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Monday, September 25, 2017

Friday, September 15, 2017

Autumn Events for Those Who Desire to Go Wood

The only thing good about the end to a beautiful Pennsylvania summer is the beginning of an even more beautiful Pennsylvania fall. Cool air blows away the summery haze producing a brilliant blue sky, the leaves begin changing colors, and the notes of high school bands practicing their routine down the block wafts in the breeze.

And our wood calls us back into the shop (or laboratory, as it may be.)

It's also a great time to get out on the road and learn a few things.

For instance, on September 29th and 30th, Hearne Hardwoods of Oxford, PA is holding its annual Open House, and it's a great place to meet like-minded folks, swap outrageous stories, and find that perfect piece of wood for your fall project.

For those of you that will be a little farther to the north that weekend, there's a great little woodfair that is happening in Woodstock, Ontario, for the 32nd straight year.



In October, the Wood Pro Expo returns to Lancaster, PA on the 19th and 20th. No better place to spend a day or two than the heart of traditional American craftsmanship.

And later in October is the sweetest little jewel of woody education. Once again, Randy Wilkinson is holding his Wood ID workshop on the premises of Fallon Wilkinson, LLC, and at the Yale University Furniture study.

Did you ever look at a piece of wood and wonder what wood it is? And why it looks the way it does? Were you ever confused about which wood it is: mahogany, walnut, cherry, or poplar?
This two-day hands-on workshop will answer all these questions and more. It is designed specifically for curators, collectors, antique dealers, appraisers, and woodworkers. The goal of this workshop is to familiarize the student with the physical properties of wood and recognize species specific structures. 
On Saturday, basic wood anatomy will be introduced, including grain, figure, fundamental differences between softwoods and hardwoods, and more. The student will learn to identify common hardwoods that are used in antique furniture using a 10x loupe.
On Sunday, the class will be held at the Yale University Furniture Study. Students will get a rare opportunity not only to see one of the finest collections of American furniture, but also to identify woods used in a selection of great objects in a one-day intensive and hands-on inspection.
I've always thought this class was the single best wood educational event I've ever attended, because of Randy's extension knowledge and effectiveness at teaching, the personal attention each attendee receives, and the facilities used during the course. Learning about wood in the Yale Furniture Study is probably the strongest and most lasting wood learning experience you can buy.



The best money I've ever spent on a class. If you haven't yet attended, but it feels like you should, set aside the weekend of October 28th and 29th, and register for Randy's class. Hurry, the class is small and the seats are usually filled quickly. Or here is an even better idea...reward that great employee of yours with a business-related educational trip that he or she will never forget. What a great way to show your appreciation to that employee who makes a real difference in your business.

Finally, to end the fall in style, you pros can attend the Woodworking Machinery & Supply Conference and Expo, being held this year on November 2,3,and 4 at the International Centre in Toronto. If it isn't at this Expo, they don't make it.  Unfortunately, the Maple Leafs are playing out of town that weekend, but watching them play the Blues in a Toronto pub will probably be just as good.

Hey, have fun this fall getting out and Going Wood!

Getting the Penn State Xylarium Organized

In the last few months, I've been entering data on the Dennis Brett collection into the Penn State Xylarium database. We're now nearing 5,000 specimens, and I still have about that many to go.

But a couple of weeks ago, an opportunity to get a little more organized presented itself. It began simply enough...I received an email saying that someone in the building was looking to get rid of some old filing cabinets. Now, I've been stumbling around piles of old boxes of wood specimens for a couple of years now, when I moved all of Dennis' samples into stacks around my desk in the lab to make room for the visitors I was expecting during the World of Wood event we hosted back in summer of 2015. These piles of boxes were chest high and were rather daunting. The possibility of bringing in some file cabinets and putting them "away" while I organized the collection sounded like a good one.

But the file cabinets were very, very old, and all different sizes and colors. Looked bad. So I decided against bringing them into the Xylarium. But it got me thinking, and I paid a visit to the Penn State Surplus building a couple of blocks away.

Well, what do you know? Some dorms had been renovated this summer, and they had dozens of identical chest of drawers that had been removed in the process. Not bad, either...light oak plywood sides and fronts, poplar and maple rails, styles, and backs, and thermofused melamine tops. After taking a few measurements of the drawers, I decided they would work. So I bought fifteen of them for $15 apiece, and paid another $10 apiece to have them moved over to the lab. Not too bad, eh?




Each drawer holds 98 standard size samples, stacked in two rows on their sides. With five drawers in each chest, times fifteen chests, I have storage capacity for 7,350 specimens...for only $375!


But not so fast...one slight problem I had not anticipated. When the drawers are loaded as in the picture above, I found that the drawer bottoms began to bow and would certainly creep more over time. With enough creep, they would pop right out of their frames. Then I would have a mess.

But a little wood engineering knowledge provided a relatively cheap and simple solution. I went to the local Big Box and bought two sheets of 19/32 (4-ply) pine plywood that is commonly used for sheathing here in the States. It's strong, and stiff. I was able to get 78 strips about four inches wide and 29-1/2 inches long from the two sheet. I then screwed these braces to the underside of each drawer, and problem solved!





I also bought some 1x2 strips to use as dividers inside the drawers. I was going to screw them in place, but I decided to leave them unfastened, so that they could slide to accomodate other sizes of specimens, since we have so many non-standard specimens in the collection. I call them "sliders" and they work nicely.


This project also differed from your typical woodworking project in one unique respect. One by one, as I emptied the chests to clean them and check for any signs of bugs, I found more than a dozen articles of decidely feminine clothing, most of the underwear and sportswear variety. The chests must have come from the girls dorms. Fortunately, I have daughter who is just starting her freshman year at Penn State, and a few of the garments are her size. Only problem came when I was caught carrying the items out of the building by my boss...at least he acted like he believed my story.

No bugs, but quite a few shorts and shirts, etc., etc.
So another $100 for the modification to the drawers brought the total bill for the project to $475. Custom cabinetry for the same purpose would easily have cost ten times as much, even here in Pennsylvania where every other small business is a cabinet company.

