home until we could no longer keep our numbers up, then we tried buying sheep to make an effort to keep up, and that didn't work, so we gave in and moved to cattle.
GW: If the dingoes hadn't become a problem, would the sheep still been profitable enough to run?
RC: Well, that's another question as well, but I think we probably would have, because there is sheep country and there is cattle country, and we were in a better wool area than for cattle in a lot of ways. Although today, with all the supplements that are available to feed the cattle, to make use of the pasture, and all the mulga we have that the cattle that convert, cattle make more sense now.
GW: Nick Swadling mentioned that on his place he needs about thirty acres per head of cattle, is that about right at Maryvale?
RC: I think at home it's more acres per beast; I think if we could run a thousand animals that would be very good, and that would be fifty-five acres per beast, see? It depends on the area and the vegetation. With the problem we're facing currently, with this germination and thickening of younger mulga, which is so thick you can hardly walk through it, that's going to have a devastating effect when it matures to the point that it will be no longer available to the animals because it will be too high. 
GW: Our South Texas ranchers have had the same problem with mesquite...
RC: Yes, yes, same problem...I did some work some years ago, ten, twelve years ago with two government departments here, looking at the relationship between trees and grass, and the effect of the trees on the grass production. It was quite staggering, the increase of canopy cover, the extent to which it reduced the grass underneath. It's a lot more severe than a lot of people could understand.
GW: I understand the exclusion of fire has changed all the land dynamics in the country.
RC: Ohh, all of our vegetation is subject to fire to a certain degree, but I think I'd be reasonably correct in saying that the species that are most susceptible to fire are the areas that we're having the most problem, and mulga are highly susceptible to fire. It's a useful plant to have in terms of being a useful fodder tree, but you can have too much of it. If you have all mulga, with all the drought, your pasture is pretty questionable.
GW: Are you restricted by the government from burning the land to sufficiently produce pasture?
RC:  We're not prohibited from burning, we're prohibited from clearing a lot of it, it's a very complex situation...our biggest problem is not being able to self-manage.
GW: They've got a prescription, you've got to follow.
RC: Exactly, exactly...there have been laws introduced to conserve trees because of their carbon value, and there hasn't been a sufficient research effort into the impact of that on the total productivity of the land. 
GW: The policymakers are driven by a lot of conflicting agendas, and they come up with compromise regulations, which by definition of the word compromise means it's not the best solution for anybody.
RC: No, that's right. Well, here in Australia, particularly in Queensland, where we had in some cases no control over it [policy making]. I have here a free-hold property, which means we have free reign over it for a fifty-year period. And then all of a sudden they tell us that we can't touch the trees on it. And even though they admit that I own them, I'm not allowed to touch them...
GW: That would drive me crazy (laughing)...
RC:  (Not laughing) More than crazy...It has a big impact on us, because some people had cleared [for grazing] about ninety percent of their [land] before this hit us, but through circumstances of mine that were different, I hadn't cleared a big lot of it. I've only got about forty-five percent of my place cleared, and when the controls came upon us, those other folks were sitting pretty, because the controls had very little impact on their productivity or production, whereas in our case effectively fifty-five percent of our land is taken out of sustainable production.
GW: That's the tough thing about making natural resource policies, they tend to make them apply across all situations to keep them "fair", but everyone's situation is different.
RC: No, that's right. The Green movement, the Greens as we call them, which are a political party, have had a huge influence, even though in a lot of cases they don't have any actual seats in Parliament, but they become, because of our voting system which is called "preferential voting", gets very complicated because the fellow who runs second gets all the more minor parties added to his total, and he becomes the winner with a bunch of small groups of folks who have tremendous influence over him.
GW: So you wind up with an attack on private property rights by small groups of people who don't own that land, resulting in all sorts of overbearing and questionable land use regulations. I don't think we've had that in the States as bad as you've got it here, but the impact we're seeing is that of increasing property taxes forcing people to subdivide and ultimately give up their land, often "donating" it under passive coercion to green organizations for the tax breaks available for donations to those organizations.
RC: Yes...I remember when these things started to hit us maybe some twenty years ago, when some of these laws were first introduced, I remember saying to one of the managers in a government department, that I wouldn't see it in my time, but the demand for food by the human race on this planet will override some of these decisions that are being made and forced upon us. It's not coming yet, but it's a worry. 
GW: Yes, it is. 
RC: I want to go back to our change from sheep to cattle, the impact that is different because the way the animals actually graze the trees. When the mulga trees were little, the sheep used to eat up all the little trees, but the cattle only take a mouthful off the top and leave the side, which changes the structure of the tree [causes it to spread more densely at ground level] until the browse finally reaches above the heads of the cattle, at which point the cost of sustaining the cattle is greatly increased. I think in our country we're very, very sadly seeing a lot of degradation now because of this factor, and it's going to take a lot of correcting, because it's gone so far is some areas.
GW: We visited an olive you see a future for nut and fruit crops in the outback?
RC: Yeah, look, they do some of that on a small scale, but I just don't think it's economical here yet...maybe one day. It's interesting you asked that 1965, fifty years ago now, we had a little oil well drilled on the property by a little oil company from Texas, Orion Oil company..
GW: I remember the company.
RC: Two of their senior executives came out here while they were drilling these holes, and one of their comments was, "Why aren't you growing fruit trees here?" Their first impression of the soils, the climate, it's fruit-growing country. But we're just too far away from market.
GW: Yeah, you really have some distances out here. Maybe you could put an airstrip out on the ranch and just fly them straight out...
RC: Well, I don't know that I could grow enough to make an airplane land out here...
GW: You might have to have your own airline (laughing)...
RC: Yeah, well, look, a lot of those concepts are brought up, but there aren't many of them really feasible.
GW; One last question then. You mentioned out at the station, you're looking into the future, your daughter's families aren't going to live on the station...
RC: No, I'm going to sell the place, because I know their families can carry on, so it will be sold and we'll move on. Which will be a pity, because I've spent my whole life there, and after I've made the decision...
GW: I know how hard the decision must be. I've seen your beautiful little grandchildren. 
RC: Well, no, no, that's right...but there are changes that are occurring in social structure, too,
GW: I guess you think about all the changes you had to put up with over the years, and you hate to think that your children, and grandchildren, would have to go through even more of that.
RC: Look, I think it's a matter of really being sensible, and looking at the opportunities. And the opportunities are there, but the economics aren't. And the asset I've got here would be far better employed somewhere else.  So, to ask my grandchildren, or my son-in-laws, even, to take it on...
GW: Would be like inviting them to captain a sinking ship, I suppose.
RC: Exactly. They all have business enterprises of their own, and doing very well, and to come back and take over for me, or buy it from me, would be asking them to take over something that's nowhere near the sort of enterprise they need to be involved with.
GoWood: Well, thank you for sharing all that with us, Robert. It's been great to spend time at Maryville and to get a personal perspective to be a station owner in these days.
Robert Crichton: You're welcome. Come back and visit us again some time.
I'll be there again one day least in my dreams.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Notes from the Road (11) - Meeting with Fellow Collectors of Wood

