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Even in today's world filled with metal and plastic, wood products still provide consumers with products and woodworkers with employment. Lumber yards are filled with construction materials that still make up large portions of the housing industry, and stores line their walls with furniture and other wood-based inventory.
What follows is a closer look at wood, starting with Timber & Timberland and finishing with the wood products that we are all familiar with. From the sawmills and the lumber they churn out, our economy and nation continue to grow. The millwork and wood products that woodworkers produce enhance our homes and our lives.
Where It All Begins: Timber & Timberland
Forests And Timberland
Timber & Timberland are the cornerstones of the wood industry. Most forest managers consider a forested area to consist of at least one acre of land. These areas must be covered by at least 10-percent forest as well.
Timberland is not simply land that is forested, however. Timber & Timberland that it comes from consist of trees that can be used in a commercial capacity. By definition, a forested area labeled as timberland must be able to grow 20-cubic feet of commercially viable wood per acre in a year.
The United States is covered by approximately 750-million acres, or 304-million hectares, of forest land. Timber & Timberland that it comes from makeup approximately two-thirds of that land, according to the USDA Forest Service. The remainder of these areas consists of wood that is not suitable for commercial use or is too thinly populated with trees.
Another consideration when discussing Timber & Timberland that produces it is sustainability. For commercial purposes, timberland regions must be able to grow more wood than what is harvested from it.
Defining What Timber Is
Timber is called lumber in North America. It is wood that has been turned into beams or planks from harvested trees. The U.S. lumber market consists of both hardwoods and softwoods.
These materials are harvested from the branches and trunks of the trees. Remanufactured lumber from wood that was previously milled is also used. Wood-plastic composite materials, as well as plastic lumber, are also available for construction and wood products.
Forests: Public And Private Land
Public Land And The U.S. Forest Service
The National Forests were originally created with three goals in mind:
- To protect and improve upon existing forest land
- To secure the national watershed
- To offer a continuous supply of timber for Americans
In the case of timber management, the U.S. Forest Service oversees all aspects of commercial foresting on public lands. They sell timber and other forest products to individuals as well as to businesses. This is done through contracts and permits that they issue.
Permit forms include free use and forest product removal permits. Contracts are usually issued for timber that can or can not be measured in cubic feet. Most large-scale harvesting, product removal, and stewardship operations are through contracts.
Private Land Management
Nealy one half of the forest land in the United States is owned and managed by private owners. Over 90-percent of the nation's forest products come from privately owned forests. The U.S. Forest Service estimates that roughly 4.2-million jobs are supported by private owners across the country.
Of the roughly 11-million private forests, a majority are owned by individuals or small organizations. A smaller number of corporations own larger forests used specifically for tree harvesting. These forests can be managed individually or with assistance from the U.S. Forest Service.
Logging And Harvesting Timber
Trees must be harvested before they can be turned into lumber or other wood products at sawmills across the country. In the case of smaller properties or operations, trees are felled with chainsaws and axes. The forest products are then transported off-site for processing.
The vast majority of lumber and wood products produced in U.S. sawmills are harvested through larger commercial means. Logging operators fell trees on site before hauling them to sawmills or lumber yards with large machinery. The logistics employed by these companies allow them to cut thousands of cubic feet of timber daily through cut-to-length or whole tree harvesting.
Sawmills: Turning Trees Into Something Useful
One the trees have been chopped down, they are transported to sawmills for further processing. Traditionally, Whole-Tree Logging (WTL) meant that the entire tree was transported to the mill. With recent advancements in harvester technology, many logs are now delivered Cut-To-Length with limbs and tops already removed.
Log scalers will then measure both the volume of wood of the tree as well as its quality grade. The logs are then debarked before being sorted by type, size, and intended use. A primary saw is then used to cut the logs into smaller pieces or planks.
Depending upon the type of timber, a gang edger or resaw will then be used to cut the logs into even smaller pieces or boards. The unfinished planks will have irregular edges removed to create four-sided timber. Each end is then trimmed to make it square.
The timber is then left to dry before it is planned to smooth it out. These steps create the products that are then delivered to lumberyards and home improvement centers.
Products Produced From Wood
Woodwork that is produced in a mill is referred to as millwork. These wood products are often made from wood that has not been cut into boards or planks. Millwork items can be produced in a sawmill or a separate facility and include items such as:
- Crown molding
- Wall paneling
Carpenters and woodworkers will use millwork for initial construction or home improvement projects. One major advantage of millwork is that the items come pre-made, which avoids having to build these items from scratch. Furniture and cabinet pieces can also be considered millwork.
Bathroom And Kitchen Cabinets
Contractors and woodworkers will also use wood for constructing cabinets in the business or home. Carpenters will make use of boards and paneling to construct these interior storage compartments. While softwoods may be used in many phases of the construction process, cabinets are often made using hardwoods.
Wooden coffee and kitchen tables are still a very popular choice for their looks as well as function. Traditional rocking and sitting chairs are also widely used throughout homes in North America. While other building materials are also used, wood is still a common choice for internal frames on couches, love-seats, and recliners.
Wood is still a popular choice in the bedroom as well. Dressers and vanities come in a multitude of colors and stains. Wooden nightstands and bed frames still outsell plastic or metal counterparts.
Wood products provide function and look for landscaping in gardens or yards. Wood chips offer soil retention and visual contrast. Wooden boards and planks can be used for edging, retention walls, and walkways.
Wood provides two major yard components for many homes. First, wooden decks provide a homeowner with a cheap and pleasing alternative to concrete. Secondly, wooden fencing offers not only containment but increased privacy that chain linked fences cannot.
Creative entrepreneurs and woodworkers also use wood to create homes for birds and pets or decorative boxes for gardens. Wooden sheds still represent a large portion of the yard building market.
City and county governments still make use of wood for bike and foot-bridges, playgrounds, and landscaping walls. Power companies still use large amounts of wooden poles for portions of the electrical grid that is above ground. While concrete is becoming more popular, railroad companies still make use of thousands of cubic feet of replacement ties each year.
Wood As A Renewable Resource
Timber and other wood products are made from a natural resource that is renewable. Trees can be planted quickly, and grow at a fast rate when compared to the time it takes for the earth to produce other resources. Trees and the products that they are made into are also biodegradable.
Due to their fast growth rate and relative ease of growing, trees are a resource that is easy to manage. Citizens and government agencies alike are capable of providing proper stewardship over forested areas across the globe. Science continues to improve our ability to produce larger and healthier forests capable of providing us with an ever-growing volume of usable timber.
After following the path that wood travels from tree to final product, it is easy to see how critical this natural resource is to our civilization. While we have created many alternative building materials, lumber and other wood products still play a vital role in our economy. Timber & Timberland management, sawmills, and woodworkers will continue to provide us with important resources for the foreseeable future!