So, storage is in place...problem solved, right? Well...a few of you can guess what my problem is now. How do I efficiently and correctly transfer the 7,000 or so specimens into the drawers? Because even though I moved the boxes (again, for the third time) they still need to go away.



The specimens in the boxes are in no particular order at all. So even though the temptation is to just unload the boxes into drawers and then sort them out over time, you see the problem if nearly all the drawers are filled with random samples. No where to put the ordered samples.

So, patience is once again called for. I have to first enter all the specimens into the database, and once that is done (by the end of the year, I hope) then I'll be able to sort the entries by Family Name, divide them into 98-entry blocks, assign them drawer locations, and then, finally, Finally!...put them away in their proper place.

Yes, after considering several different schemes over the last couple of years, I decided to order the collection by Family Name. The original collection is stored by Accession Number, which is really a bother because that is basically random storage. So if I want to compare several different species of oaks, for instance, I typically have to search them out in that many different drawers. Which is not covenient when I am trying to show something to a Xylarium visitor.

I was leaning toward storing them by geographic region, so that, for instance, I could keep all my Australian specimens together, or that all our Pennsylvania woods would be together in one or two drawers. But I finally decided that following the scheme used at the Forest Products Lab in Madison was the best way to go, especially since the Penn State Collection will be used mostly for research projects. So, hopefully, by 2018, we'll all know how many specimens of each family, genus, and species are in the Penn State collection....and where they are!

Monday, August 14, 2017

Swimming through Wood

I've said this so many times in this blog, it truly has become repetitious. But, again, there certainly seems to be no limit to the imagination of what can be done with wood via videography.

From a post in Slate:
"For his dazzling “Woodswimmer” video above, filmmaker Brett Foxwell, who goes by bfophoto, used a process he describes as “brutally tedious.” The results, though: Wow. What you’re seeing are cross-sectional scans of hardwood, burls, and branches sequenced in stop motion. It’s like his camera is moving through the wood.
Foxwell used a milling machine to cut slices from 1/40 inch to 1/2,000 of an inch thick. He cleaned, polished, and applied wood oil to each cross-section before capturing its image with a stop-motion camera. And then on to the next cut.
Time-intensive as that process sounds, another issue—as he notes on his website—is that it’s “difficult to keep from watching stuff like this loop endlessly on playback as you are in the middle of shooting it.”
http://www.slate.com/articles/video/video/2017/07/wood_cross_section_music_video_woodswimmer_unpacks_layers_of_hardwood.html?wpsrc=sh_all_dt_fb_top

Thanks to Elisabeth Wheeler for sharing. Enjoy...


Tuesday, August 1, 2017

G.I. Loggers in Burma (1945)

As I was digging through old documents related to the Penn State wood collection, I came across this article, a release of February 16, 1945 by the National Lumber Manufacturers Association. Too bad it wasn't made into a movie script. You loggers and mill hands who think you've got it tough today will feel better after reading about these guys.

I've reproduced it here as closely as possible to the way it looks on the original paper.



G.I. LOGGERS IN BURMA

C.B.I. Roundup, service newspaper of the troops on the China-Burma-India front devoted a front page feature in its December 28th issue to the herculean feats of the Army forestry units to keep the Burma drive supplied with lumber from native timber. The story is graphically told by field correspondent, Sgt. John R. McDowell. A copy of the issue was sent home by Lt. Col. Ben Benioff, formerly an engineer with Summerbell Roof Structures, Los Angeles, now on Ledo Road, and was forwarded to the National Lumber Manufacturers Association.

Excerpts from Sgt. McDowell's article follow:

*   *   *

Capt. E. v. Roberts is not in character with the popular conception of a timber king. Quiet and unassuming, the captain is a product of the Forest Service, with which he served as a regional survey director in the Appalachian Forest Preserve Experimental Station. Today, as commanding officer of the first G. I. forestry outfit in the Far East, he has exploited the vast virgin timber resources of Assam and Northern Burma to such an extent that lumber is now the Army's No. 1 industry here.

When I first met Roberts, he was a mighty weary man. His two mills in Burma's Hukawng Valley had just completed what was probably the largest miltary order for lumber ever given a G. I. forestry outfit; a million board feet in 30 days.

The order was placed during the height of the summer monsoon. And it was a rush job. Engineers decided to construct a causeway across a 

(more)

-2-

flooded area.

The causeway meant lumber--lots of it. Pilings, cross beams, supports, flooring, railing--two miles of lumber which eventually added up to 1,000,000 board feet.

For 30 days, the men worked 10-hour days, seven days a week, to fill the order. The two mills, equipped with 60-inch circular saws and 90 horsepower Allis Chalmers edgers, turned out as much as 43,000 board feet of lumber during that hectic month. (According to specifications and performance guarantees, the Corinth Mill used by the Army has a top production level of 12,000 board feet per day.)

In discussing his outfit's record output, Roberts says, "There's only one factor which made it possible for us to fill that order. That is experience. Practically every man in my outfit is a veteran logger or mill man."

In a clearing beside the Ledo Road, a G. I. was operating a crude derrick mechanism which was mounted on the body of a dilapidated truck. The derrick consisted of a long pole, controlled by a network of cables, and a main line on the end of which was large steel tongs which bit into huge logs which were lifted high in the air and loaded on trucks. To my inexperienced eye, it resembled a gin pole on wheels.

The captain pointed to the machine. "That," he said, "is the pride and the joy of the outfit. It's a home-made jammer, designed and built by two of our men."

The Army T. O. for a forestry unit calls for the use of stiff legs in the loading of logs. Roberts' men, however, found the stiff legs to be awkward to handle in the sense Burmese jungles, so Pfc. Walter Nourse of Portland, Oregon, and Sgt. Pat Treat, of Priest River, Ida., both veteran far western logging contractors, designed the jammer, patterning it after equipment they had used in civilian life.