The primary reason for this year's visit to Australia was the 2016 Annual General Meeting of the International Wood Collectors Society. You may recall that the 2015 meeting was held here at Penn State; my visit to the 2016 meeting was to reciprocate in appreciation of the several Australian members who trekked all the way to State College last year.

The 2016 Australian Meeting was well worth the trip, and exceeded my expectations in every way. The meeting location was a horse-race track and meeting hall in Charleville, Queensland, and was spacious, comfortable, and memorable.

Good thing racing was out of season, or I might not have had any money left for wood specimens.

Our Queensland hosts provided several great field trips. First, we visited the local base of the Royal Flying Doctors Service. What a great story...

The RFDS hangar at the Charleville airport was built by American CB's as a base of air operations during the second world war. The wooden trusses were built of eucalyptus and are still as solid as the day they were bolted in place. 
Back during the war, these old pits near the air field were lined with tar and used as baths to relieve the soldiers relatively free of lice and disease-carrying mosquitos. Each soldier was required to dip at least once a week. 
These are mulga trees, Acacia aneura, which is the dominant forest type around Charleville and was our "host tree".
Wood of the mulga. From Max Kline, in A Guide to Useful Woods of the World (IWCS): "Mulga is a coffee color or has reddish-brown alternating with golden-brown stripes. The sapwood is a golden creamy yellow color. It has an extremely fine texture and generally straight grain. The luster is low to medium, but it takes a high polish. The odor is distinct but not aromatic; taste is not distinct. Mulga is one of the hardest and heaviest woods known. Average specific gravity is 0.92 (oven dry/green volume), equivalent to and air-dried weight of 75 lb/cf. Wood is highly distinctive in appearance."
What's that weird but familiar-looking tree in the middle of an Australian mulga forest? Melia azederach, the chinaberry, found practically all over the world.
Following our tour of the airbase we went on a 4WD/walkabout of Nick Swadling's property.

