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04/01/2014

The Role of Wood in a Harmonious World

Managing our emotional bond with nature’s most renewable resource

By Kenn Busch

 

Nothing else has the depth, warmth, or beauty of real wood. Responsible use will ensure that this resource is available for future generations.

stewardship, innovation, and resource utilization
In choosing your hardwood decorative panel supplier, you are in effect endorsing their treatment of the environment and their employees, as well as the vision of the role they play in the communities that host their production facilities and border their forestlands.

The Beauty of Wood: It’s all in how you cut it

Every log actually consists of two kinds of wood. “Heartwood” is the non-active or dormant center of a tree, usually distinguishable from the outer portion by its darker color; “sapwood” is the lighter-colored living wood occurring in the outer portion of a tree. The veneers from these two parts of a log may look very different.

As you can see in this PDF, the character of a woodgrain varies radically, depending on how the log is sliced into veneers.

 
(Click to view larger)

Logging and lumber operations are part of North America’s industrial heritage, and are still the heart of rural communities in many states and provinces—or, were. Many lumber companies have gotten out of the business altogether, while others have sold out to corporate conglomerates, with predictable effects on the towns that once thrived around them.

These days, family-run companies that nurture their communities and maintain their own forests for the long-term health of the environment are few and far between. Luckily a few do remain, and they drive the industry with a deeper commitment to the future of their resources, the stability of their workforces, and true product innovation.

Three characteristics exemplify traditionally operated, family-run lumber companies:

  1. Ownership and nurturing of their forests
  2. Vertical integration of sawmill, lumber, and panel operations
  3. The ability to adapt quickly to fluctuations in resources and market demands

The idea of intelligent forest management is not new. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that if you don’t plant trees after you harvest them, you’ll soon run out of trees. But knowing up front that you can’t wait 100-200 years for your seedlings to mature to “old-growth” size before you need to harvest them will change your approach to resource management. Changes in construction methods and consumption trends play an important role as well.

As the post-WWII population and housing boom was ramping up, it became abundantly clear that our traditional reliance on solid wood for construction would soon decimate our forests. Smart mill owners quickly saw a mass market for a material that had been up until then a bit of a niche product: plywood.

Plywood panels were actually introduced nearly five decades earlier at the 1905 World’s Fair in Portland, Ore. This wondrous new material was strong, flexible, workable, and made use of lower-quality wood that would have otherwise been considered waste. It was far more resistant than solid wood to cracking, shrinkage, twisting, and warping, and less expensive to manufacture. Laid up with waterproof adhesives, plywood soon made its name in the military, found in everything from troop barracks to fighter planes.

The huge spike in the demand for housing after WWII drove plywood mills into high gear. They streamlined the production process and began to refine these multi-ply panels for higher and more specific application demands.

By the 1970s, most of the larger old-growth logs had been harvested and the economy was starting to stumble, causing a further shake-out of old-school lumber companies. More forward-thinking manufacturers began refitting their mills to handle smaller logs. They also diversified, particularly into particleboard and medium-density fiberboard (MDF)—composite panels made from the waste produced by sawmills and plywood plants that, again, would otherwise be landfilled or burned. The small amount of fiber left over was then used as biofuel to cogenerate power for production, reducing the need for fossil fuels and reducing landfill waste to nearly zero.

Engineers soon realized that these new composite panels could actually be incorporated into plywood panels for incredible stability, and that they represented an even more efficient use of wood fiber.


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