The resulting home-made rig was a conglomeration of "midnight requisitioning" and discarded equipment. Drums were taken from a shovel, gears were taken from TD-18 tractors, a motor was taken from a Dodge weapons carrier. The framework was formed with lengths of scrap welded together in the outfit's heavy equipment shop. A pole was fashioned from a log. And the whole contraption was mounted on an English lorry.

Nourse was operating the jammer. Every time ge'd push or pull a lever, the jammer would creak and groan and a heavy log would lurch off the ground, dangle in midair for a moment, then swoop gently down on the truck, scarcely jarring the vehicle.

Looking at the mass of levers and cables and gears with which Nourse toyed so casually, I remarked, "Don't you ever miss the truck when you're loading logs?"

Nourse grinned and and pushed a faded fatigue cap back over his straight black hair. "Brother when you've operated one of these things as long as I have, you could use it to serve a 12-course dinner and not spill a drop of gravy."

(more)

-3-

Deep in the jungle, we found the loggers at work in a stand of giant hollong trees. Cpl. Wright Vander Wegen, of Thorp, Wis., and Pvt. John Spaulding, Ketchikan, Alaska, were preparing to fell one of the giants.

Back at the loading area, we followed a loaded truck down the Lado road to the sawmill. As the converted 6x6 started out, sagging under its load of six logs, Roberts said, "Don't ever let anyone sell American equipment short. We've been using those 6x6's to haul our logs for months now. Each trip with a load averages between five and 10 miles, and a truck carries a 600 per cent overload. So far, we haven't had a single breakdown despite such punishment. Brother, that's performance!"

Lt. Marvin S. Houston, who owned a sawmill in Pitkin, La., before the war, is in charge of the outfit's No. 1 mill. "Since January of this year," he said, "my boys have turned out 7,000,000 board feet of lumber. Which isn't hay for a small G. I. mill."

The mill turns out lumber in sizes varying from one inch by two inch by 10 feet to 12 inch by 24 feet. Some pieces of lumber run as long as 31 feet, but the average length varies between 14 and 18 feet. Most of the mill's orders are for bridge timber and culvert abutments, although lumber also is produced for office furniture and military installations in North Burma. And idea of the forestry unit's output can be obtained from figures showing that its two sawmills have produced lumber for nearly 1,000 bridges and hundreds of revetments and culverts on Ledo Road.

Ninety percent o the timber run through the mills in North Burma is hollong (Dipterocarpus macrocarpus) or makai (Shorea assamica). Both trees, 100 to 150 years old when ready for cutting, are common to Asia. The wood, when cured, is similar to North America's walnut, oak, or maple and, if exploited commercially, could be used for furniture and interior finishing.

The hollong produces the heaviest wood yet used for lumber. It weighs 100 pounds per cubic foot and is one of the few known species of tree which is too heavy to float. The makai, on the other hand, is of average weight for a hardwood, weighing 55 pounds per cubic foot. A few nahor, or ironwood, trees are found in North Burma and have proved quite satisfactory for bridge timbers. Roberts has seen bt one conifer, and that was in the middle of a swamp.

Roberts' proudest record is that his men lost only five working days during the past monsoon. Prior to the rains, it was feared that continuous mill operation would be impossible during the period from May until October. But the mill ran seven days a week, noth after month, with but few exceptions during the rainy season.

The only solution to the mud was the constant construction of new access roads into the jungles over which the logs could be skidded out to the loading area. The men built corduroy roads, plank roads, gravel roads, and when each road would bog down and become impassable they would construct another.

(more)

-4-

At the forward logging camps in Burma, where heavy equipment was not available during the monsoon, elephants were used to drag the timber from the swampy jungle to the road. The elephants were driven by natives, and each beast made on the average of three or four trips into the jungle per day.

This was slow but sure process. Each elephant would slowly drag a heavy length of timber out to the road, sometimes sinking up to its belly in mud and stagnant water. Each trip took nearly an hour, and a couple of trips a day exhausted even the largest and most powerful elephants.

Farther south in Burma, the forward contingent of Roberts' unit, with Lt. James Pouncey in charge, will tell you that they've been the real trail-blazers of the G. I. loggers. Once, the No. 2 mill detachment--their offical designation, set up logging and sawmill activities beyond the point of the Ledo Road, within sound of Jap gunfire. Since then, they have moved forward with Road Headquarters as the Ledo Road pushed on south into Burma, supplying timber for advance bridges and military installations.

Lt. Pouncey, who was in the lumber business in Stevenson, Wash., before the war, has his share of timber veterans, too. Such men as Sgt. Eugene Raymond, of Clallan Bay, Wash.; Sgt. William Buchanan, of Riverside, Calif.; T/3 Carl Blakeslee, of Union City, Pa.; T/Sgt. Clark Hobbs, of Manassas, Va.; Pfc. Harry Fredy, of Sagala, Mich.; Pfc. Jack Plotts, of Troy, Mont., and Pvt. Carmen Hernandez, of Salina, Kan., are typical of the veteran lumbermen who are carrying their civilian skills on over into Army life.

I don't know wether it has anything to do with the tree that is reputed to grow in Brooklyn, but Flatbush has its representation in the Forestry outfit. "I don't suppose any of the three ever saw a tree before they got in the Army," Pouncey chuckles, "But they're really making up for lost time over here."

I remarked, "There must be great amounts of timber in North Burma which still haven't been touched."

Roberts agreed. "And it's a high-grade lumber, too. Cured properly, it would make fine furniture or interior finishing."

"Then, do you believe the British will be able to exploit these timber resources after the war, using the Ledo Road?" I asked. Roberts shook his head. "Defintely not. There is no market in this part of the world for lumber. Too many impoverished people who build with bamboo and mud. And transportation costs by road and rail to the ports at Calcutta or Rangoon would be prohibitive."

--30--




Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Is Building About to Take Off, or Not?

On my way to work this morning, I took a slightly different route across campus and was taken by surprise by the number of construction projects I was forced to detour around. My first thought was that you Penn State alumni out there who Go Wood would be interested in seeing some of the changes. So I snapped a few photos...

