Thanks to Grant Kirker for writing this fascinating look back into Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) history and science. Kirker is a Research Forest Products Technologist at FPL in the Durability and Wood Protection Research unit.
Throughout its 110-year history, FPL has participated in groundbreaking wood research both nationally and internationally. The FPL research libraries contain a virtual treasure trove of information pertaining to the wise use of wood and wood-based materials. Historical overviews like this would not be possible without them.
One of the earliest endeavors at the newly established Forest Products Laboratory, then located at 1509 University Avenue in Madison, Wisconsin, was the testing of preservative treated wood for the expanding railroad sector in the US. The swift growth of railways across the country had created a huge demand for suitable hardwoods. But high decline rates due to wood rot fungi was a constant concern leading to an unreasonable amount of wood being used to replace rapidly rotting railroad ties. The dawn of wood preservation research at FPL was aimed at increasing the service life of rail ties to reduce the demand on America’s forests.
A tenacious fungus, a conspiracy theory, a historic ship, a unique gift from Princeton University, and two Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) researchers, Grant Kirker and Samuel Zelinka, collaborating with researchers from Germany and Canada all converged in the right order of events to produce some of the most significant advances in wood salt damage understanding in over twenty years.
The team is brainstorming innovative ways to make the building material of the future—mass timber—more versatile. But in order to do that, they have to find an adhesive and a preservative, two substances that tend to be uncooperative together when used on timber, that will work concurrently for optimal bond strength and durability.
In celebration of 110 years of research at the Forest Products Laboratory (FPL), we are revisiting blog posts that detail some of our most interesting historic people, places, and projects. Enjoy!
In the early days of developing fire-retardant treatments, researchers at the Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) investigated about 130 treatments. Combinations of chemicals were used to obtain the best performance for both fire resistance and other performance properties, such as corrosion, leaching, gluing, finishing, and cost.