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Getting Technical: Wood Hardness, Part 5: Resources
Scott Leavengood of Oregon State University was kind enough to pull together this list of resources for those of you interested in learning more about wood hardness.

ASTM Standard D143, 2009, "Standard Test Methods for Small Clear Specimens of Timber," ASTM International, West Conshohocken, PA, 2009, 31 p.

ASTM Standard E10, 2012, "Standard Test Method for Brinell Hardness of Metallic Materials," ASTM International, West Conshohocken, PA, 2012, 32 p.

ASTM Standard D7136, 2012. “Standard Test Method for Measuring the Damage Resistance of a Fiber-Reinforced Polymer Matrix Composite to a Drop-Weight Impact Event,” ASTM International, West Conshohocken, PA, 2012, 16 p.

Bektas, I., M.H. Alma, and N. As. 2001. Determination of the relationships between Brinell and Janka hardness of eastern beech (Fagus orientalis Lipsky). Forest Products Journal 51(11/12):84-88.

Forest Products Laboratory. 1999, “Wood Handbook—Wood as an Engineering Material,” Gen. Tech. Rep. FPL–GTR–113. Madison, WI: USDA, Forest Service, Forest Products Laboratory. 463 p.

Niemiec, S., G.R. Ahrens, S. Willits, and D.E. Hibbs. 1995. Hardwoods of the Pacific Northwest, Research Contribution 8. Forest Research Laboratory, Oregon State University.

And more casual but interesting stories and looks at Janka:

Article from How Wood Hardness is Measured
Getting (Really!) Technical: Wood Hardness, Part 4: Janka vs. Brinell
We’re back with Scott Leavengood of OSU talking about wood hardness. Scott already gave us a detailed look at Janka. This time, we’re going to look at Brinell.

Scott, there is another way of testing hardness, right?

When wood scientists and wood science textbooks talk about wood hardness, it’s almost universally (from my experience anyway) a reference to Janka hardness. However, there’s another test known as the Brinell hardness test, named after Swedish engineer Johan August Brinell.  The ASTM test for Brinell hardness is ASTM E10, but please note that this test is specifically for metallic objects – there is no ASTM standard for measuring the Brinell hardness of wood.

What’s the difference between the two?

As we discussed, the Janka test is where they take a steel ball and push it in one half the depth of the ball. They note the pressure it took to get to that depth. It’s basically a force rating. But with the Brinell, the force is a constant. The test involves pushing in a steel ball at a fixed pressure for a fixed period of time. A measurement is made of the diameter of the indentation which is then used to calculate a formal rating. It’s more of a measure of the “give” of the wood.

There is another variable—the type of ball used. Brinell is expressed as an “HBW” where the last letter indicates the type of ball used – ‘W’ for tungsten carbide, ‘S’ for hardened steel.

So the Brinell is a calculation? It’s not simple like Janka, an actual measured pressure number?

I once was told that every formula in an article cut the number of readers in half, so I hesitate to get more technical. In simple terms, Brinell hardness is calculated by dividing the test force by the surface area of the indentation. But if you want the actual math….

The test (to determine HBW 10/100--which means using a tungsten carbide ball of 10mm and a pressure of applied load of 100kg) is conducted as follows: The ball is brought into contact with the surface of the test specimen; the test machine head should move quickly enough such that the full load (100 kg) is reached within 1-8 seconds. This load is held for 10-15 seconds (possibly longer if the material “exhibits excessive plastic flow”) and released. The diameter (in two locations – one along the grain the other across the grain, 90° to the first measurement) of the indentation is then measured. The Brinell Hardness number is then calculated as:

 brinell formula.jpg
Where: HBW = Brinell Hardness
F = nominal force (kgf)
D = diameter of the ball (mm)
d = diameter of the indentation (average of the 2 measurements in mm)


If that formula makes your head hurt, again it’s essentially the test force divided by the surface area of the indentation.

And what does that mean for wood?

As an example, if the average indentation diameter was measured as 5.6 mm, then HBW 10/100 would be 3.7, which is about the average for red oak.

You told me previously that the Janka for northern red oak is 1290 lbs. Is there any relationship?

Do you mean that if someone reported Brinell hardness for a species, could we convert it to Janka, or vice-versa?

Unfortunately, there is no such conversion factor, although some have tried to develop one. For example, Turkish researchers measured Janka hardness and Brinell hardness for eastern beech and then used linear regression to determine how closely they were related. The good news is they found that the values were related closely enough that “the Janka hardness of the wood specimens of eastern beech species could be converted into Brinell hardness and vice versa.”

And the bad news?

The bad news is the underlined part – a different formula must be determined for every species.

I guess the wood industry will stay with Janka for the moment, but it’s great to understand the difference. Thank you!
Getting Technical: Wood Hardness, Part 3: Comparing Species
Scott Leavengood of Oregon State University has more numbers for us this week on wood hardness. (Click here to see last week's post on the incredible variation in Janka hardness he found in just one board.)

Scott, you did some more testing for us?

Yes, we did some other species that we had around the office.  For ponderosa pine, the average hardness on the tangential face was 490 lbs. and 504 lbs. for the radial face of the same piece (the published value is 460 lbs.).  Red alder showed more of a difference—but again, in the opposite direction than I expected—the average hardness on the radial face was 563 lbs., and it was 828 lbs. on the tangential face (the published value is 590 lbs.).

The table below shows the other species and results.  As you can see, for the species we tested, only ponderosa pine had an average anywhere close to published values.  All the others were much harder than what is published.   

OWIC test data chart.jpg

So what’s going on here? Clearly the least we can say that wood is variable—highly variable! But do you have any explanations? Or advice on how to use this?  

I can’t explain it all, unfortunately. On the black oak flooring, we saw a range in Janka hardness of nearly 1,000 lbs. in tests conducted about 2 inches apart on the same piece!  

We do need to keep in mind that the published values for these species are for tests conducted on wood at 12% moisture content (we tested the samples at about 6% moisture content—and the strength properties increase as the moisture content decreases, i.e., wood is stronger when it’s drier). Further, the published values are for hundreds of test specimens.  We only looked at 3-10 tests per sample here. It could well be if we tested a few hundred more boards, we’d come up with more similar values.   

Wrapping things up here, what do these values really mean?  

Again, they are a good measure of one critical property of flooring: resistance to indentation. But given the variability, how reliable are they?  All wood is variable, so really the best we can do is specify an average,  but maybe listing an average with a range and sample size wouldn’t hurt!

Is there some other property we could measure that would tell us something similar about resistance to denting in flooring?  

The Janka and Brinell tests (I’ll look at Brinell later, OK?) both involve a relatively slow, steady pressure to examine resistance to indentation.  However, many times we are also worried about dents that occur from dropped objects for example, that is, from an impact vs. slow steady pressure. Well, there are test methods for impact as well (such as ASTM D7136), and we do these sorts of tests on wood plastic composites and other materials at OWIC.  However I’ve never heard of any such tests being applied to solid wood flooring. It certainly could be an interesting way to evaluate different materials as well as the effect of different types of finishes, for example a hard, brittle finish vs. a more pliable finish.  

Can you do some more tests for us in another blog post? I’m curious about engineered wood flooring in particular.


My thanks to Scott (and Trina) for their help on this.  Scott has promised to do more testing on floors, so we’ll return to this topic later this year.
Getting Technical: Wood Hardness, Part 2: Variations in Results
We’re back with Scott Leavengood of Oregon State University (OSU) talking about wood hardness.

Scott, last week you talked about how, scientifically, the Janka test is designed. Now, this week, tell me about how incredibly inconsistent the results can be!

Well, it certainly doesn’t take long for people that work with wood to realize the enormous variability in this wonderful, renewable raw material. Part of that has already been addressed with regards to grain orientation; as discussed earlier, the ASTM Janka hardness test specifies measuring hardness on the radial surface, tangential surface, and end grain. It’s logical that there’s variability between species, of course—oak is much harder than basswood. But there’s also variability within species, and even within an individual board.

So we can assume that hardness varies with grain orientation. But by how much does it vary?