It started simply enough, with a sidewalk detour. But then...
Oh, no! Some of you may remember one of my favorite places on campus, the plaza behind the Music buildings, which used to feature a mid-century modern water fountain and shade trees. They're gone now. I hope the replacement features something watery, or I'm going to be mad.
Just putting the finishing touches on the new water tower project behind the Architecture building.
So far, every project had been functional cosmetic. But...boom! New addition to the Ag Engineering building is huge.
And this even larger building is a new Chemistry building, I think. At least it's where the old chemistry building used to be.
End of this walk, at least. New dorm is nearing completion in the East Halls complex. This one features rooms with sunset views...should be nice.
Penn State always seems to have some construction going on somewhere on campus, but this summer is the wildest in the fifteen years I've been here. Academic boomtown, including State College just across campus, which has three new high rises under construction and a couple of more blocks under negotiation. What is going on here? Is the economy really that good?

All this construction in a large, traditional university seems to fly in the face of technological trends, which all seem aligned against classical brick-and-mortar education in the near future. But we seem to be banking that future generations of 17-year-olds (and their parents) will still be placing a premium value on "the experience" of a few years in the hallowed halls of academia. We'll see.

Are you seeing similar signs of an awakening of the construction industry in your town? You may be, but I'll bet it's not in private housing units. The data there are still reflecting a pretty bare-bones housing economy. In the sense that young first-time buyers are still moving into apartments and condominiums, and the well-off are still buying property with cash and jumbo loans...but the middle of the housing market is still stuck in neutral with flat used home prices and interest rates.

Housing starts have come into line with the "moderate" case I forecast back in 2009, but seem to be really weak this year, and remain near historical lows going back more than fifty years.
The many construction companies I work with were all brimming with expectations of a boom year in 2017. And I mean all of them. I was a little less sure...it always seemed to me that policy changes have to be enacted and take effect before enthusiasm can be captured...and that a couple of years seemed reasonable. In my latest visits, the companies down in Northern Virginia and Maryland are all, in fact, having a moderately strong summer...but the further I drove from Washington, D.C., the less robust production seems to be. In other words, the same as it's been for a decade now.

So where's the boom? Well, I plotted another graph today that gives us a hint...

The "Trump Bump" shows up clearly in the stock market...but not yet in housing starts.
Investors, at least a certain class of investors, have been bullish on the American economy this year...by putting money into the stock market. But those folks whose largest investment is a new house, are still a tiny minority of the population actively investing these days.

From an article I saw in the local news last week...
"US housing starts drop for 3rd straight month
BY JOSH BOAK
AP Economics Writer
WASHINGTON 
Homebuilders slowed down the pace of construction for the third straight month in May, a possible sign that the shortage of houses for sale might worsen.
The Commerce Department said Friday that housing starts fell 5.5 percent in May to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.09 million units. This comes after a 2.7 percent monthly decline in April and a 7.7 percent drop in March. Home construction is still 3.2 percent higher year-to-date, but that increase has been too modest to address the dwindling supply of homes.
Homebuilders remain optimistic about their sales prospects, but the level of construction has done little to meet demand from would-be buyers. The number of existing homes listed for sale has been registering annual declines for roughly two years — creating a dearth of properties on the market.
"The lack of inventory of homes for sale is one of the most pressing challenges in the housing market today," said Mark Fleming, chief economist at First American Financial, a title insurance company.
The monthly declines in housing starts come despite a solid job market with a relatively healthy unemployment rate of 4.3 percent. Many analysts expect the job gains to translate into more home construction. What has generally happened is a decline in the construction of apartment buildings that has been more than offset by the gains in the building of single-family houses.
Groundbreakings in the Northeast were unchanged in May and declined in the Midwest and South. Housing starts rose slightly in the West.
Building permits, an indicator of upcoming construction, tumbled 4.9 percent nationwide to 1.17 million.
U.S. homebuilders have stayed confident. The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo builder sentiment index registered at 67 in June, a slight decline from May. Readings above 50 indicate more builders view sales conditions as positive. The index has been above 60 since September.
Homebuilding has recovered from the housing bust that tore through the U.S. economy a decade ago. While the rate of construction is generally improving, it still lags the 1.4-1.5 million annual rate that was common in the 1980s and 1990s."
I find a few points in this article interesting. First, that homebuilders are slowing during what should be the strongest time of year for them, even though they "remain optimistic." Perhaps "remain hopeful" would be a more honest assessment of their mood. Secondly, that "many analysts expect the job gains to translate into more home construction." If so, then those are pretty shallow analysts, since any job gains are really a manipulation of government survey statistics, and don't really reflect the flatness (and decline, in real terms) of salaries and wages in most traditional industries. Welders and truck drivers near gas fields can only buy so many houses.

Finally, the statement that "Homebuilding has recovered from the housing bust that tore through the U.S. economy a decade ago" is laughable, or would be, if so many so-called reporters weren't saying it. We're still at the worst housing construction levels in more than fifty years, as the blue line on my graphs shows.

The question is...are we about to finally break out, and follow the optimism of the stock market? Or is the weakness in the housing sector a red flag that shows the stock market bump is about to deflate?

If the construction activity in State College is any indicator, good times are just around the corner.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

No Surprise Here: Maine Lumber Firm is Building a Biomass Plant

From the Bangor (Maine) Daily News comes an interesting update on the ongoing biomass energy front...

