Helping on the Home Front: War-Worn Wood Relishes in Retirement

From building aircraft parts during times of metal scarcity to educating Department of Defense employees on the best ways to package materiel for shipment to the front lines of World War II, researchers at the Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) have always been willing to lend a hand to support the military in a time of need.

But sometimes, the mission is less conventional than providing for an operational force in a foreign land.

The Wood Crate Design Manual is a popular historic example of FPL research in collaboration with the Department of Defense.

Here in the United States, the U.S. Army estimates that there are over 250 million board feet of lumber and timber in World War II-era buildings slated for demolition. Since the 1990s, FPL scientists have worked cooperatively with the Army to recycle and reuse more than 4,700 cubic meters of this lumber and timber in new construction projects.

To find this in action, look no further than the Research Demonstration House at FPL. The flooring in one of the upstairs bedrooms is made of old-growth Douglas fir salvaged from military barracks originally built in the 1940s. The flooring material was provided by the Ft. Ord Reuse Authority in Marina, California, and stands in contrast to the adjacent room, which uses new, albeit small-diameter, Douglas fir. In addition to keeping wood out of landfills, the floor bears the character of 60+ years of military service, including original nail holes from its previous career.

Recycling this material has been limited by a lack of appropriate science-based grading rules and engineering design values, and consequently, much of it ends up as waste in landfills. FPL researchers continue to work on developing new and accurate grading systems to ensure that residual properties of recycled lumber and timber will meet the performance requirements of new applications. This way, with scientific data and performance information, industry and design professionals can be confident the integrity of their buildings is not compromised.

The military is only one potential source of recycled wood, however, as it is estimated one billion board feet of lumber is landfilled in the United States each year. Deconstruction offers a means of reusing this material for valuable products, and in some cases, recycling operations can provide economic opportunities for local communities.

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FPL’s Research Demonstration House is home to a host of innovative approaches for using wood. A bedroom on the second floor utilizes recycled Douglas fir provided by the U.S. military.

Although these efforts are sometimes overshadowed by the wooden propeller and ship manufacturing industry of years ago, they play an important role in this nation’s defense industry. Recycled lumber and timbers in new construction conserves existing forests, encourages the most efficient use of harvested materials, and makes our military, forests, and communities stronger.

For more information, please see FPL publications Evaluation of Lumber Recycled from an Industrial Military Building, and Engineering Evaluation of 55-year Old Timber Columns Recycled From an Industrial Military Building.