Entrance to Nick's property. This is a good start.
Spinifex, a type of grass found in most of Australia, and often used as bedding by the hoppers.
Nick (blue shirt and straw hat) led us through several different forest types within just a few miles of each other.
Here was an interesting and rare sight...a shield tree. Aboriginals cut a shield from the stem of this tree long ago, and the tree kept growing.

The tenants of Nick's property were friendly, but glad to see us move on.
Here's a taste of the tour, as Nick explains to us what a billabong is...

The next day we were honored to visit an historical old outback cattle station, Maryvale. Hosts Bob and Jenny Crichton welcomed us to a day of relaxation, exploration, and an authentic sunset barbeque. But this post grows long...tune in tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Notes from the Road (10) - The Fauna of Australia

My fellow Penn State Extension Educator, David Jackson, posted an interesting story about deer-car collisions yesterday on his blog, noting that Pennsylvania has become the third most dangerous state for deer crossing the road, behind West Virginia and Montana. That got me to remembering one of the strongest, most lingering impressions I had of Australia - dead kangaroos on the road.

If you think you've seen a lot of dead animals on the road, and you've never been to Australia, think again. Even though the speed limits are strictly enforced, uncountable numbers of animals, and kangaroos in particular, find their end on the bumper of a four-wheel drive cruiser or "road train". Road trains are large tractor-trailer rigs that have two, three, and sometimes four trailers. I passed a couple of three-trailer rigs on my drive-about. When you have to pass a moving mountain, about seventy yards long, while it's hurtling ninety kilometers an hour down a two-lane highway...well, that's a memorable experience. You floor your vehicle and pray for the next ten seconds or so that another road train won't suddenly appear on the horizon heading in your direction.

I started counting dead kangaroos and stopped at one hundred, and I wasn't even out of New South Wales. I began to assume that the carcasses are just left for the scavengers, since I never saw a road crew, and I saw many in the final stages of decay. I didn't take any pictures; it just seemed the wrong thing to do. I did see about three live hoppers on the road, but they were well ahead of me and too far to get a picture of. Australians all seem to have a kangaroo collision story to tell, and they warn you adamantly to stop driving a half-hour before sunset, which I did my best to adhere to.

One study done in New South Wales determined that kangaroo road-kill was not biased toward either kangaroo sex or age-class, so that road kill incidents have no apparent effect on kangaroo populations. Another interesting phenomenon, besides the presence of all the dead animals on the road, is that demolished vehicles are sometimes left on the side of the road as a warning to slow down.

One of my trip hosts mentioned that they had a kangaroo harvest in a recent year that tallied over 9,000 animals, and yet it was less than ten percent of the harvest target for his property. Perhaps the surest evidence of the booming population of kangaroos in Australia is that they are one of the few species that are legal to hunt with a permit; it is strictly against the law to kill most Australian animals, even snakes. Regardless, Australians seem to like kangaroo meat, and one town I visited was even building a new kangaroo processing plant as its latest economic venture. I had kangaroo one night...tastes like chicken.

I did see a few live animals. The most ubiquitous was the emu...I saw them almost everywhere from Sydney to Darwin.

Look closely at the bottom of the tree line...there's a small mob of emus.

The birds of Australia are simply amazing. Their size, and color, and variety seem to be endless. I didn't see any ostrich, but saw cockatoos of every color.

This is a galah cockatoo, Eolophus roseicapillus. They were the most common bird I saw on my trip.
I also heard the famous Kookabura nearly every morning, although I didn't remember seeing one. In reviewing my pictures, I think I did get a long-distance shot of one...

Possibly a species of Dacelo, the kookaburra.
And millions of small birds that provide the listener with a symphony of the music of nature everywhere you go in Australia. I'm not a great wildlife photographer, but I was able to zoom in a little closer on this tiny flock and their mud nests in the trees.

But much of the fauna of Australia tends toward the more aggressive. There is a great ongoing story of how wild dogs terrorize the outback, and how the stockmen fight back against them as they ravage their herds. In fact, one of the longest structures in the world is the Dingo fence built across the continent back in the 1880's.
The Dingo Fence or Dog Fence is a pest-exclusion fence that was built in Australia during the 1880s and finished in 1885, to keep dingoes out of the relatively fertile south-east part of the continent (where they had largely been exterminated) and protect the sheep flocks of southern Queensland. It is one of the longest structures in the world and is the world's longest fence. It stretches 5,614 kilometres (3,488 mi) from Jimbour on the Darling Downs near Dalby through thousands of kilometres of arid land ending west of Eyre peninsula on cliffs of the Nullarbor Plain above the Great Australian Bight near Nundroo. It has been partly successful, though dingoes can still be found in parts of the southern states. Although the fence has helped reduce losses of sheep to predators, this has been countered by holes in fences found in the 1990s through which dingo offspring have passed and by increased pasture competition from rabbits and kangaroos.

I crossed through the fence in Western Queensland, but did not notice a rise in the number of wild dogs roaming around. In fact, the only wild dog I saw was one that had fed the crows and the flies...

Life in the outback can be harsh...
Speaking of crows and flies, I was reminded of this next stop in Queensland. I had stopped to admire the vista of a sprawling cattle station, but the 20 minute stop was little more than an attempt to keep my sanity while shooting video on the walk.

Insects is a good subject for the end of this post. There is one you simply have to see to believe, although it's not the insect, but its home. Termites are perhaps God's way of ensuring that inland Australia will remain relatively free of humans. As you travel inland you begin to notice small mounds in the landscape...and they get bigger the further inland you go. Travel far enough, and they are taller than a human being.

Now if the termites stayed in their mounds, they might not be so intimidating. But invariably, I noticed a few of the little buggers in my motel room each morning, even though all the buildings are made of cinder block. One morning I had a thirsty little termite enjoying the moisture on my toothbrush. Lovely.

Of course, the Australians with their great sense of humor have devised a way to enjoy their termite co-habitants. The dress them up! I began to notice "earth people" springing up along the roadside at the border of Queensland and the Northern Territory. And I continued to see them all the way to Darwin on the northern coast.

First, you notice just a few mounds in the distance...

...then they get larger, and closer to the road...
...Soon, they're so large that they grow clothing as they mature...

...and once you've been on the road long enough, they actually start to look attractive.
These earth people can get to be quite elaborate. Just wish they had heads...
What do you know?! Penn State fans, even among the earth people of the Australian outback.
A memorial to my passing there....
Well, back to the people, the trees, and the wood of Australia in future posts...

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

What a Tree Can Do

How you ever thought about what a tree can do, beyond producing lumber, paper, and habitat for the animals of the forest? Well, the folks at Stora Enso do that all the time, and it's exciting.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Cutting Edge in Wood Promotion - In the Trunk

One of our more creative readers, an Italian scientist who works for Procter & Gamble in Germany, has pushed the limits, in fact the outer limits, in his quest to use his film-making skills to feature our favorite material. I'll bet you've never quite seen wood promoted like this before.

In the Trunk from Michele Martinelli on Vimeo.

Thanks, Michele. Way to Go Wood.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Notes From the Road (9) - Wellington, New South Wales

I left State College around noon on a Thursday, and after stops in Harrisburg, PA, Toronto, and Vancouver, arrived in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia at 8 in the morning on Saturday. So, even though it was around 6 pm on Friday night by my biological clock, I had to climb bleary-eyed into a wrong-sided Toyota Corolla and begin to navigate my way out of Sydney towards the outback.

By around noon I came to my first stop of the trip. The town was called Wellington, New South Wales, and my re-introduction to the culture and environment of Australia was just beginning. I pulled over in front of the town's park because I was already seeing ghosts on the road. I needed a good stop to clear my head.

Wellington, New South Wales, as seen from the fountain at Cameron Park.
Well, if I hadn't yet realized that I was a long way from the USA, this stop brought it into sharp perspective. And naturally, the first tree that caught my eye was non-native to Australia...a Himalayan, or deodar cedar.

Cedrus deodara, the Himalayan, or deodar cedar.
This monster is atypical for the species growing in its native habitat of the western Himalayans, but then that's what plants do when they're transported to different climates and planted in parks. Impressive, anyway.