With mills struggling, a Maine lumber firm is building a biomass plant
Source: Bangor Daily News

SEARSMONT, Maine — The shuttering and shrinking of paper mills has forced businesses across the forest products industry to take a fresh look at their approach.
At Robbins Lumber, a 136-year-old family-owned sawmill in Searsmont, the upheaval is prompting a big investment to become not just a lumber producer, but an energy producer.
... 
So the company is building a $36 million, 8.5 megawatt biomass plant, with capacity to sell about 7.5 megawatts to Central Maine Power. The family hopes the project will help bolster the local forest economy, while giving the lumberyard something to do with its residuals — chips, sawdust and bark — in the wake of the paper mill closures. 
- Bangor Daily News
While the promotion of biomass energy has quieted some in the recent surge of natural gas supply, it continues to remain a common sense solution to wood waste utilization opportunities, in those places where the market niche works economically. We did a study here not too long ago that discussed these opportunities. Our conclusion?
Analysis of the results indicates that a targeted response to wood-conversion initiatives will yield the most successful program of fossil-fuel replacement in thermal applications. A ranking index developed in this study through analysis of existing boiler installations and availability of wood feedstocks suggests that the top ten states in the eastern United States on which to focus future messaging, feasibility studies, and policy development for potential woody biomass conversions are:  Maine, Texas, New York, Florida, Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, North Carolina, Arkansas, and Pennsylvania (in that order).
- "Biomass boiler conversion potential in the eastern United States
Notice the first state listed for biomass energy potential? That's right...Maine. For where you have wood, and an established wood industry, biomass energy makes sense and will be produced. As we discussed here on GoWood a time ago...

In fact, the Robbins Lumber project has a "multiplier" impact on the local economy, as the BDN article explains...
Robbins Lumber and CMP have ironed out a 20-year purchase agreement for the electricity produced by the biomass facility. The sawmill doesn’t produce enough residuals on its own to fuel the boiler’s 24-7 operations, so it will have to turn to its log suppliers, purchasing residuals from them to maintain a steady stream of fuel for the boiler. 
They’ll need about 15 trailer loads per day to keep it running. Jim Robbins said the construction of the biomass plant should be a boost to local harvesters and woodlot owners, who also are looking for new places to send their residuals in the wake of mill closings.
 - Bangor Daily News
In order to get the necessary economy of scale needed to make the project feasible, Robbins management decided to build a boiler plant larger than their own supply of chips could fill, and thereby gave a boost to other chip producers in the area.

That's the way it works when smart folks do their work, and find opportunity in the face of adversity.

Way to Go Wood, Robbins Lumber.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

New Features and Venues for Go Wood

Go Wood continues to get bigger, better, and badder. On the left you'll see two new "pages"...one for Sam's Cartoons of the Week, and one for Timberline Magazine.

Sam Richardson is a buddy (can I call you that, Sam?) in Bradford, Pennsylvania, who manages a bunch of hardwood dry kilns for a great company that I will name if they give me a kickback. In his spare time, Sam doodles, and starting sharing his comic relief with his co-workers at said company. And now he's sharing them with you here at Go Wood. Wood humor is rare, and funny wood humor is ever rarer. But thanks to Sam, we have it here at Go Wood, now.

We've also started a collaboration with Chaille and Ed Brindley at Industrial Reporting, a couple of great guys who've spent their whole lives working for and reporting on the wood industries around the world. They were nice enough to start running some Go Wood articles in their TimberLine magazine this month, so you'll find a link to this great magazine here from now on.

And as if this intrepid Penn State wood professor doesn't already suffer enough from blatant overexposure, we've started a Facebook page so you can immerse yourself in Go Wood 24/7. I know you've been looking for a real news alternative to CNN and Fox News, and now you have it. If you're on Facebook, search for us at @PennStateGoWood, and "Like", "Follow", and "Share" the page. I've been trying for years to figure out how Facebook works, and I still don't get it, but if you do, well, you've got it at your fingertips now.

Now if only I could think of something interesting to write.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Keeping Abreast of Improvements in Housing Technology

For those of you in the home construction industry around the Mid-Atlantic Area, the Pennsylvania Housing Research Center of Penn State's College of Engineering is offering the 25th in an annual series of conferences aimed at improving the quality and affordability of housing.

The 25th Annual PHRC Conference...
"provides information and updates on issues of interest to the residential construction industry. The first day of the conference, Wednesday (3/1), focuses on issues related to housing structures and their systems via breakout session in four tracks: Building Science & Technology, Construction & Management, Building Codes, and Multifamily. The second day of the conference, Thursday (3/2), provides opportunities to attend full-day workshops relating to specific areas of residential construction."

This is a nice program that offers local builders to catch up on the latest innovations and regulations while networking with folks that think a lot about the future of housing. And all at a very reasonable cost. Early registration discounts for the March 1-2 conference end in a couple of days, so check it out now.

Details and registration for the conference can be found here. 


Friday, February 17, 2017

Notes from the Road (15) - A Day That Will Live in Infamy

No, we're not talking about December 7, 1941, although we Americans will remember that one for much longer than any participants of that day in Pearl Harbor walk this earth.

I discovered another day of infamy, that the horrible Second World War brought us, one not really known by most Americans, but one that Australians will remember for just as long.

February 19, 1942. Seventy-five years ago this weekend...
"The Bombing of Darwin, also known as the Battle of Darwin, on 19 February 1942 was the largest single attack ever mounted by a foreign power on Australia. On that day, 242 Japanese aircraft, in two separate raids, attacked the town, ships in Darwin's harbour and the town's two airfields in an attempt to prevent the Allies from using them as bases to contest the invasions of Timor and Java. The town was only lightly defended and the Japanese inflicted heavy losses upon the Allied forces at little cost to themselves. The urban areas of Darwin also suffered some damage from the raids and there were a number of civilian casualties. 
The two Japanese air raids were the first, and largest, of more than 100 air raids against Australia during 1942–43." 
- Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bombing_of_Darwin
I had no idea this ever happened, until I found myself on the very dock that was hit on the first wave of the attack.

A striking image, as you're standing on the very dock where this happened.

Lest we forget...
The view of Darwin harbor today, in better times.
The raid on Darwin differed from that of Pearl Harbor, in that Australia had already declared war on Japan. The similarity was that it was just as successful, and that the inhabitants were just as surprised that day as the waves of Japanese planes buzzed down.

The Australian military, as well as the populace, decided it was a good time to retreat a little inland, to let the outback serve as a natural ally against the invasion that all assumed was sure to come.

The military retreated to here, as a first line of defense against the invasion. That's Darwin across the bay, with the harbor line low against the water.

The site is now the Charles Darwin National Park. I went expecting to find a bespectacled botanist park ranger combing through a treasure trove of  botanical specimens, and found instead a deserted park with deserted WWII ammunition bunkers.

Well, now, this is Australia. An open bunker for anyone to examine. The Australians can still afford to trust folks.

An interesting side story here.  Those pallets the boxes are sitting on...the hundreds of thousands of pallets used to import ammunition and other equipment from the US were left scattered all over the country after the war, and the Allied Materials Handling Standing Committee which had been managing war-time logistics was privatized as the Commonwealth Handling Equipment Pool. You may know that organization today as CHEP.
Well, I wandered around the park, and as I was once again in an unfamiliar range of forest, without the bespectacled guide I was hoping for, I could do little but walk and shoot.



The rest of Darwin's population headed farther, much farther inland, some as far as Alice Springs, 1500 kilometers away. But the bulk of them ended up in the little town of Katherine, a three or four day walk/ride back in those days, and waited out the war. The anticipated invasion never came, much to the relief of both the Australians and the Japanese soldiers.

The highway between Darwin and Alice Springs today. I doubt it looked this good back in 1942.
Lots of remnants of the war still remain. Here at a roadside park near Katherine are the old foundations of a staging camp.
And as you go farther inland, the terrain gets noticeably rougher. But the natives still find peace there. I saw this young lady jogging barefoot down the road from the camp at Tennant Creek, and when I went back down the road later I saw her sitting up on this outcropping, admiring the view. 
And this was the sunset she was pondering.
I had one more walkabout on the this road, about 200 kilometers north of Tennant Creek the next morning. Much of the land had been burned over, but I found a spot that looked pretty good, and got out to stretch my legs. Once again, I struggle to identify any species, but I invite my Australian friends to identify any species they can, and leave the video time mark and species name in the comments.


The biggest disappointment of my trip is that I did not get to visit the Kakadu National Park, a huge preserve just east of the road I've described in this post, that Ludwig Leichardt and his men stumbled through in the closing stages of their first, successful trip. I was running just a little behind on my trip, and considering how exhausted I was, and that I could use a day in Darwin to recuperate before climbing on an airplane for an around-the-world return to Pennsylvania, I decided to bypass the park and leave it for next time.

But here's a nice slide show on Google Earth that gives us a taste of what awaits our visit.

Well, I could share hundreds of more photos, and a few more stories of Australia, but I guess you get the gist of it by now. A big land, a great people, and a dazzling variety of ecosystems. I hope to make it back again some day.


Friday, February 10, 2017

Notes from the Road (14) - It's Saturday night, and the Pubs in Australia are Full

Well, we've reached the end of another long week, and you're looking forward to relaxing a bit. Looking through my Australian photos, I remembered a Saturday night in Queensland that gave me a break from the bush, and showed me how the real folks relax in the outback.

I had come a long way, and just as sun hit the horizon, I made it to the town of Blackall, Queensland.

Watching the sunset from the upper porch of the Barcoo Hotel in Blackall, Queensland. Don't know what XXXX Gold is, but I think I'll mosey downstairs and try some.
After throwing my bag upstairs, washing my hands and face, and brushing the flies out of my teeth, I casually sauntered down to the pub to grab a bite and a bit of the local color. The food was good...I think I had fried steak, or lamb, and the fries (chips down under) were just right, crunchy and yet light. I had learned to avoid what the Australians call tomato sauce, which is what you get when you ask for ketchup. It's a tasteless, slightly sweet red soup that trickles onto your food, and improves it in no way whatsoever. I'm opening a Heinz distribution company down there someday.

As I ate, I watched the locals come and go. I'm pretty sure everyone in Blackall is either related or knows each other in some way. As each group came in, they all gave a hearty greeting, and if any kids were in tow, they got hugs all around. It was nice to watch, but it made me feel just a bit more uneasy, as it was obvious that I was the only stranger in the place. But the waitress was friendly and acted like there was nothing wrong with a stranger in their midst, so I ate and watched folks drink beer, chat and laugh, and bet on horse races and lotteries above the bar.

Plenty of action in Blackall on a Saturday night.
I did have one problem in this scenario...I couldn't quite figure out what language the folks were speaking. I think it was English, in the same way that a New Yorker thinks that Texans are speaking English; sort of, but not really. I came to understand that the analogy is an apt one, because Queensland, especially in the outback, is to southern Aussies what Luckenbach is to New York City...a quaint place to spend an evening with Willie and Waylon and the boys, but not one to live in.

I felt right at home.

As I tested various species of the local drafts (the XXXX Gold is on their marquee for a reason), a couple of the screens were switched to a "football" game. Now I had tried to watch a couple of "football" games, but I couldn't get them straight...they seemed to be different games depending on where you were watching them. In New South Wales I had seen a bunch of guys named the Swans (really?) running around with a ball, and then kicking it wildly away whenever somebody got close to them. Sort of reminded me of the way my little brother played football in the front yard with me and the guys back in the day. But here in Blackall, the football game had a different look...one whole team lined up, and then the runner on the other team crashed headlong into them, until, bloodied and woozy, he gave up and passed the ball back to one of his mates. Now this, I liked.

But still, the action seemed random, and it never stopped, so I had a heck of a time figuring out what was going on. But I had just enough XXXX in me to muster up the courage to try to ask someone to give me a brief introduction to the game.

Well, there was one particular patron that night, a lady named Sally, who was so into the game that she kept shushing the folks around her so she could hear the game. She also had a jersey of one of the teams on, and seemed to be the only one who really cared what was going on. So in a break, I sidled over to her, apologized for being a dumb American, and asked what I thought might be an intelligent question about the game.