Janka hardness is one of the properties we measure often at the Oregon Wood Innovation Center (OWIC). So we decided to do a little test: We measured Janka hardness on several pieces of wood we had lying around, including a piece of California black oak (which is in the red oak species group).

The published Janka hardness value for this species is 1,100 lbs., which is not quite as hard as the generally accepted level of 1,290 lbs. for northern red oak. We tested this small piece of quartersawn flooring in five places, including a couple of times on or near a knot and got an average hardness of 3,066 lbs.—nearly three times the published value! But again, we tested right on or very near a knot in a couple places. But even without those knotty values, the average hardness is 2,521 lbs., which is well over twice the published value—and the range was from 1,810 lbs. to 2,948 lbs., again, not including the two tests directly on a knot:

oak flooring janka variation.jpg

Normally we expect higher values on a radial face (quartersawn) than on a tangential face (flatsawn). However, our tests on other pieces didn’t show that to be the case. In fact, there was either no substantial difference, or the results went the other way.

Fascinating. Love that oak picture—such amazing variation. Any idea why is there such a difference in hardness even on the same piece for measurements taken just a few inches apart?

It wasn’t at all obvious looking at the samples, so we decided to look under the microscope. And right off the bat, I’d like to thank Trina Evensen, one of my Renewable Materials students, for doing all the hardness testing and microscope work.

Trina cut through the indented portions of the California black oak flooring to have a closer look. These are both from the same piece of flooring and, again, about 2 inches apart. Can you see a difference? On the lower piece that rated at 1810 lbs., the wood cells fractured, so the failure was relatively abrupt:

black oak flooring janka test.jpg

The dots you see inside the circled area are the large earlywood pores (end grain). Compare that to the sample on the top, and you can’t see any fractured cells or end grain. These cells simply compressed and deformed throughout the duration of the test, so the hardness value was quite high.

This is the first time I’ve looked at a hardness test this way, but it does seem to agree with what I’ve seen many times—when the test values are low, you typically see fractures within the indentations; and when they are high, the indentations are often very smooth—almost like you’d see on metal or plastic.  

Fascinating, Scott, thank you! Can we do more?

Absolutely! I’ll pull together a few more numbers for you and then you can also send me some samples and I’ll get you more tests later this year.

Sounds like a plan, thank you!
Getting Technical: The Scoop on Wood Hardness, Part 1: What is Janka?
Continuing our series, “Getting Technical,” this week, I’m going back to Oregon State University’s Wood Innovation Center to talk to Scott Leavengood, about wood hardness. Scott has agreed to offer up a multi-part miniseries on wood hardness. This week we’re going to start by discussing Janka generally and then we’re going to go in depth, really “hit the point” into the wood. (That word play that makes more sense when you consider what the Janka test really is…)

Janka test ball.jpg
The tip of a Janka test ball.

When it comes to flooring, there’s one physical characteristic that seems to be the first question many people ask: What’s the hardness? Most folks seem to feel that’s going to indicate the performance of the product. Certainly, most of us understand that the quality of manufacturing, particularly the quality and type of finish, will be more important in the long term than the wood itself, but we still need to understand hardness basics. So how is it measured? And how reliable and valid are the test results? Scott and I take a shot at addressing those questions in this and subsequent posts. And to the readers, please know while we may get a bit technical at times, you’re going to want to pay attention to this series—I think some of the test results that Scott and his team did specifically for this series will really interest you!

Scott, thanks for doing this. So let’s start by just looking at “Janka.” Can you give me something of the history of the test? For example, what does the name mean? And how is it pronounced properly? Hard J or soft? “jan-ka or” “yank-a?”

Well, everybody I know calls it the Janka test with a hard J, however, given that it's named for an Austrian, I wonder if the Y isn't more accurate. Maybe it's like “rodeo”— ask a Texan how to pronounce it, then ask a native Spanish speaker... And according to everyone’s very fast reference source, it’s related to the name “John,” which would imply the softer version, as well.

The Austrian in question is Gabriel Janka, who worked for the Forest Products Lab of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). He was asked to scientifically measure the hardness for U.S. hardwoods. He developed this test that we use to this day (since formalized by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM)).

OK, so how are we going to test for this?

In many tests of material properties, we measure one property to serve as an indicator of some other property of interest. For example, veneer mills often measure how long it takes for a sound wave to travel from end-to-end on a sheet of veneer; in simple terms, the faster the travel time, the higher the density of the wood and therefore, in general, the greater the strength. This technique is used to grade veneer for engineered wood products, like the flanges on wood I-beams used for floor joists.

Hardness, however, is one of those properties where we essentially directly measure the property of interest. With a wood floor, one critical performance criteria is the likelihood of the wood denting due to pressure from a stiletto heel, the tip of a small chair leg, a rock stuck in the sole of a shoe, etc. And so the standard test methods essentially replicate that process by embedding a metal ball into the wood and then reporting the force required.

So I can take any ball bearing and try to push it into wood?

As with every good scientific test, you want to follow an established standard so that your test results can be duplicated by others. We use the ASTM’s standard D143 for measuring the mechanical and physical properties of small clear specimens of wood.

The standard specifies using “clear specimens” to avoid the variability that can occur due to features such as knots, pitch streaks/pockets, decay, etc. While we rarely use “small clear specimens” in practice, we have greater assurance that we can compare species since the published test values were from tests conducted on clear materials. That is, it would make little sense to compare the hardness of red oak measured on a knot vs. the hardness of hard maple measured on clear wood.

So what are the specifications for a Janka test?

ASTM D143 measures hardness by measuring the weight force required to embed a 0.444 inch diameter ball to half its diameter into a test specimen. (See the image at the top of the blog? Note, the collar ensures the technician is able to stop the test when the ball is embedded to half its depth.) Of course we want to be more specific: The test standard further states that the load shall be applied continuously at a rate of ¼ inch per minute; test specimens should be 2” thick x 2” wide x 6” long and the test is to be conducted twice on a radial surface, twice on a tangential surface, and once on each end; the reported value is then the average of the six values (four on surface/edge grain plus two on end grain).  

Got it. What kind of results might we get?

The USDA Wood Handbook: Wood as an Engineering Material lists the side hardness (average of radial and tangential—but not end grain) values for dozens of wood species. For example, at 12% moisture content, the hardness for northern red oak is 1290 lbs., for sugar maple it’s 1450 lbs., and for basswood it’s 410 lbs.—so now you can stop wondering why we don’t see more basswood floors!

Do a Google search on “Janka floor rating” and you’ll see hundreds of colorful charts comparing species. Remember though, these are averages only and that many other factors are going to go into the final flooring performance.

Thanks, Scott.  Next week, let’s look at some actual tests.
Getting Technical: Wood Identification, Part 3: Tropicals
In our final post on wood identification with David Jones of Mississippi State University, we’re looking at tropical hardwoods. (Here are the links for Part 1 and Part 2 of our species ID discussions.)

David, again, thank you so much for doing this. To wrap up this basic review of wood identification through cell structure, tell us about tropical hardwoods.

Tropical hardwoods have their own unique challenges when trying to identify them using standard methods. The first challenge is that there are several species groups that utilize a common name that bears no relationship to the actual species of trees that they come from.

They are simply grouped together based on gross anatomical similarities, usually color, and because it makes some type of marketing sense. The best example of this is mahogany. True mahogany is part of Swietenia genus, but most of the legally traded mahogany is from species that are not considered true mahogany from a botanical standpoint. There are approximately 15 species that are traded now that are called mahogany. Most familiar would be the “African mahogany” grouping, which are various species in the Khaya genus, the use of “Philippine mahogany” to describe the Shorea genus (which is known most frequently as meranti in other countries) and, of course, the flooring industry identifies Myroxylon balsamum as santos mahogany.

Of course, this can happen in some temperate species, too, for example, the group of poplar, which can contain yellow-poplar or tulip-poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera), eastern cottonwood (Populus deltoides) and white poplar (Populus alba), of which the latter two are the only ones that are in the actual poplar genus. But it’s easier to identify temperate hardwoods than tropical.

Why is it difficult to identify tropical species?  

Tropical hardwoods often do not have the growth patterns as temperate trees. Because tropical trees have the ability to grow continuously throughout the year, growth ring boundaries are not present. Because we often rely on seasonal changes from earlywood to latewood or marginal parenchyma at the end of the growing season to help with identification, tropical hardwoods can be difficult to deal with.

Further, tropical hardwoods can vary in color, hardness and strength based on where they were grown, what the growing conditions were, and how they were handled after they were cut and turned into products. The sapwood of purpleheart (Peltogyne) is actually white before the heartwood is formed, and the heartwood is purple but oxidizes to brown after being exposed to air for an extended time. Greenheart can vary from brown to green. In both cases using color as an indicator is not recommended.

Isn't that true for temperate hardwoods and softwoods, too? Is there a greater difference between, say, ipé in Brazil and Paraguay or northern/southern red oak?

It is certainly true that the color of our temperate hardwoods can vary. Red oak is a good example of that—it can be a pinkish red or it can be completely white. However, I believe that the variation in color of tropical woods is much greater than that, often to the point that without looking more closely, you would think because of the color difference that the wood could not possibly be the same species.

Any other issues?

Finally, because tropical woods can also have silica deposits and gums in the pores, the hardness of two identical pieces of wood may be different. This difference is more often detected in the machining process rather than when a processed sample is being identified.

The bottom line is that, like many domestic woods, some identification can be done on gross anatomical features, but the majority of tropical woods need to be identified utilizing a microscope to look at the ultrastructure of the wood, and, even then, many of the species can only be identified down to genus or species group.

How then do you really know what the tree is—is it through leaves and bark and something else if you can't tell from a wood sample?

The only true way to know what species a wood/tree is is to examine the leaves, bark, and ultimately the flowers. Many of the different species are separated out on the characteristics of the reproductive parts of the tree. That's why telling the difference between red oak lumber that comes from different species of red oak is impossible to do without seeing the bark, leaves, buds, or flowers. Just looking at it through a microscope might tell us that it is red oak, not white, but I usually won’t know which red oak it is without seeing the tree itself. The challenges are magnified with many of the species in the tropical regions of the world.

So what does that mean for identification for legality purposes? Does that mean it's not always possible to know if the ipé is from Brazil or Paraguay? And would a DNA study possibly answer that?

With very rare exceptions, it is impossible to specify the location from which a sample of wood has come from using tools of wood identification. This is one reason why the potential of DNA testing is so important, although it hasn't met the expectations that we had, at least not yet. And DNA, of course, tells us more where the wood was from, rather than answering that basic question of what the wood is.

Thank you, David.
Getting Technical: Wood Identification, Part 2: The Cells Themselves
We’re back with David Jones of Mississippi State University for more on wood identification (for Part 1, click here). He’s going to take us through the identification process for hardwoods.

David, where do we start?

You should prepare the surface of a wood sample before you examine its cells. Preparing the cross-sectional surface of a piece of wood properly can be frustrating and time consuming, but it is worthwhile. Make a thin, clean cut across the wood’s surface with a sharp knife or razor blade. Make the thinnest slice possible to reduce tearing of the wood.

After removing the slice, use a hand lens or magnifying glass to look at the surface. Identifying wood is often a process of elimination. Look for different cell types and write down what you observe. Your notes will help you remember what you have seen and help you identify the wood.

Are there a lot of different cell types to learn? And are they easy to tell apart?

There are four major cell types, fiber tracheids, vessels or pores, longitudinal parenchyma, and ray parenchyma. All of the cell types are easily identified, so there is no confusion about what they are, and each one serves a unique function in the tree.

Are cells the only thing to look at?

No, that’s just the start. After you determine a piece of wood is a hardwood, you should examine the pores in greater detail. Remember that hardwoods contain vessel elements, or pores, that softwoods do not have. You will want to examine the size, distribution, and changes in number of pores to identify the type of hardwood.

Hardwoods can be classified into three groups based on the pores:

• Ring-porous hardwoods, oaks and elms, have pores that transition from small to large abruptly from the earlywood to the latewood. The largest of the pores are clearly visible to the naked eye:

green blog - ring-porous hardwood.jpg

• Semi-ring porous hardwoods such as walnut, pecan, and hickory have pores that gradually change from small to large in a growth ring:

Green blog - semi ring porous hardwoods.jpg

• Diffuse-porous hardwoods yellow poplar, gum, and maple have pores that are the same size throughout the growth ring:

Green blog - diffuse porous hardwoods.jpg

Pores are also distributed in other ways in wood. They can be arranged as follows:

A. Solitary pores: Individual pores evenly spaced.
B. Pore chains: Multiple pores chained together.
C. Nested pores: Clusters of pores connected together.
D. Multiple pore: Two or more pores clustered together.
E. Wavy bands: Bands of pores with a wavy appearance.

Green Blog - wood pores.jpg
There is actually a lot of difference in these woods. The pictures really help, thank you. So we have cells and pores, and…?

And we have wood rays which look like small stripes that go from one edge of a piece of wood to the other edge on the cross-sectional face. Wood rays transport food and water horizontally in the tree.

The rays in most species are unique and allow for easy identification. Oaks, for example, have very large rays that are visible to the naked eye. Sycamores can also be easily identified by the number of rays.

That’s what makes “rift and quartered” flooring and other and other “figured” wood so distinctive, right?

Exactly. When you saw the lumber, you slice open these rays, making the surface patterns. But beyond the aesthetics, examining the tangential and radial surfaces of wood for the characteristics of rays can help you identify wood species. Rays vary both in height and width, so examining both surfaces is key. Looking at the tangential surface will allow you to look at ray height. Some rays are several inches tall, while others are difficult to see at all.

The rays in oak can be over an inch high (white oak) or less than an inch (red oak). Examining on the radial surface will allow us to see what is called the ray fleck, of the wood. The fleck is where rays have been cut longitudinally and give, in the case of oaks or cherry a “tiger stripe” effect.

If rays are present in every hardwood, why don’t we see significant figure in most species?

Because many of the rays are only one cell wide, we call these unisariate rays. They can be so narrow in fact that without the aid of a microscope they can’t be seen.

And why do rays seem to shine?

The angles of the cell walls and the parenchyma cells around them tend to make them catch light in a desirable way. Many of the woods we utilize are simply used because of the way light seems to dance back from their surfaces.

That helps so much! So next week tropical hardwoods?

I can do that.
Getting Technical: Wood Identification, Part 1: Getting Started
This year, I think we need to explore more the science of wood. I’m going to be continuing the series “Getting Technical” that started with Chris Knowles of Oregon State University (OSU) discussing stable isotopes and DNA. This week I’m turning to David Jones of Mississippi State University for more on wood identification. He’s moving us from DNA in cells to the actual cell structure.

David, talk to me about cells!

Like a tree’s leaves, its cells and cell types are distinctive. Different cell types make it possible to identify wood long after all of the leaves and bark have been removed. The size, type, shape, and distribution of these cells allow the trees to transport water and nutrients to the crown and then food back to the cambium and roots, from the leaves.

Wood (also known as xylem) serves two functions in a standing tree. One function is to keep the tree standing tall and to withstand wind. The second function is to move water and nutrients from the soil to the leaves of the tree. After a tree has been harvested, water will continue to move in and out of the wood freely.

There are several wood types within a tree. They are named based on when the wood was formed or where the wood is within the tree. Heartwood is the center of older trees and is often darker because of the chemicals deposited there as the tree ages. Sapwood is the younger wood in a tree and is active in transporting water and nutrients. It generally has a lighter color and is closer to the bark.

Each year trees add one growth ring. In some species, the ring can be further separated into earlywood (wood formed in the Spring) and latewood (wood formed during the summer).

What about the differences between hardwood and softwood?

That’s right--trees are generally classified into two different types: hardwoods and softwoods. This classification has nothing to do with the wood itself, but with the type of leaves and flowers the tree has. However, we will also note significant differences in their cell structures as well.

About 90 to 95 percent of softwood cells are called longitudinal tracheids. They transport water. Because there are so few other cell types in softwoods, it can be difficult to distinguish between types of softwoods.

