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, June 29, 2016

An Oak for Renewal

As I type these words, I'm a couple of hours away from my annual physical that happens every three or four years without fail. I made it to sixty a couple of weeks ago, and surprisingly, still feel pretty good. And just as surprisingly, I'm also feeling pretty good about things, in general.

I know, I know, things are pretty bad out there right now. People ask me all the time about the economy, and I have to find the silver lining on the truth by saying that well, the companies that made it through the last ten or twenty years, are still hanging on, and although their business isn't as great as it could be, or should be, at this time of year, at least there is some business to be done.

But best of all, I find encouragement in the attitudes of the survivors. Let's face it, it's been a long last decade or so, unless you're in the position of finding a high level of joy in increased numbers of jobs in poverty-stricken countries. (Which is, in fact, a good thing.) But it's hard to rejoice in the betterment of others on distant shores when companies and their employees are shutting down all around you. And it's just not manufacturing...check out this list of retailers that shut down just in 2015. I don't think it's been this hard to find a job in the United States since the 1930's.

Even so, the folks I work with every day have adjusted to the "new normal" and are making the best of it, and in the process, retaining and renewing a sense of hope.

Speaking of hope, I send out best wishes to our cousins in the UK who are beginning a whole new journey. I know a lot of our Go Wood readers are from the British Isles, and for all of you, whether you desired the Brexit from the EU or not, please know that we're excited for what you are going to make of your great country.

And as sometimes happens, I ran across a passage in my reading last night that fits perfectly with the spirit of the times, at least for those looking for renewal. Once again, it's a passage from our old friend Leo Tolstoy in his greatest of all novels, War and Peace.
At the edge of the wood stood an oak. Probably ten times the age of the birches that formed the forest, it was ten times as thick and twice as great as a man could embrace, and evidently long ago some of its branches had been broken off and its bark scarred. With its huge ungainly limbs sprawling unsymmetrically, and its gnarled hands and fingers, it stood an aged, stern, and scornful monster among the smiling birch trees. Only the dead-looking evergreen firs dotted about in the forest, and this oak, refused to yield to the charm of spring or notice either the spring or the sunshine.
"Spring, love, happiness!" this oak seemed to say. "Are you not weary of that stupid, meaningless, constantly repeated fraud? Always the same and always a fraud. There is no spring, no sun, no happiness! Look at those cramped dead firs, ever the same, and at me too, sticking out my broken and barked fingers just where they have grown, whether from my back or my sides: as they have grown so I stand, and I do not believe in your hopes and your lies."
As he passed through the forest Prince Andrew turned several times to look at that oak, as if expecting something from it. Under the oak, too, were flowers and grass, but it stood among them scowling, rigid, misshapen, and grim as ever.
"Yes, the oak is right, a thousand times right," thought Prince Andrew. "Let others - the young - yield afresh to that fraud, but we know life, our life is finished!"
A whole sequence of new thoughts, hopeless but mournfully pleasant, rose in his soul in connection with that tree. During his journey he, as it were, considered his life afresh and arrived at his old conclusion, restful in its hopelessness: that it was not for him to begin anything anew - but that he must live out his life, content to do no harm, and not disturbing himself or desiring anything.
So he concluded. But six weeks later, after spending time in the country around fresh young faces with dreams and hopes for the future, he passed the old oak again on the way home.
It was already the beginning of June when on his return journey he drove into the birch forest where the gnarled old oak had made so strange and memorable an impression on him. In the forest the harness bells sounded yet more muffled than they had done six weeks before, for now all was thick, shady, and dense, and the young firs dotted about in the forest did not jar on the general beauty but, lending themselves to the mood around, were delicately green with fluffy young shoots.
The whole day had been hot. Somewhere a storm was gathering, but only a small cloud had scattered some raindrops lightly, sprinkling in the road and the sappy leaves. The left side of the forest was dark in the shade, the right side glittered in the sunlight, wet and shiny and scarcely swayed by the breeze. Everything was in blossom, the nightingales trilled, and their voices reverberated now near, now far away.
"Yes, here in this forest was that oak with which I agreed," thought Prince Andrew. "But where is it?" he again wondered, gazing at the left side of the road, and without recognizing it he looked with admiration at the very oak he sought. The old oak, quite transfigured, spreading out a canopy of sappy dark-green foliage, stood rapt and slightly trembling in the rays of the evening sun. Neither gnarled fingers nor old scars nor old doubts and sorrows were any of them in evidence now. Through the hard century-old bark, even where there were no twigs, leaves had sprouted such as one could hardly believe the old veteran could have produced.
"Yes, it is the same oak," thought Prince Andrew, and all at once he was seized by an unreasoning springtime feeling of joy and renewal. All the best moments of his life suddenly rose to his memory. Austerlitz with the lofty heavens, his wife's dead reproachful face, Pierre at the ferry, that girl thrilled by the beauty of the night, and that night itself and the moon, and...all this rushed suddenly to his mind.
"No, life is not over at thirty-one!" Prince Andrew finally decided finally and decisively. "It is not enough for me to know what I have in me - every one must know it: Pierre, and that young girl who wanted to fly away into the sky, everyone must know me, so that my life may not be lived for myself alone while others live so apart from it, but so that it may be reflected in them all, and they and I may live in harmony!" 
Well, good for Prince Andrew, good for the greatness of Great Britain, and good for you if you can sense the opportunity in the air. Life is sweet, and short, so enjoy it and share it while you can.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Notes From the Road (7) - Sawing in the Swamps