Without looking away from the screen, she said, "Pull up a stool, be quiet, and listen." And she proceeded to give me a running explanation of every facet of the game, play by play. We were rooting for the Broncos, and the other guys were the Cowboys. (Hmmm, sounded familiar.) This was a big playoff game, a semifinal in the championship of the Australian rugby football league, not to be confused with the Australian Football League, in which those sissy Swans played. And you know, the way she explained it, it started making some sense to me, and I actually started getting into the game. Just like two strangers at a Steelers' game, it was easy to relate to the action, especially when one of those darn Cowboys tried to rip the head off of one of our Bronco boys.

By halftime, the pub had inexplicably thinned out, and the bartender told us they were closing up for the night. No problem, explained Sally...there's another pub just down the road, within walking distance. Hmmmm...it was already past my bedtime, and I had to hit the road at sunrise the next morning, but I wanted to see the Broncos pull this one out, darn it. So I sallied forth with Sally.

We went down a block, turned right and began to walk through a neighborhood. It was dark, but the moon gave us a little light to see the street. I sure didn't see any pub ahead...the town seemed to be coming to a dead end. Sally explained the railroad used to run by this side of town, and the pub was next to where the railroad used to be. I began to have visions of headlines in State College that read something like "Professor's Remains found on Outskirts of Foreign Town" when suddenly there was a light in a window, we went in a little house-looking place, and there was a bar, and a TV.

And interestingly, the place was filled to standing room only...with the same crowd that I recognized from the last pub. By now, I was getting to feel like a regular.

Well, Sally kept explaining, but the game turned against the Broncos, which the rest of the pub seemed to like, since they were almost all rooting for the Cowboys. One of the bartenders came over to us, looked at me suspiciously, and asked, "What'll it be, Auntie?" Sally introduced me to her niece, who looked at me once more like I was an axe murderer after Aunt Sally's hidden treasure, but Sally assured her I was just a dumb American learning about rugby, the real football. Well, the young lady accepted that, but she kept an eye on me the rest of the night.

In the end, the Broncos lost, but Sally took it in stride.  She explained to me that next week, she would be rooting for the Cowboys, because after all, they were a Queensland team going against a club from New South Wales. That seemed a little odd to me...I couldn't imagine the Steelers losing to the Eagles in a playoff game, and me rooting for the Eagles next week just because they were from Pennsylvania. But that's the Aussie way, I suppose.

Sally guided me back to the Barcoo, and we were good enough friends by now that a handshake seemed silly, so we hugged and I thanked her for a night of being a real Aussie. She laughed, gave me her card, and told me to look her up the next time I was passing through...since she was a writer for a local newspaper and they always need good stories. Because, well, you know, nothing interesting ever happens in those little country towns, even in the outback.

The next morning, I was up with the sun, taking in the sounds of the outback birds and road trains, before I headed out once again.



Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Notes From the Road (13) - The Longest Walkabout: The Story of Ludwig Leichhardt

Source: Amazon.com

One of the discoveries I made in Australia is the story of Ludwig Leichhardt, early Australian explorer, botanist, and legend. Without realizing it, I had been roughly following the path of the first of Leichhardt's three forays into the bush...the difference being, that I was riding in an air-conditioned Toyota, and he was really walking it, back in the 1840's.

I had successfully reached the way-station of Barkly Homestead in Tablelands, Northern Territory after a drive of about five hours from Camooweal, Queensland. I only remember that particular leg because it was the most lonesome stretch of the trip...there is literally no sign of humanity between the two places. I had filled up with gas at Camooweal, Queensland, which is on the border with the Northern Territory, and the signs warned me that the next stop, Barkly Homestead, was a long ways away. I went back in the store and grabbed a large bottle of water, just in case.


That drive of 267 kilometers was the most memorable of my trip, just because it was soooo long and quiet. I think only three vehicles passed me in five hours, and two of them were road trains. I stopped several times to walk off the road, to check out the landscape and vegetation.

Just like this, pretty much the whole way from Camooweal to Tablelands...
...and they want to keep it that way.

Good grazing, if you're an Australian steer with your own personal 100 acres.
The soil is thin...
...but the termites love it.
The king of the Northern Territory savannah, the Ghost Gum, Corymbia aparrerinja.
I shot a short piece of video looking at this tree...just the tree, the sky, and the wind. Possibly my best moment in Australia.


I eventually arrived at the Barkly Homestead, and stopped for a late lunch...a huge, delicious burger and fries, icy-cold Coca-Cola, and a shining clean bathroom. Not what I expected for the middle of the Australian outback.

It was at Barkly Homestead that I happened to pick up the book at the top of this post, threw it in the back of the car, and forgot about it until I got home. It was then, while reading of the travels and travails of Ludwig Leichhardt, I realized how incredibly fortunate we are to live in the 21st century, instead of the 19th.

Leichhardt had undertaken nearly the same trip as I, from Sydney up into Queensland (before it was Queensland) and over across to the Northern Territory. He was a botanist with a desire to explore the interior of the continent, to find that magnificent river that all Australians of the time were sure existed...a mighty "Mississippi" that flowed from the center of the continent and drained on one of the coasts. From 1842 to 1848(?) he roamed the Australian outback, collecting and naming plants, rivers, and mountain ranges as he came across them. He took three official expeditions to find the great interior river, and therein is his lasting legacy.

His first trip, from August 1844 to December of 1845, was the best documented and productive. He drove his expedition from Sydney inland for about 150 miles, then turned north and west, roughly parallel to the Northeastern coast of the continent.

By Public domain map from Project Gutenberg Australia, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2118309
This long trip was intended to find a route by which Australians could reasonably make an inland trip from the southeastern settlements of Sydney and Moreton Bay to the northern outpost of Port Essington, and thereby open up the continent to settling and development. Along the way, though, the expedition endured floods, attacks from the natives, and near starvation, before finally arriving in Port Essington, emaciated ghosts of the hearty men that left fourteen months earlier.