The structure of hardwoods is much more complex. There is also a lot of variation from one species of tree to another in hardwoods. Hardwoods contain vessel elements, or pores, that softwoods do not have. Pores vary greatly; they can be very small, very large, present in great numbers, or almost completely absent. If pores are present, the wood is a hardwood. If no pores are present, it is likely a softwood.  Tropical hardwoods have their own distinctive look, so I’ll cover them separately.

Got it. So how do we use this to identify wood species?

There are three surfaces, or planes, that we look at to identify wood. These surfaces allow us to see different cells and structures in the wood.

Wood material orientation.jpg

When a tree is cut down, the flat surface of the stump is the cross-sectional surface. The cross-sectional surface shows most of the cell types needed to identify wood. The tangential surface is the next most important surface, followed by the radial surface.

That’s a great start. Next week, can you walk me through the identification process?

Absolutely. We’ll prep some samples for you to study!
Getting Technical: Your Wood’s DNA, Part 2
We’re continuing our talk with Chris Knowles of Oregon State University and how DNA analysis can be used in real world legality programs.

Chris, can and should companies build DNA analysis into their due care programs now? How would they go about that?

Currently, scientists around the world are working to develop genographic maps that can be used to verify the provenance of wood products. These genographic maps reflect the ecological and evolutionary variation present in forests and contain information about the distribution of genetic types for trees across a landscape. There may be a future where “genetic checkpoints” could be used to identify shipments of illegally harvested wood products.

But while DNA is promising, there are several challenges to DNA analysis being used immediately in the real world. For example, we do not have a significant number of public genographic maps available. Companies would have to develop their own, which may or may not be feasible for any number of reasons.

Naturally, the first challenge in creating a map for your forest unit would be the expense associated with the process. While improvements in technology have driven down the cost of DNA analysis, it does still add expense to what in many cases is a low-margin business. In addition to the costs associated with the analysis, there is cost associated with the collection of samples for testing and samples for reference.

Ideally, a sample would be taken from every tree harvested from a unit. These samples could be stored and used to develop reference samples in the event that a concern is raised about the origin of wood products from that stand at some point in the future. This process results in cost associated with collection of the samples, cost associated with storing the collected samples, and then cost associated with analyzing the samples should that ever become necessary. These additional costs may or may not be feasible, depending upon the overall value of the transaction.

That’s a lot of costs! Do you have a ballpark figure on what just one single DNA sample test would cost?

There’s no established costing for tree DNA testing. We see advertisements for DNA analysis for paternity testing in humans with costs as low as $75 per test. Other tests used to help people determine ancestry begin at about $150. As discussed before, many of the cells in wood do not contain DNA, so the process of finding useable DNA from wood cells is often more difficult than from human cells. This often leads to higher costs.

What other challenges do we face?

An additional challenge that people rarely recognize at first is related to the nature of seed stock. For many commercially valuable species around the world, clones are utilized when reforesting. These clones, of course, have the exact same genetic material within each clonal variety planted. Stands can be composed of one clonal variety or multiple clonal varieties. One clonal variety may be planted across multiple stands. Consequently, while the results of DNA analysis may confirm the clonal variety of the species, they do not provide any guarantee that the tree was harvested from the stand of interest. This is why it is important that if companies choose to utilize DNA analysis, that it is used as part of a larger due diligence/due care program.

Natural forests and naturally regenerated forests compound this challenge. The genetic profile within a given species varies by region, so it could be possible to determine the region that a piece of wood came from, assuming that there is an adequate base of reference samples to be compared with. However, there are currently limits to how specific the technology can be. It has been shown that differences between species can be identified for trees located within a few kilometers of each other. This helps minimize, but does not eliminate, the chance of illegal wood entering the supply chain.

Take, for example, two adjacent forests with similar species compositions, one is a protected reserve where logging is forbidden and the other is an actively managed forest where harvest is legal and active. DNA analysis may be able to tell you that the wood in question came from the region that contains these two forests but may not be able to determine which of the two forests it came from. The genetic variation that is present in these forests is the result of natural evolutionary forces and is not related to the arbitrary man-made boundaries placed in the area. This challenge illustrates how DNA can be a useful tool as part of a larger due care/due diligence program but may not be adequate by when used in isolation.

A third challenge would be simply access. Could every company get access to the original forest data? Even the first buyer might have trouble tracking all the material from a harvesting contract by another company. Then to track that DNA data all the way down the chain, as the product was further processed—it’s a logistical nightmare. In this case, we’re not just tracking a production run as either “produced by a certified company” the way FSC does, or as a production lot, the way CARB does it. We’re talking about trying to track every tree and every stick of lumber produced from that tree and then every piece of floor created from the lumber ... access and logistics are a clear challenge.

Clearly we’re a long way from this being a routine check, then. Any time frame on when it might be more feasible?

The future of DNA analysis is promising. Scientists are constantly moving this technology forward, resulting in more accurate results at a lower cost. This field is still relatively young and is evolving rapidly. This evolution is improving the ability of DNA analysis to pinpoint the origin of wood products and it is likely that at some point in the future we will be able to accurately identify the geographical origin of products to within a very small area. But I doubt you’ll see it used regularly, much less routinely, for a decade or more.

Thank you, Chris!
Getting Technical: Your Wood’s DNA, Part 1
Chris Knowles, assistant professor at the Oregon Wood Innovation Center of Oregon State University wrote a very educational piece on “stable isotope analysis” and how it may be used to determine wood's legality for us last year. He’s back to teach us about the partner technology, DNA analysis.

Chris, thanks for doing this again. So first, DNA—why should we learn about this?

That’s an easy one. Legislation aimed at mitigating illegal logging such as the Lacey Act and the European Union Timber Regulation have made it necessary to be able to accurately identify the species of wood products and determine the origin of these products.

However, it is often difficult, if not impossible, to identify the species of a piece of wood using traditional wood identification methods. DNA analysis has been shown to significantly improve the identification process by comparing your sample to a set of reference samples. DNA analysis is also being promoted as a tool that can be used to determine the origin of products.

OK, give us the DNA ABC’s.

DNA is the hereditary material, or genetic code, of living organisms. DNA stores biological information about living organisms (and organisms after they die). Almost every cell in a human has the same DNA. DNA is usually stored in the nucleus of the cell, although some DNA is stored in the mitochondria of cells.

If you watch any crime series on TV you are familiar with the way Hollywood claims we can use DNA to identify anything and everything biological. Of course, as you can imagine, Hollywood stretches DNA analysis techniques on TV beyond the actual current limits of science.

In humans, the majority of our cells have some DNA in the nucleus, and we can use DNA extracted from these cells to compare to DNA of a reference sample with a fairly high degree of certainty.

So it’s the same thing for trees, right?

Unfortunately, trees are not like humans, and trees have limited amounts of DNA present in the living cells of trees. To complicate matters, most of the cells in a standing tree are dead, and DNA degeneration (or breaking down into smaller pieces) begins soon after the cells of the tree die. This means that it is considerably more difficult to extract useable DNA material from wood cells than it is from human cells. Luckily, geneticists have figured out methods to reliably extract useable DNA material in most cases.

But I think that’s enough of the science of DNA—I want to talk about the practical issues in using DNA analysis as a tool for tracking the origin of forest products.

After all, there has been a lot of discussion in recent years about utilizing DNA analysis as a tool to reduce illegal logging. When used appropriately, DNA analysis can be an effective tool as part of a company’s due diligence or due care program. This tool can be used to help confirm the country of origin, region of origin, and, with the appropriate reference materials, may even be able to identify the stand of origin.

OK, then next week we’ll tackle using DNA analysis in the real world of international wood trade. Thank you, Chris!

And for the readers, in the meantime, if you’d like more information about DNA in the timber trade, these two articles might be useful:

Tracing Timber From Forest to Consumer with DNA Markers

The Application of DNA Methods to Timber Tracking and Origin Verification
Guest Blog: Contracting Green
So we’re back with our guest blogger, Scott Avery, of our Contractor Blog, talking about “what is green” to a contractor. (See our post last week about job-site finishes here.)

So Scott, how important do you think “green” is to your customers? On a scale of 1-10? And where does it rank again price or appearance?

