Spring Mini-Symposium at Peach State Lumber
By John Nielsen
On Saturday May 20, we had the opportunity to meet at Peach State Lumber to get some education on the lumber we see and use, to include the trees that provide that lumber, and the forest types that the trees grow in. Our presenter, J.H. Northrop of Kolonial Enterprises, is a fifth generation expert from the Pike Lumber family in Indiana, and is sought for his knowledge of forestry.
J.H. provided the analogy that every forest tells a story, every tree is a paragraph in that story, and every board is a sentence. He provided information about forest progression - how different species maintain their population, factors that can hinder growth of some species, while letting others thrive and overtake an area. Influence of man’s use of forests and the land was explained and he shared tell-tale signs in the forest of human history, such as past farming and livestock grazing or foraging.
Thickness of the forest has an impact. Open areas allow for full sun, so the tree will grow smaller with a large canopy. Heavy growth has significant competition by all trees for available sunlight, so trees in this environment tend to grow tall quickly with a small canopy.
Various species were discussed and examples of each were shown.
- White oak is a survivor and quickly defends and mends itself - can be 600-1,000 years old.
- Red oak is porous - not good for boat building!
- Maple is soft or hard and all sub-species produce sap for syrup.
- Bird’s eye maple is only found in 120-mile area in Minnesota and it’s color tells you when and where it was cut.
- Cherry that’s white/clear is from Pennsylvania; anywhere else has pitch pockets due to bark beetles.
- Walnut is selfish – poisons the ground so only other walnuts can grow there.
Soil type was shown to have direct impact on what could grow and what could not. Each species has a favorite type of soil in which it thrives and grows the best. Some can only grow in one type, while others can manage in one or more. The diameter of the heart of the tree can tell whether the tree had a tough life or not, and spacing of the annual rings conveys the growth pattern due to soil type and weather.
Soil type was also explained as a key contributor in the color of the wood harvested. Wood from a tree grown in clay soil will be reddish; brownish if grown in swamp/marsh conditions; chocolate brown if grown in black soil; and white or clear if grown in sandy soil. This helped explain why boards of the same species in the same wood bin are not always the same color.
Boards themselves provide their own story. Color tone was already explained, but how the wood is handled after harvest is also evident. Wood kept in wood lots until milled is typically kept cool and wet – like it was when it was growing. As we all know, wood that’s wet or green cuts easier with much less sawdust. If not kept wet and cool, the wood begins to dry out and change to a grayish color or is stained as tanic acid runs within the felled tree.
Board surface also tells a story. J.H. showed a few boards and then we toured the wood bins.
- Black marks running with the grain is often spalted wood. This is a sign of ‘incipient decay’ showing how the infection spread. Might also have a vinegar smell. (NOTE: Wear and use dust protection when cutting and shaping).
- Black marks appearing to radiate from one location is where a piece of metal was in the tree. (NOTE: use caution with tools because the metal may still be present.)
- Specks could be mineral deposits, pitch pockets or worm holes.
- Channels are usually insect tunnels and discoloration is probably “bug poop.”
- Spacing of knots and cathedrals indicates where branches were located and could indicate whether the tree was in an open area or heavy timber; fast growth or slow.
Special note of thanks to Keith at Peach State for introducing us to J.H. and for working with all of us to make the Symposium a good time for all.
J.H. is available for further information: