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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.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Great Designs in Wood (70) - The Amazing Marble Music Machine - Wintergatan

Have you ever watched your young one, fiddling away the hours with Legos or watching endless YouTube videos on how to do something? Well, now you know what it all may lead to.

The group Wintergatan (Swedish for The Milky Way) is "a Swedish folktronica band" from Goteburg. They play, well, folktronica music. Yeah, I know, another new thing you've never heard of. You're getting used to that by now, aren't you?

But the genius of this group is that they invented a new instrument on which to play their music, and they were inspired by old wooden music boxes and marble machines. You put them together with instruments, some electronic technology, and you have something that you have to see to believe.

To get in the mood, watch a short video of them making the machine...

Now, watch the music video of the machine, and its master, in action.

The neat thing about the project, from a Go Wood point of view, is that the group realized early on that the weak link of traditional music boxes is their soft plastic gears. So that led them to creating their machine with the great wooden gears you see in the videos. Wooden of the great inventions of the world...after the wooden wheel.

So take heart, that little genius of yours may someday be a YouTube video star...with a studio in your basement.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Wood Science 101 (26) - The Wood-Wide Web

Most of us that have studied the cellular structure of wood know that the topic can be a bit, well, dry. There are dozens of technical terms that mean nothing outside a wood technology textbook, coupled with line drawings and pictures that try to give the reader a sense of how all those cells go together and grow. But, like the study of physics, it's all a bit difficult to grasp when looking at a tree or running your hand along the smooth arm of a wooden rocker.

But one woodworker has stumbled on to a wonderful way to visually display how a tree really goes together. He started out by applying his love of wood turning to the task of seeing how thin a cross-section of wood he could turn. Once he had his extra-thin disc, he probably noticed that the less dense early wood tended to crumble away as he got too thin...leaving a web-like skeleton of a tree in his hands. Being an electrical engineer, he was probably familiar with the high-tech machines that are used to put a fine sand-blasted finish on circuit boards to eliminate any extra solder or fiberglass that could impair the functioning of the circuits. Ingenuity being what it is, he probably thought to himself...hey, I could use a circuit-board sand-blaster to knock out all this early wood, and it would look real neat.

Well, he was right.

The art work he's produced does look amazing, but to us at Go Wood the real value of his work is to bring all those wood technology drawings to life. The web produced by the intersection of the medullary cells (we generally just call them rays) with the remnant ring of dense late wood cells gives us a visual sense of just how the strength of wood is accomplished. Imagine this wood web a hundred thousand or so layers thick, and you have the stem of a tree. No wonder it's so strong.

Here's a picture of oak cells for comparison with the wood "lace" in the video.

Ring-porous hardwood illustrating the abrupt change in diameter of earlywood (EW) and latewood (LW) vessels as seen in cross-section. Between the latewood vessel zones are thick wall fibers (F). Wood rays are apparent on all three surfaces (arrows). Source: Wood: Its Structure and Properties, F.F. Wangaard, ed. 1981.

From the picture, we can see that the earlywood being removed with the circuit-board sand-blaster is very porous, and that the latewood bands that are left are held together by the thick wall fibers. Thus, the spidery bands of remnant wood we see in the video.

Any guess, then, why the art works in the video are being performed on oak? Well, in softwoods and diffuse-porous hardwoods, there is far less differentiation between the earlywood to be removed and the wood to remain. Take a look at this picture of a diffuse-porous hardwood.

Diffuse-porous hardwood showing the rather uniform diameter of vessels throughout the growth ring. In both the tangential and radial views the formation of vessels from individual vessel elements (E) is clearly illustrated. Note the presences of both one-cell wide and multi-cell wide rays in the tangential view (arrows). Source: Wood: Its Structure and Properties, F.F. Wangaard, ed. 1981. 

Note in the above photograph that if the uniform bands of vessels were removed through sand blasting, there would be little if anything left of the wood. So, a ring-porous, large-rayed wood such as oak is the perfect choice for the type of work being performed by the artist. Other woods that might be good candidates are chestnut, hickory, elm, ash, osage-orange, and locust.

You might think that heavy, dense diffuse-porous woods, such as many of the tropical species, would also be good candidates for this type of wood-turning skeletonization. But the sand-blasting process would have to be done on individual cells, not on bands, so that already tedious process would become extremely tedious.

So, now you know what the inside skeletal structure of a tree really looks like, and how it is all engineered by nature to support the tree's weight.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Great Designs in Wood (69) - The Haas-Lilienthal House of San Francisco

I don't think we've yet had a Victorian home on our GDiW series. There's a simple reason for that...we've focused on homes and products that might inspire new houses and products. Unfortunately, they just won't build homes like this anymore. And that's a shame.

But there is a reason for it. The intricate workmanship that went into these 19th century beauties just doesn't seem to be as valued today as it once was. At least, not valued enough to cover the costs associated with building and maintaining such wonderful dwellings. It's not uncommon to go through old towns in America and see one or more old beauties in serious stages of dilapidation, even while still being lived in. Seems like the modern economy just can't support these works of art in the numbers it once did.

But at least in San Francisco, the community got together and decided to save one of the best.

The video above highlights the superficial facelift given the house to highlight its original beauty. Now, there is a new campaign to complete the renovation. Price tag...$3 million. That explains why the vast majority of these old beauties are crumbling away.

Here's another video for you lovers of wood. The tour guide in the video is a wood lover herself, and does a great job detailing all the different woods and their uses in the interior of the home.

Another time, lost forever into history. Perhaps these homes are visual, yet somewhat discomforting hints that human civilization peaked around 1900, when even non-royalty could build actual castles of wood.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

How Many Trees are There in the World?

Here's an interesting example of scientific news, that on its surface, sounds good. The video informs us that a new study reveals that there are 3.07 trillion trees in the world...more than 8 times more than scientists previously thought.

So, you would think, then, that the message from the people at Nature would be one of relief. But the story narrated continues to push concern that we're "currently losing about 10 billion trees per year", and that "if we keep going at this rate, a walk in the woods will soon become a lot trickier."

Well, let's do some math here. Ten billion trees is 0.3% of the 3.07 trillion trees they say we have. If we continued to "lose" trees at that rate, we would have 1/3 fewer trees (only 2 trillion) in 100 years. That would still be five times more trees than scientists thought we had until this study was published.

But let's dig a little deeper. I wondered how the folks at arrived at the ten billion tree "loss". I don't find any such estimate in the original paper. Here's what the authors actually say:
"Current rates of global forest cover loss are approximately 192,000 km2 each year. By combining our tree density information with the most recent spatially explicit map of forest cover loss over the past 12 years, we estimate that deforestation, forest management, disturbances and land use change are currently responsible for a gross loss of approximately 15.3 billion trees on an annual basis. Although these rates of forest loss are currently highest in tropical regions, the scale and consistency of this negative human effect across all forested biomes highlights how historical land use decisions have shaped natural ecosystems on a global scale. Using the projected maps of current and historic forest cover provided by the United Nations Environment Programme (, our map reveals that the global number of trees has fallen by approximately 45.8% since the onset of human civilization (post-Pleistocene)."
- Nature,
So they say that 15 billion trees are the "gross loss" on an annual basis. To claim that the net loss per year is 10 billion trees, one would have to assume that annual forest "loss" is 50% higher than forest growth all across the world. That sounds fishy, since we know that here in the United States,
"Growth has more than doubled on both national forest and other public timber land since 1952 and has increased 13 percent on private timber land since that year.
On a per-acre basis, total net growth averaged 52 cubic feet annually for all timber land."
- U.S. Forest Service, 
Even supposing that the growth to removal rate is negative in tropical forest regions, it's hard to get anywhere near a 50% net loss of trees per year. For instance, according to University of Maryland researcher Matthew Hansen, the average loss of forest acreage in tropical countries of the world was only 3.9% over a ten-year period from 2005 to 2014, or only about 0.4% per year. Furthermore, that was gross loss, so regrowth was not counted.

I suspect the folks at Nature came up with their ten billion tree loss by reducing the 15.3 billion tree gross loss stated by their authors by the 45.8% loss estimated in the same paragraph since the start of human civilization...which is a gross statistical error. Unfortunately, statistical errors of this sort are not uncommon and are frequently used to weave all sorts of false narratives these days. Even if you assume that the tree loss continued at this same actual loss rate, that would mean that we would "only" have about 1.6 trillion trees ten thousand years from now, or still four times more than what scientists thought we had until this study was published.

And there is all sorts of evidence that this rate of tree loss will not occur. Food production, which is the cause of most forest depletion, is becoming much more efficient and utilizes far less acreage per ton of food than it did even fifty years ago. Agricultural advancements promise to continue this trend, and the rate of forest growth in even tropical countries may soon exceed forest removal as it has in temperate countries for some time now.

So, let's be honest...the findings of this study are good news. and bode for an abundance of trees for any imaginable future. Any "concern" that you'll have a hard time finding a forest to walk in is nothing more than an agenda-driven false narrative. Be careful when you view internet video...caveat emptor.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

"Wood - It Really Is The Future"

Here's a nice video from the Oregon Forest Resources Institute.  A little over-dramatic in places, perhaps, but most of the video is right on target. It correctly points out the effective role in carbon utilization and sequestration of wood buildings and the fact that our forest area is as large today as it was a century ago. It's an inconvenient fact for some that has been overlooked but ultimately will be accepted as truth in public perception, thanks to infomercials such as this.