Scott: Most people who have hired us generally are seeking value in a project by having long-lasting floors. They don’t really request things being “green” because the word became sort of clichéd for intelligent consumers about four to five years ago. Customers tend to listen to our suggestions, because I approach everything thinking about LCA first and pricing comes afterwards.
What do you do if your customer says they are focused on being “green,” but are making what you consider to be poor green decisions?

Scott: I generally present the pros and cons of the decision and leave it in their hands based on realistic expectations. If the project is just a bunch of smoke and mirrors, then I will pass and let someone else handle it. It works out a lot better because you develop a consistent like-minded base of thoughtful customers instead of those easily swayed by false marketing claims.

Do you have any tricks to keep a job site green? Dust catching systems? Something you can recycle or do to minimize waste? Any cleanup tips?

Scott: Dust collection systems are more or less for our benefit, but I think any contractor who seeks to be competitive these days needs to be conscious of dust. Because we sanded a lot of floors in Portland where the houses are older, we tried to approach sanding delicately and preserve the floor. Often I would talk people into restoring what they had when it made sense instead of a full replacement with new flooring or carpet. If you look at the trash pile remaining after a 700-square-foot refinish, it is certainly dwarfed by the trash from simply changing out carpet, plus the dust is compostable (unless it has lead). With that in mind, I feel like anyone who is refinishing floors under carpet is doing a good thing for the environment.

How important is LEED to you or your customers?

Scott:  We never ran into LEED because we were heavy residential remodeling and never did projects where LEED was a factor, so I’m not able to answer. What I tend to notice, though, is that because LEED projects are driven by the architect, there is little opportunity for product input from the contractor by the time you are involved in most cases.

Does your average customer care about FSC?

Scott: We would occasionally be asked for FSC products and would provide the materials when it was necessary. What I found often was that once you point to the additional cost of many FSC-certified products, the importance of FSC falls in priority for a residential customer. Often when I would present products that may have had sustainable harvesting in place but would lack an actual certification, their ears would perk back up due to the lower cost and similar value.

Does your typical customer know about Lacey?

Scott: I used Lacey as more of a discussion point to explain how the closed loophole had applied pricing pressure to exotics. So the customer wouldn’t actually ask about the Lacey Act, but it would be a useful tool later in illustrating hardwood market dynamics and why adding Brazilian cherry floor in the living room was going to cost $1 square foot more than last year.

Does your typical customer ask about formaldehyde? And if so, how do you answer them?

Scott: Few people talk about formaldehyde. We very rarely install engineered flooring, so it wasn’t a big issue. Occasionally if we needed to use a conversion varnish, someone may ask about it because some contractors would misinform consumers about the levels within the product. We would clarify the misconception using MSDS data and educate the consumer on the difference between free and bound formaldehyde once the finish coat was dried. As you know, formaldehyde is one of these trigger points for consumers that is less relevant to a bigger picture of health, such as a balanced diet, exercise, and not living next to a toxic waste dump.

Scott, thank you so much for talking green with me. I learned a great deal, and there are some super tips in these posts.  Come back anytime!
Guest Blog: Site Finishes
We have a guest blogger this week, Scott Avery, who is no stranger at all to blogging. He contributes to the Contractor Blog on this site, but I’m dragging him away for a minute to talk about “what is green” to a contractor.

Hey Scott, thanks for doing this. Can you tell me first about what you area(s) you work in most?  

Scott: My background is in remodel and pretty much 98% unfinished flooring. I never do my own hand-scraping by choice. We use mostly solid flooring and do a lot of refinishing.

Ok, so let’s talk finishes first.  How do you sell a particular finish as green?

Scott: It is important to me to provide finish options for customers that are known for being durable and reliable in MY hands. I don’t try to sell one finish just because it’s 50 g/L lower in VOC if it has a reputation for being unreliable or I am not comfortable with using that finish. If a hot new finish has great VOC numbers yet has terrible workability, then risking reliability could be a death wish for any contractor in this industry.

Ultimately, longevity of a product matters most for the customer’s dollars and also down the road for my reputation.  I don’t want to get the call one year later that even though I sold someone on a finish because of VOC numbers that it needs a recoat or is wearing through. That makes me look bad and the industry as a whole.

Are there any site finishes you think aren’t particularly green?

Scott: Probably the only finish that is way off the scale for being green in my opinion is moisture-cured urethane. But, then again the durability of that finish is unparalleled, so if you consider Life Cycle Analysis it may be greener than we give it credit. I just wouldn’t want to breathe it on a regular basis because the xylene in it is nasty stuff.

That leads me to two questions—first, if something is that toxic, how do you handle that on the job site? Second, do you see any long-term risk for a customer? Does the xylene off gas quickly with no long term concerns? Remember, I don’t know much about site finishes, so this is very educational, thank you.

Scott: As for moisture-cured urethane, I have only used it to finish a few small porches in Oregon, so the airspace wasn’t as confined and a normal cartridge respirator was OK. The real issue with xylene is that it numbs your senses somewhat and you lose your sense of exposure if you inhale even a small amount. Having used MCU even a small amount I would say that I would choose not to use it at all before I would specify it on a job just because I dislike the vapors that much. I have little knowledge about the data for off gassing periods for MCU, so I cannot say what the threats are for a homeowner.

What do you think is the most important aspect of a finish being green? Is it low VOC’s or durability/length of use or something else?

Scott: This is sort of a two-pronged answer because longevity is key for me, but also the ease of servicing a product is important. For example, factory finishes with aluminum oxide may be extremely durable, but later maintenance with a recoat just doesn’t yield the same result as the original factory look. If you have ever tried to sand an aluminum oxide floor, the smell (even with dust collection and a mask) can be irritating to the eyes and lungs. In comparison hardwax oils, which are perceived as less durable than aluminum oxide, are extremely easy to service and age gracefully.

Ultimately, what we need to strive for in this industry if we are really being green is to provide customers with realistic expectations of each product scenario and deliver in accordance with what we promise. Sometimes customers see warranty numbers and truly expect perfect finish performance for the whole warranty period, which is unrealistic.

I agree completely that defining customers’ expectations is the key to success.  They need to be able to make informed decisions.  Tell me, do you think any of these points are different between a remodel and new construction product? That is, should someone doing a remodel have different issues?

Scott: I think timing is a big difference between the type of job and that can have an interesting impact on how you present things as green.  

For example, in new construction you have a more relaxed work environment and more control, so timing can factor less in your choice of materials. On the other hand, I see a tendency in contractors to give up jobsite control in remodeling by selling with VOC. They’ll tell a homeowner they can stay in the home while applying a final coat of low VOC finish.

Invariably those are the same homeowners who walk in during the final coat, open a door, letting in debris, etc…  That’s why regardless of my finish system I always tell homeowners to leave overnight while I apply a final coat because I want total control of the job site and particularly the airflow.

By removing the issue of “stay in your home,” it’s not a factor in their choice of finishes.  I can present homeowners with pros and cons of all my preferred finishing systems and schedule accordingly.  

Thanks for that—let’s take a break and next week talk about job-site green in general.
On the Show Floor at Surfaces 2014
As you all know, I'm at Surfaces in Las Vegas this week. Here's a photo of some of us in the NWFA/Hardwood Floors pavilion; this is a gathering of some of us who are working on the Formaldehyde Task Force:

EAB formaldehyde blog.jpg

And here's me and new NWFA staffer John Forbes. John is now the NWFA's Manufacturer Services Director:

EAB John Forbes.jpg

Surfaces & Other Trade Shows: 2014 Calendar
Calendar time!

As I think everyone knows, Surfaces is in Las Vegas next week. I’ll be wandering the floor, and I hope that lots of folks will come up and say hello.

Here are a few other shows that might be of interest to readers, and, please, feel free to post additional show links!

Stay in Vegas after Surfaces and go to the NAHB Builders’ Show Feb. 4-6.

The IWPA (International Wood Products Association) Convention is in St. Petersburg, Fla., March 5-7, for those who want a bit of Florida sunshine.

Domotex China is at the usual time: March 25-27.

The National Wood Flooring Association Expo meets in Nashville April 16-18.

The AIA (American Institute of Architects) meets in Chicago June 26-28.

The IWF (International Woodworking Fair) will be in Atlanta Aug. 20-23.

The NHLA (National Hardwood Lumber Association) meets in Vegas Oct. 8-10.

GreenBuild will be in New Orleans Oct. 22-24.

And for a list of NWFA training courses and other educational opportunities, see the NWFA's online school calendar.
2014 Index of Previous Posts
I’ve done a couple of Master Index posts in the past and found them quite helpful for me (and hopefully for you). As before, there are a few posts duplicated under different topics. The posts are grouped by topics, but are then listed in chronological order. 

The Formaldehyde Series:
09/14/10    Alphabet Soup Series, Part 1 of Many: VOC
09/21/10    Formaldehyde, Part 1: The “CARBonization” of America
09/28/10    Formaldehyde, Part 2: Emissions vs. Content
10/05/10    Formaldehyde, Part 3: CARB’s Approach to Formaldehyde in Composite Wood Products
10/12/10    Formaldehyde, Part 4a: The Flooring Industry’s Responsibilities Under CARB (Part 1: Documentation)
10/19/10    Formaldehyde, Part 4b: The Flooring Industry’s Responsibilities Under CARB (Part 2: Emissions)
10/26/10    Formaldehyde, Part 5: LEED and the Air Quality Standard
11/02/10    Formaldehyde, Part 6: Fun Formaldehyde Facts
4/17/12     Formaldehyde Certifications: Product vs. Process
4/24/12     Got a Hot Panel?
5/1/12       Is Double Certification in our Future?
12/18/12    Goodbye to the MSDS
3/26/13    Formaldehyde-Filled Children
4/16/13    Let's Stop Scaring People About Formaldehyde
4/23/13    We’re all Chemicals
4/30/13    Smokers Have More Chemicals
7/16/13    Alphabet Soup Series, part 9 of many: TPC

With Special Attention to the New EPA Regulations:

2/12/13    Surfaces Review & Upcoming Formaldehyde Fun
6/4/13      Proposed EPA Regulations Impact Engineered Flooring
6/11/13    Going NAF 
6/18/13    You Have Until August 9th
6/25/13    EPA for Distributors and Retailers
8/6/13      No New Manufacturing?
8/13/13    EPA Penalties
8/20/13    EPA for Importers (and the rest of the market too)
8/27/13    EPA and Distributors/Retailers and Labels
9/3/13      JIW: Just in Warehouse?
9/10/13    The Input of Last Resort

LEED and Other Green Building Programs
08/31/10    LEED and Certified Wood: Let's Acknowledge 'Wood is Good'
11/30/10    Alphabet Soup Series, Part 2: LEED
05/17/11    Let’s Look at LEED, Part 1: Basic Vocab
05/24/11    Let’s Look at LEED, Part 2: Specific Credits for Flooring
6/19/12      Alphabet Soup Series, Part 2 of Many: LEED
11/27/12    Eco-Friendly Offices ... But Where's the Wood?
12/4/12      Express Your Views on LEED
2/19/13      Federal Construction & Mandating LEED

Legality Issues, Lacey
03/01/11    Gohowood in Japan
03/08/11    Resources for the Lacey Act and Legality
04/12/11    The Lacey Act: What it Says
04/19/11    Lacey’s Documentary Burden for Importers
04/26/11    Lacey’s Legality Burden
05/03/11    Lacey and Marketing U.S. Woods
11/15/11    Lacey in the U.S., Part 1
11/22/11    Lacey in the U.S., Part 2
11/29/11    The Lacey Act and Gibson Guitar
12/06/11    Lacey's Broad Scope
12/13/11    The Proposed Lacey RELIEF Act
8/28/12    The European Lacey?
9/4/12       FLEGT! (Gesundheit!?!)
3/27/12     If Prison Labor Shipments Were Lacey Violations
10/2/12     Useful Report: Legality
10/9/12     Useful Report: Certification
10/16/12   Do you feel guilty?
10/23/12   Ok, last one on legality for a while, I promise
2/26/13     New Indonesian Legality Regulations
3/5/13      EUTR Enforcement Starts This Week
3/12/13    Green Lane Legality
3/19/13    Alphabet Soup Series, part 8 of many: SRA
5/21/13    Proposed Lacey ANSI Standard
7/9/13      Lacey: “That is That Made-in-America Thing

Greenwashing & Green Marketing
01/25/11    Alphabet Soup Series, Part 4: Greenwashing
02/01/11    Greenwashing with Logos
02/08/11    Sins of Greenwashing, Part 1
02/15/11    Sins of Greenwashing, Part 2
02/22/11    Misuse of the FSC Logo
05/10/11    Green as the Default at the NWFA Convention
05/31/11    Language Choices
10/11/11    Alphabet Soup Series, Part 5: CSR
12/11/12    Green Labels: What's Really in my Pie?
1/22/13     Where’s the Green in Surfaces?
4/9/13       Response to Avi's Bamboo/Engineered Post

Green Stats, Facts and Figures
6/26/12    Wood vs. Cement (and other building products)
7/3/12      Let’s Look at Some Life Cycle Analyses of Wood
4/3/12      Good News about the World’s Forests
4/10/12    Global Carbon Emissions
4/16/13    Let's Stop Scaring People About Formaldehyde
4/23/13    We’re all Chemicals
4/30/13    Smokers Have More Chemicals
5/14/13    Images of Recycling (and Not), Part 1
5/28/13    Images of Recycling (and Not), Part 2

Getting Technical
11/26/13    Getting Technical: Stable Isotope Analysis, Pt. 1
12/3/13      Getting Technical: Stable Isotope Analysis, Pt. 2

Alphabet Soup Series
09/14/10   Alphabet Soup Series, Part 1 of Many: VOC
11/30/10   Alphabet Soup Series, Part 2: LEED
12/28/10   Alphabet Soup Series, Part 3: MSDS
01/25/11   Alphabet Soup Series, Part 4: Greenwashing
10/11/11   Alphabet Soup Series, Part 5: CSR
5/29/12    Alphabet Soup Series, Part 6 of Many: Seeing REDD
11/6/12    Alphabet Soup Series, Part 7 of Many: APHIS
3/19/13    Alphabet Soup Series, part 8 of many: SRA
7/16/13    Alphabet Soup Series, part 9 of many: TPC
9/17/13    Alphabet Soup Series, part 10 of many: CoC
11/12/13    Alphabet Soup Series, part 11 of many:  LCA: Life Cycle Analysis/Life Cycle Assessment
11/19/13    Alphabet Soup Series, part 12 of many:  EPD: Environmental Product Declaration

Tropical Timber Issues
08/17/10    Banning Tropical Timber = Burning Tropical Timber
08/24/10    Ask Your Suppliers for LKS
11/09/10    Visit to FRIM, Part 1
11/16/10    Visit to FRIM, Part 2 (pictures)
01/11/11    Carbon Credit Confusion
01/18/11    Options for Funding Certification
5/7/13       More State Legislation to Watch

Plantations and Species Information
12/07/10    A Green Grass?
06/21/11    Dead Trees Standing
07/05/11    Plantations Pros and Cons, Part 1: the Cons
07/12/11    Plantations Pros and Cons, Part 2: the Pros
07/19/11    What's Hot in Plantations
07/26/11    Confucius or Confusion? What Acacia is This?
08/02/11    The Lowdown on Cork
06/07/11    What Mother Nature puts in Wood May Not Always Be Good for You, Either
06/14/11    Gifts from Old Ma Nature

Recycled & Reclaimed Wood
6/21/11    Dead Trees Standing
7/10/12    Being Green with Salvaged & Reclaimed Wood, pt. 1
7/17/12    Being Green with Salvaged & Reclaimed Wood, pt. 2: New life for old logs
7/24/12    Being Green with Salvaged & Reclaimed Wood, pt. 3: Swim or Sink
7/31/12    Being Green with Salvaged & Reclaimed Wood, pt. 4: Economic Factors
8/7/12    Being Green with Salvaged & Reclaimed Wood, pt. 5: Selecting the Salvage
8/14/12    Being Green with Salvaged & Reclaimed Wood, pt. 6: Working the Wood

Interviews with Organizations on the Ground  

03/15/11     Snakes and the GFTN (GFTN Interview, Part 1)
03/22/11     The GFTN Goes Flat (Temporarily) (GFTN Interview, Part 2)
03/29/11     I Have a Suggestion About the Chicken (GFTN Interview, Part 3)
10/18/11     Sustainable Harvest International (SHI), Part 1 (Almost 3 million trees planted!)
10/25/11    Sustainable Harvest International (SHI), Part 2
11/01/11     Tropical Forest Foundation (TFF), Part 1
11/08/11     Tropical Forest Foundation, Part 2
9/11/12      An interview with Andre de Boer, pt 1
9/18/12     An interview with Andre de Boer, pt 2
9/25/12     An interview with Andre de Boer, pt 3
6/5/12       Rainforest Alliance Turns 25, Pt. 1
6/12/12     Rainforest Alliance Turns 25, Pt. 2
9/24/13     Guest Blog: Big Challenges, Greater Opportunities, Part 1
10/1/13     Guest Blog: Big Challenges, Greater Opportunities, Part 2

Industry Features
11/20/12    Tradition at Tremont Nails
8/21/12      The Green Nature of Factory Finishing

Political Issues
10/30/12    Plywood Dumping Case: What Will the Effects Be?
3/27/12      If Prison Labor Shipments were Lacey Violations
12/13/11    The Proposed Lacey RELIEF Act
9/13/11    China & Being Green
9/20/11    A Strong International Market Helps Green China
5/7/13      More State Legislation to Watch
6/18/13    You Have Until August 9th
7/23/13    Seeking Common Sense
11/5/13    Hardwood Federation Fly-In 2013

Industry Associations and Standards
09/07/10    Should We Have Green Standards? (Grades vs. Standards)
12/14/10    Association Resources, Part 1: In the Industry
12/21/10    Association Resources, Part 2: Green Building
09/06/11    IWPA & AHEC: An Expanded Focus
10/04/11    Hardwood Federation Fly-In
12/18/12    Goodbye to the MSDS

Malaysian Production
11/09/10    Visit to FRIM, Part 1
11/16/10    Visit to FRIM, Part 2 (pictures)
11/23/10    Malaysian Timber Programs
04/05/11    Malaysian Mission to the U.S.
5/8/12       5.9 Million Hectares and Growing: Malaysian Minister Interview Pt. 1
5/15/12    Malaysian Plantations—Rubberwood & More, Malaysian Minster Interview, Pt. 2
5/22/12    100 Years of Green, Minister Interview, Pt. 3
7/2/13      STIDC Presentation in Malaysia

Chinese Production
09/13/11   China and Being Green
09/20/11   A Strong International Market Helps Green China
09/27/11   Evaluating Production Sources

Trade Shows & Conferences
5/10/11    Green as a Default at the NWFA Convention
1/15/13    Mark Your Calendars
1/22/13    Where’s the Green in Surfaces?
1/29/13    I'm Going Green at Surfaces 2013
2/12/13    Surfaces Review & Upcoming Formaldehyde Fun
4/2/13      Look For Me (and My T-Shirt) In Dallas
7/2/13      STIDC Presentation in Malaysia

Philosophical Ramblings
8/9/11        Spacecraft Earth
7/23/13      Seeking Common Sense
10/8/13      Jurassic Park and the Wood Industry
10/15/13    Michael J. Fox and the Wood Industry
10/22/13    Guess I’m Just Feeling Philosophical: Lessons from Biology Class
10/29/13    Philosophical Lessons from Japan
12/10/13    “Hire Some Kids
1/7/14       Happy 2014: Time for Some New Thinking


08/10/10    Introduction: The World of 'Green'
01/04/11    Green Install Tips and Tricks
08/09/11    Spacecraft Earth
08/16/11    A Year of Blogging
08/23/11    My Green Summer Reading List
08/30/11    Enjoying the Woods
11/13/12    You Say Jatoba, I Say... Clarifying Wood Floor Marketing Names
10/30/12    Plywood Dumping Case
12/18/12    Goodbye to the MSDS
7/23/13      Seeking Common Sense
Happy 2014: Time for Some New Thinking
“Every time you tear a leaf off a calendar, you present a new place for new ideas and progress.”
    - Charles Kettering

Happy New Year all! Time for a fresh start, so may I start this year with a request that we all make a resolution together? In 2014, I propose we stop trying to tear each other down, and instead, look to build the industry up together. We are competitors of course, but can’t we be friendly competitors?  

“Polarizing people is a good way to win an election, and also a good way to wreck a country.”
    - Molly Ivins

In my last real post of 2013, I made a suggestion that people consider “hiring some kids.” For some reason, that post ended up receiving more comments than any other post I made last year, perhaps more comments than all my other posts combined. (The discussion veered off into choices for site finishes and what defines “green” for different people, which are interesting topics which I’ll try to look at more later this year.) But the very first comment suggested that the industry was potentially crippled by some “old guard” holding back some of the new blood.  

“The Problem is never how to get new innovative ideas into your mind, but how to get the old ideas out.”
    - Dee Hock

I don’t know if there’s really a major “old guard” holding others back, but I do know we’re badly polarized these days. I think for all of us, we have to recognize that we need to keep an open mind about new market trends and new products, but even more importantly we have to constantly reconsider our ideas about what we think we know. Unfortunately, there is often a lot of hostility in posts (I’m not talking specifically about my blog, but in general, on the forums, or regarding news stories) and what looks to be an attempt to polarize the industry into categories.

“Stereotypes are devices for saving a biased person the trouble of learning.”
    - Unknown

But really, aren’t the lines that divide us increasingly blurry? We overlap in so many areas. A distributor can be a retailer while a manufacturer can distribute. A retailer might import. A contractor could be a manufacturer or a retailer or an importer—we overlap regularly in how we might define our roles. So many companies are touching in every industry segment—a company that once did only solid now does engineered—and maybe laminate, LVT and tile too, and hey, is that carpet over there?  

"Attempting to get at truth means rejecting stereotypes and clichés."
    - Harold Evans

If we applied stereotypes to race or gender we’d be appropriately criticized. So let’s not apply stereotypes to other groups in our industry—be it the “old guard” or all “importers” or “domestics” or “Chinese” or “laminates” or “site-finished” or “greenies” or whatever it is that you have a fixed image about. Not all who wear the same label are created equal. Nor do any of us wear just one label.  

“Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.”
    - Henry Ford

So here are my hopes for the New Year. I hope that in 2014 this industry will start working together and stop pulling ourselves apart. I hope for more dialogues about issues. I hope people will participate more in our associations, as well as in our political and regulatory processes.  

“Say and do something positive that will help the situation; it doesn't take any brains to complain.”
    - Robert A. Cook

I hope we’ll choose to go positive together. I hope we’ll celebrate our differences and acknowledge they can add a richness to our industry. I hope we recognize that we don’t have to tear someone else down to build ourselves up.  

“I view my strongest competition as myself. You're always trying to top yourself, rather than worrying about what other people are doing.”
    - John C. Reilly

It can be a challenge to be positive. But it is definitely a change worth working towards.

“What doesn't challenge you, doesn't change you.”
    - billboard for a new gym

Who is up for the challenge?
Signing Off Until the New Year
So next Tuesday is Christmas Eve, and then after that it’s New Year’s Eve … and my guess is that no one wants to read about Lacey or formaldehyde or stable isotopes or anything else at this time of year. The only green I think most people are thinking about is part of red and green decorations…

Next year we’ll get into LEED V4, the potential changes in CARB, proposed Lacey amendments and whatever else the governments, the industry and the world throw at us.

So until then, I’ll wish you all Happy Holidays, of whatever type you wish to celebrate, and hope that this coming New Year brings us reduced regulations, a greater appreciation of all wood by the world, and prosperous business for all of us!
‘Hire Some Kids’
“Hire Some Kids” was another bit of good advice that I picked up at the last IWPA convention that I thought I’d share with everyone. It was stated mostly in reference to social media, with the idea being if you really want to use Facebook or tweet or whatever it is effectively, you should get the people who use those features most to help design your campaign. Got a story you want to get viral? Then find a texter who types better with two thumbs then I do with all ten fingers!