The closer you get to this monster, the more impressive it gets.
But that wasn't the only impressive tree in this park. And this time, it was an important and honored Australian native that caught my eye through the fog...

Auraucaria bidwilli, The Bunya Pine.
This is a fascinating tree.  From Wikipedia...
"The bunya pine is the last surviving species of the Section Bunya of the genus Araucaria. This section was diverse and widespread during the Mesozoic with some species having cone morphology similar to A. bidwillii, which appeared during the Jurassic. Fossils of Section Bunya are found in South America and Europe. The scientific name honours the botanist John Carne Bidwill, who sent the first specimens to Sir William Hooker in 1843.
A Bunya festival was recorded by Thomas (Tom) Petrie (1831–1910), who went with the Aboriginal people of Brisbane at the age of 14 to the festival at the Bunya Range (now the Blackall Range in the hinterland area of the Sunshine Coast). His daughter, Constance Petrie, put down his stories in which he said that the trees fruited at three-year intervals. The three-year interval may not be correct. Ludwig Leichhardt wrote in 1844 of his expedition to the Bunya feast. The Bunya trees pollinate in South East Queensland in September, October and the cones fall seventeen to eighteen months later in late January to early March from the coast to the current Bunya Mountains. When there is heavy rainfall or drought, pollination may vary. The large festival harvests may vary between two and seven years. When the fruit was ripe, the people of the region would set aside differences and gather in the Bon-yi Mountains (Bunya Mountains) to feast on the kernels.
As the fruit ripened, locals, who were bound by custodial obligations and rights, sent out messengers to invite people from hundreds of kilometres to meet at specific sites. The meetings involved ceremonies, dispute settlements and fights, marriage arrangements and the trading of goods. The Aborigines’ fierce protection of the trees and recognition of the value of the timber, led to colonial authorities prohibiting settlers from cutting the trees in the 1842. The resource was too valuable, and the aboriginals were driven out of the forests along with the ability to run the festivals. The forests were felled for timber and cleared to make way for cultivation.
In what was probably Australia's largest indigenous event, diverse tribes – up to thousands of people – once traveled great distances (from as far as Charleville, Dubbo, Bundaberg and Grafton) to the gatherings. They stayed for months, to celebrate and feast on the bunya nut. The bunya gatherings were an armistice accompanied by much trade exchange, and discussions and negotiations over marriage and regional issues. Due to the sacred status of the bunyas, some tribes would not camp amongst these trees. Also in some regions, the tree was never to be cut. 
Indigenous Australians eat the nut of the bunya tree both raw and cooked (roasted, and in more recent times boiled), and also in its immature form. Traditionally, the nuts were additionally ground and made into a paste, which was eaten directly or cooked in hot coals to make bread. The nuts were also stored in the mud of running creeks, and eaten in a fermented state. This was considered a delicacy.
Apart from consuming the nuts, indigenous Australians ate bunya shoots, and utilised the tree's bark as kindling.
Bunya nuts are still sold as a regular food item in grocery stalls and street-side stalls around rural southern Queensland. Some farmers in the Wide Bay/ Sunshine Coast regions have experimented with growing bunya trees commercially for their nuts and timber.
Since the mid-1990s, the Australian company Maton has used bunya for the soundboards of its BG808CL Performer acoustic guitars. The Cole Clark company (also Australian) uses bunya for the majority of its acoustic guitar soundboards. The timber is valued by cabinet makers and woodworkers, and has been used for that purpose for over a century.
However its most popular use is as a 'bushfood' by indigenous foods enthusiasts. A huge variety of home-invented recipes now exists for the bunya nut; from pancakes, biscuits and breads, to casseroles, to 'bunya nut pesto' or hoummus. The nut is considered nutritious, with a unique flavour similar to starchy potato and chestnut.
When the nuts are boiled in water, the water turns red, making a flavoursome tea.
The nutritional content of the bunya nut is: 40% water, 40% complex carbohydrates, 9% protein, 2% fat, 0.2% potassium, 0.06% magnesium. It is also gluten free, making bunya nut flour a substitute for people with gluten intolerance."
That's a lot of history for just one tree, and you'd think would be enough for one rest stop. But there is in Wellington, I was also introduced to "The Lone Pine".