The whole way, their path was driven by the need for water. Wherever water might be, that's where they went. Wrote Leichhardt:
"The detection of isolated waterholes in a wooded country, where there is nothing visible to indicate its presence, is quite a matter of chance, We have often unconsciously passed well-filled waterholes, at less than a hundred yards distant, whilst we were suffering severely from thirst. Our horses and bullocks never showed that instinctive faculty of detecting water, so often mentioned by other travelers; and I remember instances, in which the bullocks have remained the whole night, not 50 yards from the waterholes, without finding them; and, indeed, whenever we came to small waterholes, we had to drive the cattle down to them, or they would have strayed off to find water elsewhere. On several occasions I followed their tracks, and observed they were influenced entirely by their sight when in search of it; at times attracted by a distant patch of deeper verdure, at others following a down a hollow or a watercourse, but I do not recall a single instance where they found water for themselves....
In looking for water, my search was first made in the neighborhood of hills, ridges, and ranges, which from their extent and elevation were most likely to lead me to it, either in beds of creeks, or rivers, or in waterholes, parallel to them. In an open country, there are many indications which a practised eye will readily spot: a cluster of trees of a greener foliage, hollows of luxuriant grass, eagles circling in the air, crows, cockatoos, pigeons (especially before sunset), and the call of Grallina australis and flocks of little finches, would always attract our attention.
...
Much, indeed the greater portion, of my journey had been occupied in long reconnoitering rides; and he who is thus occupied is in a continued state of excitement, now buoyant with hope, as he urges on his horse toward some distant range or blue mountain, as he follows the favourable bend of a river; now all despairing and miserable, as he approaches the foot of the range without finding water from which he could start again with renewed strength, or as the river turns in an unfavourable direction, and slips out of his course. Evening approaches; the sun has sunk below the horizon for some time, but still he strains his eye through the gloom for the dark verdure of a creek, or strives to follow the arrow-like flight of a pigeon, the flapping of those wings has filled him with a sudden hope, from which he relapses again into a still greater sadness; with a sickened heart he drops his head to a broken and interrupted rest, whilst his horse is hobbled by his side, unwilling from excessive thirst to feed on the dry grass. How often I have found myself in these different states of the brightest hope and the deepest misery, riding along, thirsty, almost lifeless, and ready to drop from my saddle with fatigue; the poor horse tired like his rider, footsore, stumbling over every stone, running heedlessly against the trees, and wounding my knees! These were the hours of deepest despair on this long expedition, accompanying the men on their every step. But suddenly, the note of Grallina australis, the call of cockatoos, or the croaking of frogs is heard, and hopes are bright again; water is certainly at hand; the spur is applied to the flank of the tired beast, which already partakes in his rider's anticipations, and quickens his pace - and a lagoon, a creek, or a river is before him. The horse is soon unsaddled, hobbled, and well-washed; a fire is made, the teapot is put to the fire, the meat is dressed, the enjoyment of the poor reconnoiterer is perfect."
Now, if you think that sounds pretty rough, let me tell you, those are some of the rosiest passages of Leichhardt's memoirs. His first venture was counted as a brilliant success, considering that all but one of his party of nine emerged safely from the bush at their intended destination. But his second venture didn't go so well...
"Leichhardt's second expedition, undertaken with a government grant and substantial private subscriptions, started in December 1846. It was supposed to take him from the Darling Downs to the west coast of Australia and ultimately to the Swan River and Perth. However, after covering only 800 km the expedition team was forced to return in June 1847 due to heavy rain, malarial fever and famine."
-Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ludwig_Leichhardt
That description of the second expedition glosses over one of the most excruciating journeys you're ever likely to read about. Here are a couple of the "highlights"...
"When we first came to Erythrina creek, a great number of blowflies suddenly appeared which not only blowed with maggots our sheepskins, but all our blankets, our shirts, and tarpawlings. These nasty insects were equally frequent...during the last 3 days and as the moist weather allowed the maggots to live, we scarcely could defend ourselves against their numbers. My poncho for instance had a piece of opossum cloak round the slit. This was blown and as it commenced to rain and I put my head through the slit, thousands came into the hair of my head and beard and I was teeming with maggots all over my body which, worse than lice, tried my substance, boring most eagerly into my skin. I washed, I combed, I brushed  and with the latter I tolerably succeeded in cleaning myself, most terribly disgusted with the filthy things."
"I cannot record all the miseries, all the anxieties of the last week. By God's mercy we are out of them in part and are out of a camp, where we had to stop from the 20th of April to the 2nd of May. I myself got very ill, a severe attack of fever took hold of me in consequence of eating too much of the broth of the young tainted meat and shook me most mercifully for several days. My feet were swollen in the ankles and a dark transparent spot formed within my left eye. Mr. Bunce, Mr. Turnbull, Perry, Hely, Mann, Brown all got worse and Wommai crawled only slowly along. In such a state, how could we attend to our rambling horses and cattle, how find our last 3 horses!" 
Somehow, after losing all their livestock and most of their horses, they managed to stumble back to an outpost, and thereby survive the ordeal. Not one to be so easily dissuaded of his dream of finding the promising heaven of the interior of Australia, Leichhardt rested a short while, recruited a new bunch of "explorers", and headed out once more. As author Hans Wilhem Finger describes it...
"In the early morning of 5 or 6 April 1848, when the meat from their first slaughter had dried sufficiently to be stored, the long procession left to follow the Cogoon to the north. Leichhardt rode ahead, reins in one hand, compass in the other, followed by Classen, leading the most amenable mule laden with essential equipment. Nineteen mules followed in a row, accompanied by one or two men or horseback; the cattle brought up the rear surrounded by the remaining mounted men and dogs scurried in between. A thick cloud of dust enveloped them all.
Unknown land stretched far in front and the convoy disappeared into a wilderness that devoured it for good." 
Neither Leichhardt nor any of his men of this third and final expedition were ever heard from again. After about three or four years, Australians began to wonder about them, and finally to assume they were lost forever. The legend of Ludwig Leichhardt was cemented in history, and Australians have spent the succeeding century and a half looking for any trace of them. A few small finds have been made, but none that could be confirmed and linked definitively to the party.

I hope they never do.