It’s a good thought for selling green as well. We always want to consider who we sell to in this industry—to figure out who are the decision makers. More and more, those decision makers are making their decisions based on what they read online. And they definitely do research the green issues. You want to have a very green online presence and you want to put it in language that your reader understands and responds to. Unfortunately the old school “we’re wood, we’re green” as a stand-alone statement isn’t enough any more.

I’ve talked before about the two types of environment we have to sell to—the greater environment of the world around us (the issue there being “Is this wood sustainable?” “Was it socially responsible?”) and then what I call the “environment of me” (which would include issues like VOCs.) Both topics are of interest and need to be shared. Consider having your site and online presence reviewed by some kids—see if they respond to it. Increasingly, they are the reader you want, and the Internet is the medium they use.
Getting Technical: Stable Isotope Analysis, Part 2
Chris Knowles of Oregon State University and I got into some SERIOUS chemistry last week. Let’s see how it applies to the wood industry now.

Q: Chris, you gave us a chemistry lesson last week. How do we USE this stable isotope analysis in the real world?

Among other uses, stable isotope analysis has a relatively long history of use for dating materials. Carbon dating provides an estimation of generally plus or minus 50 years for samples less than about 10,000 years old. However, the older the material, the less accurate the estimation will be. This estimate is based on a number of assumptions that may or may not be accurate. The bottom line is that this type of analysis will not identify the exact age of any material. It will only provide an estimate.

More recently, scientists have been exploring the potential to use the natural variability in stable isotopes by region to determine geographic origin of natural materials, including wood products. While the chemical analysis has a long history of use in other applications, the applications for tracking geographic origin of wood are still in their infancy.

Q: How accurate is stable isotope analysis?

Several research papers I’ve read on this topic indicate that origin can be determined at a with 70-90% accuracy at a regional level in some species. However, the technique has not proven effective at differentiating across political boundaries to this date. Carbon on one side of a state line is pretty much the same as that a few feet across the border.

Research in South America has shown the potential to identify origin within approximately 100 miles in some tropical hardwood species, but, that said, it is important to know that this has not been tested across very many species. There are far more unknowns than there are knowns at this point in time.

As the science currently stands, stable isotope analysis is not the silver bullet that will allow for accurate identification of the origin for wood products. There is still more research that needs to be done before the technology can be applied in that way.

Q: What is the future of stable isotope analysis for tracking wood origin?

The future is yet to be seen. I think there is some potential to improve the accuracy of the technology significantly through more research. As I mentioned previously, the research on this application for the technology is still in very early stages. In order for it to be a useful tool in accurately tracking the origin of timber products, we need to develop accurate and robust maps of the ratios of stable isotopes across the forested landscapes of the world. Since each species varies, the information would need to be collected for each of the commercially important species across its native and planted ranges. This information can then serve as a basis against which future stable isotope analysis results can be compared to. The challenge is this research will take many years and a tremendous amount of money to complete.

Once a robust and accurate database has been developed, I think there is some real potential in this technology. Previous research has shown that the accuracy of tracking origin is dramatically improved by using a combination of elements impacted by the environmental conditions (i.e. hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, sulfur) and elements impacted by the geological conditions of the site (i.e. iron, copper, zinc). In the future I think the potential exists for this technology to be utilized to reliably track the origin of some wood species.

Q: Is it worth it?

It can be. The good thing about this type of science—both the DNA and the stable isotope analysis—is that they can’t really be falsified. As many of the environmental groups say, it would be a fact-based condition, not a document-based system. It will eliminate a lot doubt in the consumer’s mind. It also can work on material in most any form and age. We could do a lot of interesting tracking with this type of work.

The negative, of course, is the money—I don’t think this is feasible for every load of timber, much less value-added products, produced anywhere in the world to be tracked like this. It will lead to further discrimination against some developing nations who can’t afford this—and those are the nations that need a healthy forest industry more than any others. As you know, a healthy forest industry leads to a healthy forest and if those countries are marginalized out of the market because of costs, they’ll just burn the forests and use the land for something else.

Q: So Chris, will you come back and talk DNA sometime?

If people want more hard science, I’ll do my best!  In the meantime, if people want more info on this topic, they can go to these pages:

A report on timber tracking and species ID in Africa here.

Info from the Global Timber Tracking Network here.

A PDF from the U.S. Forest Service here.

The article "Uncovering Forests’ Tell-tale Fingerprints" from WWF here.
Getting Technical: Stable Isotope Analysis, Part 1
Chris Knowles isotope analysisChris Knowles, assistant professor at the Oregon Wood Innovation Center of Oregon State University, and I were chatting about the feasibility of using new technologies in determining the legality of wood the other day, and he tried to explain some of the actual science behind it to me. Now he’s going to try to explain it to everyone here! I’m going to break this out into two parts so we don’t overwhelm everyone.

Q: So, Chris, why should we slog through this science?

Claims have been made that we have a variety of scientific techniques that can now be used to determine, with some degree of accuracy, the geographic origin of wood products. The question is if they are feasible and practical for extensive real world applications. I’d say they have some potential, but it’s going to take a lot of time and data collection before it will really be a meaningful tool for determining legality.

Q: So are we talking DNA testing?

That’s one option, most folks understand that. DNA testing for wood, at least conceptually, is similar to what everyone thinks of from TV shows and movies—trying to identify the inherent genetic makeup of the tree. Let’s just say that we are not nearly as advanced with DNA testing for wood as TV would lead you to believe.

However there’s another technique often paired with that which I think people need to understand. That’s “stable isotope analysis.”

Q: Can I call that SIA for short?

Well, I have seen it referred to that in some publications although, unfortunately, I don’t think “SIA” is a common acronym yet. That said, if the technology usage spreads, it might become one.

Q: What’s the difference in use?

The DNA testing method is often slightly more focused—claims have been made that you can ID trees within a 50-mile radius. I would assume that DNA drift would start to occur over distance, so this is possible. The stable isotope analysis tends to cover a wider area of investigation. Definitely it could identify region of origin—tell the difference between American, European and Chinese oaks, for example.

Q: OK, so what is stable isotope analysis?

Before we can discuss stable isotope analysis, we must review some basic chemistry.

Q: Oh joy! OK, go ahead.

First let’s define an isotope. Recall that an element is made up of several components, including protons and neutrons. Isotopes are variations of an element such that each variant contains the same number of protons (the atomic number from the periodic table) but contains a different number of neutrons.

Take the element carbon as an example. Carbon is an element that is often used in stable isotope analysis. Carbon, which has six protons and therefore an atomic number of six, has three isotopes – carbon-12, carbon-13, and carbon-14. Each of these variations of carbon have six protons, but where they differ is in the number of neutrons that they contain. Carbon-12 has six neutrons, carbon-13 has seven neutrons and carbon-14 has eight neutrons. These different isotopes of carbon occur naturally and vary in their concentrations based on geography.

Some of the isotopes of a given element are stable, while others are radioactive. The stable isotopes tend to maintain their composition over time, while the radioactive isotopes tend to degrade over time. Using carbon as the example again, carbon-12 and carbon-13 are considered stable isotopes, while carbon-14 is the radioactive form.

Q: Got you. Is this like carbon dating? And I mean time dating, not out for dinner dating, of course…

That’s one use. Stable isotope analysis is a tool that allows for analyzing the ratio of stable isotopes to radioactive isotopes of a given element in a material. This information can then be used for several purposes including dating a material (commonly referred to as carbon dating) or, in our case, tracking the location a material was grown in.

Oxygen, carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen and sulfur are the elements that are most commonly utilized for stable isotope analysis. These elements vary in natural systems based on factors such as distance from the ocean, distance from the poles, temperature and rainfall. Recent advances in measurement technology have expanded the number of elements to include elements such as iron, copper, zinc and molybdenum. These elements are essential micronutrients for trees and vary in the concentrations within the soil.

OK, we all need a break to absorb that! We’ll figure out how the wood industry can USE this science next week.