One of the descendants of the original Lone Pine, the Turkish pine (Pinus brutia).
If you're not familiar with the ANZAC, or the Battle of Lone Pine in Gallipoli in 1915, then you're probably not Australian. These memorial trees seem to be planted all over the country, as are memorials to the ANZAC.  Here's their story, again from Wikipedia...
"The Lone Pine was a solitary tree on the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey, which marked the site of the Battle of Lone Pine in 1915. Pines which are planted as a memorial to the Australian and New Zealand soldiers who fought in Gallipoli are also known as "Lone Pines" or "Gallipoli Pines", referencing the original tree.
 The original "Lone Pine" was a sole survivor of a group of trees that had been cut down by Turkish soldiers who had used the timber and branches to cover their trenches during the battle. The tree was obliterated during the battle; however, pine cones that had remained attached to the cut branches over the trenches were retrieved by two Australian soldiers and brought home to Australia. The resultant seedlings were found to be Turkish pines, sometimes regarded as a subspecies of Pinus halepensis (Aleppo pine), but usually classified as a distinct species, Pinus brutia.
Alec Campbell was the last surviving member of the ANZAC force that fought in Gallipoli, and his death in 2002 at the age of 103 was a national event that was commemorated widely.

I found out the next evening how deeply the Australians still feel the spirit of the ANZAC and that Turkish battlefield of a century ago. I was in an RSL club for dinner on a Sunday night in Charleville, Queensland, when all of a sudden the lights dimmed, everyone stood up, and a trumpet sounded the Australian version of "Taps". Everyone then recited an oath of loyalty, and held a moment of silence. The whole thing was quite moving...and it made me realize how special my time in Australia was going to be.

One last thing about my stop in gave me a hint that rain, and high water, was going to be a part of my experience, and source of concern. The season was unusually wet, even for early spring, and floods in a great flat land are a thing not to be taken lightly.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Notes from the Road (8) - Woods and Sights of Queensland

Well, where to start? How about walking the bush in southern Queensland with my hosts from the Australasian chapter of the are a couple of the trees we identified and for which I was able to collect wood specimens.

Alstonia constricta, commonly called bitterbark or quinine bush. More on this interesting tree in a future post.
Wood of Alstonia constricta.

A stand of Ooline trees, Cadellia pentatstylis

Here's another large Ooline tree with two black orchids, Cymbidium canaliculatum, growing in it.
The bark of Cadellia pentastylis

The wood of Cadellia pentastylis, Ooline is like a dense, hard cherry with beautiful figuring.
Trees weren't the only thing I took in during my walkabout.  Here's an interview of a gentleman and his pet at the Stockman's Hall of Fame in Longreach, Queensland. I loved reminded me of West Texas, except for the swarms of flies and dead kangaroos along the road.

And, oh yeah, I drove a long way...about 4000 kilometers, which is about 2800 miles.  Most of it was like this - long stretches of no civilization, just long vistas, music from my phone playing on the car stereo, and the occasional "road train" to scare the crap out of me as it approached on the wrong side of the road.

Well, that's just a taste of Australia to get things started. I have hundreds of photos of different types of ecosystems, a few more interesting videos, and a wide range of thoughts to share. Stay tuned...

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Great Designs in Wood (73) - "Hollow" by Katie Paterson: A Vision in Wood Comes to Life

Here's a nice story. Artist Katie Paterson of the UK had a vision of a work in wood that would represent all the trees of the entire world as they evolved over time. What she was able to create was really stunning...not only are over 10,000 species represented, but she put the pieces all together in a way that actually makes one feel like you're inside the stem of a tree, looking at the individual cells of that make up the trunk.

And Go Wood readers had a part in the creation. Ms. Paterson spoke to the attendees of our World of Wood 2015 conference last summer, and several responded with donations to the project. Two are mentioned in the following BBC video - Gary Green and Robert Ritchie, both long-time members of the International Wood Collectors Society and participants in our conference last year.

It's nice to see the wood specimens displayed in such a way that may speak to so many people who might be bored to death if they walked into the typical wood collection room. I especially appreciate the point in the show when Ms. Paterson says, "I think I've never actually seen a piece of tree become a piece of's really nice, you know." And she says this while holding a piece of wood from a grand champion tree she obviously treasures.