I could sense Ivan's anticipation mount as we turned off the highway. We'd been seeing nothing but southern pine and swamps for a while, and he seemed to know he was about to experience something completely different from the Carpathian mountains. He asked me to stop so he could take a picture of the sign for the Goodwin Heart Pine Lumber Company.

Saw blade on sign...excellent.
As we headed down a gravel road into the swamp, Ivan sat at attention and started taking pictures non-stop. I'm not sure how he translated the sign below in his head, but it was perfect. He was suddenly completely interested in alligators and where they might be lingering.

Vot does "Dead End" mean, exactly?
At the end of the road, we rolled through the gate of George and Carol Goodwin's passion...the headquarters of their Goodwin Lumber Company. George figured out a few decades ago that pulling old longleaf pine and cypress logs from the swamp and rivers in the area could be profitable, and he's been buying and sawing them ever since.

Carol runs the business from a nice office in the front of the property, filled with samples of products made from their products.

Carol's office.

Have you ever seen a floor medallion filled with pine?

Curly heart pine...a unique and elegant look for cabinetry.
George runs the headrig, and as I watched him turn the logs I recognized the experience of one who has been opening great logs for a long time. Each one was turned deliberately until the perfect face presented itself. And what appeared was some of the most beautiful art that nature can provide.

As we stood watching George and his hands at their trade, the unique smell of the old-time Gulf Coast mill took me back to my roots. Fresh-sawn heart pine, with its high pitch content, produces a profusion of that sweet smell that one never forgets, and mixed with the sour smell (think vomit) of fresh cypress, it made for the perfect sweet and sour combination. As we used to say in our mill houses just outside the big mills in Diboll..."smells like money."

You know it's a great business that turns old reclaimed stumps into enduring home construction treasure.
You've seen pecky cypress boards or wainscotting? Well, here's what it looked like before it met the saw.
As nice as the mill visit was, I think what happened next really left the biggest impression of Southern hospitality on Ivan. The Goodwins not only booked our hotel room at a local inn, but they insisted on paying for it...and then they treated us to a fine dinner in one of the nicest trendy restaraunts in Gainesville. And hearing that Ivan preferred vodka to our American whiskey, George made sure that we sampled plenty of single-barrel gold just so Ivan had basis for a fair comparison. I believe our sample size was sufficient.

Dr. Sopushynskyy, looking cool after having checked around the back of the tree for a gator.
Having witnessed the production of one of the finest wood products on this planet, Ivan wanted to learn more about these Southern pines and their ecosystem. We began to explore the coastal southern pine forest the next day.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Wood Science 101 (24) - Wood Identification Technology Pushes New Boundaries

You probably recall the three videos I posted back in 2013 from the French wood scientist Jean-Claude Cerre, showing high-resolution macrophotographs of various woods. Last summer, we featured Jean-Claude as a keynote speaker at our World of Wood conference here at Penn State, via a long-distance video call projected into our auditorium directly from his laboratory in France. Many wood scientists around the world, including here at Penn State and at our national Forest Products Lab in Wisconsin, have begun to undertake similar efforts to push the boundaries of wood identification and study to new heights, one that wood scientists and botanists of previous generations could only try to imagine.

Well, Jean-Claude has produced a new video with even more advanced techniques, and it is a marvel to behold. Enjoy.