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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.

leed and other certifications
The LEED benefits of specifying hardwood plywood decorative panels depends largely on your core selection. The available LEED (2009) credits include:

  • MR 4.1 and 4.2: Recycled Content
  • EQ 4.4: Indoor Air Quality (NAUF)
  • MR 5.1 and 5.2: Regional Materials
  • MR 7.0: Certified Wood (FSC-certified)

Some specific LEED credits that may apply to particular products, depending on how they are specified, include:

  • Particleboard core: All of the above with specific green material blends.
  • CFC veneer core: EQ 4.4, MR 5.1, MR 5.2, MR 7.0.
  • Veneer core: EQ 4.4, MR 5.1, MR 5.2, MR 7.0.

In addition to FSC, NAUF, and CARB 2, another relevant certification to consider when choosing a supplier is the ECC Sustainability Standard. ECC focuses on life-cycle inventory and other verifiable environmental practices, and highlights the responsible use of wood fiber and agrifiber by composite panel manufacturers. For more information, visit ECCproduct.org.

Here’s a summary of the green practices maintained by progressive, vertically integrated hardwood plywood producers:

  • Company-owned forests are carefully managed and regenerated to ensure a constant supply of healthy wood fiber, as well as healthy, productive forestlands.
  • Some forestlands are third-party certified, whether under the FSC, the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), or another program.
  • Wood waste from one product line is utilized in another; i.e., off fall from the veneer plant is used in particleboard and MDF. Landfilling waste is kept to an absolute minimum.
  • Fiber not suitable for any product line is used to fuel and heat the production plants, reducing fossil fuel dependence.
  • Vertically integrated manufacturing facilities allow producers to utilize more wood under one roof, reducing transportation-related carbon emissions.

A combination of these factors has resulted in some composite wood panels being declared “better than carbon neutral” in a recent Life Cycle Inventory Analysis (LCIA).

advice from a veneer specialist
“Keep in mind, wood is a natural product,” says veteran veneer expert Bob Nurre. “That’s the beauty of it, and the curse.”

Wood’s Soulful Resonance

There’s something about the way wood touches us, both visually and sonically, that defies explanation.

Wood is a living material, even after it has been harvested. When it comes to the world’s finest musical instruments—stringed instruments especially—scientists are still struggling to understand why wood’s resonance and tone continues to improve as the decades (or centuries!) pass, and as they are “played in.”

Before leaving the legendary Steinway factory in Queens, New York, each concert grand spends time in the “pounding room,” where a machine bangs on all 88 keys at once to open up its sound. Great mandolin players have been known to park new instruments in front of speakers blaring bluegrass recordings for hours on end to hasten the breaking in of the wood.

Instruments that have gone untouched for years, or even months, will start to sound dead, but they can easily be brought back to life simply by playing them. It’s almost as if the wood from which they’re made has a soul.

Photograph by Kenn Busch

“Trees have limbs on them, so you’re going to have knots,” he adds. “Every tree in the forest is different, and each sheet of veneer is a work of art unique unto itself. Each crate of veneer can also be quite different. Oak from Maine and Vermont isn’t the same as oak that comes from Wisconsin. And you can’t really specify that all your veneer comes from one place or another.”

Nurre, who has been in the business since 1980 and often works with architectural specifiers—sometimes helping them make selections in a room full of raw veneers—has seen the quality of available woods change over time.

“The old-growth logs are gone, and some species, like chestnut, have been wiped out by blight; you can’t get that at all anymore. So we’re working now with younger trees and some hybrids, and they are different in character than the woods we had 25 or 50 years ago. In some parts of the world it’s a different story. I worked for 5 years setting up a plywood mill in Russia, and saw virgin timber there that we haven’t had here for 75 years.”

When it comes to demand for face-grade veneer species, Nurre says even five years is a long time.

“The mix is always changing. Five years ago, oak was the most popular, followed by birch, with maple a distant third. Now, maple’s number one by a large margin. Alder, which was barely on the map five years ago, suddenly has a lot of interest; it started in the Northwest, and is making its way east. Red oak is now a distant third.”

Nurre notes that even though alder, which has a more rustic, knotty look, is popular right now, the straight-grain look hasn’t gone away. White maple, plain sliced for a straight grain, is similarly hot right now. “We did very little of that five years ago,” he says.

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In some cases, designers try to use a less expensive veneer to try and mirror premium woods. Heartwood red birch, for instance, works well for this, but it’s hard to get enough veneer from the heartwood of a birch tree.

A word of advice if you’re planning to use a fair amount of wood in your projects: Be sure not to specify only from a small sample. Samples are very small parts of larger panels, so the piece you’re viewing probably won’t be representative of the character of a full sheet.

In short, nothing else looks, feels, or ages like wood. And while it is one of nature’s most perfect renewable resources, we must carefully manage our use to ensure future generations will have the opportunity to love it as much as we do. To that end, hardwood plywood decorative panels offer the best possible combination of natural beauty, engineered performance, and environmental responsibility.


References


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