That's an appreciation of wood that the whole world ought to have the opportunity to experience.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Woody Events in the Northeast

Just a quick post to bring a couple of opportunities to your attention, especially if you happen to reside in the Northeast.

Click here to see class videos...
Fallon & Wilkinson Wood ID in Furniture Workshop - October 15 and 16, 2016.

I've written before about this great class, and wanted to remind all that there are still a few seats left in this hands-on, personal experience for those who want to deepen their knowledge of wood, and how it was used by the furniture masters of the past.

And besides the opportunity to sharpen your wood identification skills, you'll get an exclusive, hard-to-get tour of the Furniture Study at Yale University, where the curators will keep you spell-bound with stories of some of the greatest furniture ever made. This has got to be one of the most unique opportunities in the world of wood appreciation, so if you've ever considered it the past, now is the time to go. It is so good, I hope to be able to make it again, myself.

They don't make them like this anymore. Recognize the wood?
Hearne Hardwoods Two-Day Open House: September 30 - October 1, 2016

Ever spend the day touring a lumber company's facility? How about doing that and meeting dozens of great woodworking organizations, including the International Wood Collectors Society? If this sounds like a good way to spend a day, come to Oxford, Pennsylvania at the end of this month. Oxford is just a stone's throw from Pennsylvania's border with New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland, and its a great drive from almost anywhere in the Northeast.  The main attraction of the open house is the "discounted slab sale" that Hearne will be offering the attendees. So if you're looking for that special piece of wood, and want to enjoy the day looking for it, then we'll see you at Hearne Hardwoods.

Here's a link to your invitation to the Hearne Hardwoods Open House.

Mike Korsak Woodworking: A Furniture Maker's Open Studio

And if you're in the Pittsburgh area, and want to attend a fine furniture makers open studio, then you can stop by and visit Mike Korsak this Sunday, September 11, between 11 am and 4 pm. Mike is opening his studio (which we've toured together on Go Wood) to visitors who want to see furniture making in its highest form.

Here's your invitation to visit the Korsak studio.

So get out there and Go Wood...

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Great Designs in Wood (72) - The (New) Tallest Wooden Building in the World

Based on the architectural trends, this is a post that will be updated frequently, as we'll probably have a new leader in the wooden skyscraper race every year or so from now on. This year the focus is on the new Brock Commons building at the University of British Columbia, which you may recall we visited last year. It was just topped off this past week, with full construction of the eighteen floors completed in just sixty-six days after the completion of the structure's concrete central cores.

The building is a showcase of a bunch of leading edge technology:
"Anticipated to be the tallest mass timber hybrid building in the world at 53 metres, Brock Commons is an 18-storey student residence located at the University of British Columbia. Designed as a kit-of-parts, the structure comprises 16 floors of five-ply cross laminated timber (CLT) floor panels, a concrete transfer slab, and a steel framed roof."

And here's a short video of the building going together...

When the students start moving in next year, it will be the beginning of a whole new generation of people Going Wood. And that's a trend that is just beginning to gather real steam. Even the Smithsonian Magazine ran an article this summer that asked...Will skyscrapers of the future be built from wood?

Don't look now, but the future is here in Vancouver, B.C.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Dennis Brett - A Lifetime of Collecting Wood Specimens Lives On

Back in 1946, or so, a young lad began to collect odd pieces of wood he found around his home in the Bronx. He never stopped.

And now, thanks to his desire to leave that collection to future generations of wood lovers and scientists to study, the collection resides at Penn State. The university recently did a nice article on the donation, so you can view Dennis's story at the link below.

Thanks, Dennis. We'll work to make sure the spirit of your collecting efforts are honored in our ongoing use and maintenance of the collection.

The work of integrating the Brett collection into the Penn State Xylarium will continue over the next year or so, and if you would like to stop by sometime and see the whole thing, schedule an appointment with me sometime in the future. I'm always eager to rifle through pieces of wood with visitors.

Private gift makes Penn State's wood collection one of world's largest

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Great Designs in Wood (71) - Nakashima Woodworks

Here's an excellent story on famed furniture designer George Nakashima and his daughter, Mira, who has carried on his legacy in their workshop near Philadelphia. If you don't get wood before now, perhaps you will after watching the video.

What Mr. Nakashima did by reflecting his life story through his work, and how he passed it along to his daughter, is an inspiration to us all.

And he did it by Going Wood.