U. S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service
FOREST PRODUCTS LABORATORY
In cooperation with the University of Wisconsin
WOOD, A MATERIAL WITH A FUTURE
By F. J. CHAMPION
Associate Technical Writer
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WISCONSIN CARPENTER & BUILDER
S.Convention Number, 1936.
WOOD, A MATERIAL WITH A FT^'3
F. J. CHAMPICII,
Associate Technical Writer
Wood is the universal material; no one has ever made a satisfactory
count of its uses and known where to stop. For instance, the Forest Products
Laboratory undertook a few years an to make an official count of wood uses,
and the number went over four thousand. At about that stage arguments
began on how general or how particular a use had to be to get on the list.
It is hardly fair, when summing up the score for wood uses, to
say "building construction, put down a point for wood and stop there. It
would be fairer to enumerate building parts such as sills, joists, studding,
lath, moulding, sheathing, siding, shingles, and all the different items of
lumber manufacture, since all have perfectly well defined functions or
uses in the finished structure. Some are there for bending strength, others
for tension, others for compression, still others for protection of various
kinds, and some for good looks -- that's a use, too, and an important one.
(So the score is certainly nearer five thousand uses for wood
than one thousand and perhaps nearer a hundred thousand than five thousand
if you count some of the new conversion products of wood. There is practi-
cally no limit; one well-known cellulose plastic alone claims 25,000 uses,
all the way from doll's eyes to advertising signs. Every day the use of
wood fiber as the basis of such products is increasing./
The American nation was founded and built up on wood use. Wood
plays an important part in practically every activity of our life today,
and its importance in the American scheme of living is increasing and will
There is, it is true, an indisputable tendency in many fields
today to "get aw.vay from wood" -- concrete, metals, and all sorts of new
materials are ccmirni in.
It may be timely to wonder if, in the same fields, there may not
be, after some of the "newer" materials have been suicjected to service tests
by that inexorable scientist Father Time, a balancing tendency to "get back
to wood." /
Be that as it mr.-T, Science is giving us such freedom of choice
that all our materials mean more to us than formerly, while none can be said
to be strictly indispensable; that is the advantage of living in a scientific
age. There is one thing about wood, however; it is the handiest all-around
abundant material, and the use of something else usually carries some kind
of job for wood along with it. Even concrete construction has created outlets
for thousands of board feet of form material. The more complicated the
buildinL, stadium, wharf, or bridge, the more ro: Ison for usir:, wood forms.
Ev..n in the metals, machinery and other complicated gear of the
age in which we live, wood does its part in :.iki:,; it all possible -- from
the i:inin- and smelting of the ore, through the foundry, with its beautifully
tooled wood patterns which determine the exact size and shape of castings,
and so on to the i '.ck -ir and shipping and the transportation of the finished
goods into service. It seems that all the thousands of new uses for metals
and machinery are uses for wood at the same time.
Fifty billion -- that's a lot of anything and that's the measure
of the wood used every year (in the form of lumber, fuel, and every form of
wood) in this country. Fifty billion board feet of lumber would build a
board walk 40 feet wide out of inch boards from the easy chair where you are
sitting to the moon. !
Of all the uses into which this vast stream of lumber flows,
building, and especially home construction, is easily the most important.
From the very beginning, abundant wood resources have enabled Americans to
have a roof over their heads and generally a good one. Wood makes a satis-
factory home by either the old or the new standards, and work is in progress
at the Forest Prodicts Laboratory to adapt wood to what :.' be the home of
the future. Wood is strong, light, economical, adaptable, convenient, and
formed 'by nature in its very microscopic structure to resist the passage of
heat and cold. Some of the wood houses of the early -:w r.-lar.d settlers are
still standing and in use, and the most famous home in America still stands
as an example of wood construction and a monument to the good judgment and
good taste of our country's first president. When home building really hits
its stride, to make up the shortage that now exists, wood, the traditional
American material, will be found doing a big share of the work, and doing it
well, as it has always done.
Next to building, with its tremendous influence on prosperity,
the most important use of wood is probably its service to the intellectual
life of the nation in the form of the cheap and abundant paper on which we
print our books, magazines, and newspapers. (Two hundred pounds annually is
every man's share of :ape-r goods of all kinds at present, as contrasted with
the less than 10 pounds per year per person in the old rijvs when the rea- man .
was the chief gatherer of paper-making raw materials. About one-third of
the paper used carries reading matter, or if you interpret the work br:.'dl.r,
educational material. /Th.-: other two-thirds of the paper pulp makeE life
easier for us in many ways. It gives us strong shippilrn.- containers for all
kinds of merchandise, sanitary yacka'es for our prunes, breakfast food,
butter, ice cream and edibles of all kinds; it saves labor in the kitchen
by giving our wives poper plates and cups, and even paper knives and forks
and spoons; it aids public health by furnishing disposable napkins, towels,
and handkerchiefs; it wraps or bags all our groceries, meats, and dry goods
sold over the counter.) It is predicted that we shall be using double the
present consumption of raper by 1950.
A number of wood uses rank close to paper. To run our trains,
wood is as necessary as steel; no suitable substitute has even been found for
the hundreds of millions of wooden cross ties. Wooden poles carry our
telephone, telegraph, and power lines. To come back home, life is much more
worth living because we have wooden furniture, with its strength, lightness,
fine appearance, and warmth under the hand. More than many of us realize
wood is still the old reliable fuel for both heating and cooking; this is
really the first use of wood in point of volume, exceeding even building.
And nobody can predict what the future will bring in this matter of wood
fuel; both gas and alcohol are already being made from wood that promise a
great deal in the way of automobile fuel in times not far distant. Within
the year a German scientist drove his car from Berlin to England on the gas
from wood that cost him only $4.
So it goes; implements for work and play, household utensils, toys,
boats, ladders, tubs, boxes, barrels, candlesticks, buttons, gunstocks, and
conveniences arnd necessities unnumbered are supplied by wood at every turn --
literally from the cradle to the grave.
No, we have not outgrown "the age of wood" by any means; in fact,
according to present indications, we are only growing into it.
A new Wood Handbook, in which wood is defined in technical
properties and behavior, is a publication of interest to wood users generally
which embodies the results of 25 years of research by the Forest Products
Laboratory at Madison, Wisconsin. It treats of all the practical rhases of
wood use, including the mechanical properties of wood and the facts recently
developed in rea-.rd to ring placement, fatigue effects, the various factors
affecting strength; control of decay and insect dar..a-, classification of
woods for painting, timber for outdoor use, preservative treatment, and
treating for effective fire resistance. Distinctly modern fields of use
are covered in a section on glued, laminated, and composite wood construction.
C:'pies of the Handbook may be obtained for 25 cents stampss not
accepted) from the Superintendent of Docume:-its, Government Printing Cffice,
WVashington, D. C.
UNIvERSIT OF FLORIDA
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