Wood as a Sustainable Building Material

The Wood Handbook is an unparalleled resource and has many practical and technical uses but, literally, it all starts here: Chapter One – Wood as a Sustainable Building Material.

WoodHandbook100As FPL research general engineer Bob Falk writes in the introduction to the chapter’s first section, Wood as a Green Building Material, “over the past decade, the concept of green building has become more mainstream and the public is becoming aware of the potential environmental benefits of this alternative to conventional construction.” From the benefits of improving a building’s energy efficiency to reducing negative impacts on public health, wood building products can help achieve many of these goals.

Green building is defined as the practice of increasing the efficiency with which buildings use resources while reducing building impacts on human health and the environment – through better siting, design, material selection, construction, operation, maintenance, and removal – over the complete building life cycle.

Chapter One covers topcs such as embodied energy, carbon impacts, and sustainability as well as forest certification programs like the Forest Stewardship Council, the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, and the American Tree Farm System, among others.


TBT – FPL’s 75th Anniversary, June 1985.

1985The U.S. Postal Service helped FPL celebrate 75 years of public service with this commemorative postcard, titled: Progress Through Wood Research.

View a full-sized version of this image by visiting the fsWoodLab Flickr account.


More recently, in June 2010, FPL celebrated its 100th anniversary. A summary of historic accomplishments was published in the Forest Products Journal (left), dated October, 2009.

John W. Koning Jr.’s comprehensive historical overview (below) was released in August, 2010.


When Koning’s book was published, FPL’s then-director Chris Risbrudt, had this to say:

No one knows the rich history of the Forest Products Laboratory as John Koning does. His efforts in compiling this all-inclusive book, from conception to final design, have been most impressive. FPL’s tradition of problem-solving and dedication is inherent in this work. To see our progress in print like this, with so many wonderful photos and knowledgeable descriptions, is yet another historic even marking our centennial year.

Wood-Based Composite Materials


Wood-based composite materials come in many shapes, sizes, and formats.

Wood-based composite materials come in many forms, including panel products, glued-laminated timbers, plywood, fiberboard, particleboard, and others.

Chapter 11 of the Wood Handbook provides a comprehensive overview of the types, composition, and manufacturing processes for wood-based composite products.

Composite materials, as described here, are any wood material bonded together, usually with adhesives. Wood-based composites are used for many structural and nonstructural applications for both interior and exterior purposes. The basic element for wood-based composites is the wood fiber, with larger particles composed of many fibers.

Chapter 11 is written by FPL research chemical engineer Nicole Stark and colleagues Zhiyong Cai, a supervisory research materials engineer, and the late Charles Carll, formerly a research forest products technologist. It is organized into three sections. The first covers conventional wood-based composite panels, summarizing common materials, adhesives, and additives. The second section covers several types of structural composite lumber, including glued-laminated (glulam) timber, parallel strand lumber, oriented-strand lumber and more. Wood-nonwood composites are discussed in the third section.

Many different composite materials and applications are on display at the fsWoodLab Flickr site.

TBT: The Wood Handbook. A go-to resource since 1935

Wood Handbooks

Click on this image for a larger version on the fsWoodLab Flickr page.

The Wood Handbook has been the go-to guide for all things wood for generations. The Wood Handbook was first issued in 1935 and revised in 1955, 1974, 1987, and 1999.

Each of the Handbook’s 20 chapters is aimed at providing a general discussion of particular topics. Engineers, woodworkers, hobbyists, painters, construction specialists, and many more who work with wood now turn to the latest version.

The Centennial Edition, seen below, was newly revised and edited for FPL’s 100th anniversary celebration in 2010. One highlight is the addition of a new introductory chapter: Wood as a Sustainable Building Material.


In-Place Preservative Treatments for Covered Bridges

Most covered bridges are made of wood and can be vulnerable to damage from fungi and insect attack. A recent paper from FPL forest products technologist Stan Lebow and Oregon State University professor Jeff Morrell describes treatment options that help prevent or slow down biodegradation.


Stan Lebow, a Research Forest Products Technologist at FPL.

“Controlling exposure to, and protection from, moisture is one of the best ways to prevent biodeterioration in covered bridges,” says Lebow. “We have found that regular maintenance and attention to needed repairs is extremely helpful for keeping these bridges in working order.” Lebow says that county or local governments charged with maintaining the structural and aesthetic integrity of covered bridges can benefit from the research on in-place preservative treatments.

Deterioration of bridge beams tend to be more common wherever beams contact abutments, are near the ends of bridges subject to wetting from splashing, or are below windows or other openings that allow wind-blown precipitation access to the interior bridge space.

Improved adhesives will help reduce costly repairs to historic covered bridges.

Covered bridges are an important part of the historic fabric in rural communities across the nation.

In-place preservative applications can help limit deterioration when moisture cannot be eliminated. The goal of in-place treatment on a covered bridge is to distribute preservative into areas that may easily get wet from exposure to precipitation. In-place treatments include surface coatings, pastes, rods, gels and fumigants. Some preservative treatments may cause a color change in the treated wood and/or present safety and handling concerns.

One limitation of all these treatments is that they cannot be forced deeply into the wood as is done in pressure-treatment processes. However, some can be applied into the center of large members via treatment holes and can move through the wood by vaporization or diffusion.

Lebow and Morrell used laboratory and field research to compare the movement of water-diffusible and fumigant treatments. The wood in some covered bridge timbers, they found, may be too dry to promote the effective spread of diffusible preservative treatments. Water diffusible treatments must be applied in locations where moisture accumulation is suspected and fumigants have greater potential for movement in dry bridge timbers and wood species that resist moisture movement.