Right Up Our Alley: Laminated Wood Bowling Pins

FPL made national news in 2008 and 2011 when Research General Engineer Dave Kretschmann and his team became known for their work with Major League Baseball and the perplexing problem of breaking baseball bats. But did you know that FPL’s foray into sports goes back much farther than our work with baseball?

These photos, taken from the FPL library’s history room, show various experiments on laminated bowling pins. The genesis of these pins came from a conscientious desire to preserve our forests.

A January 1, 1920, Technical Publication,Fabrication and Design of Glued Laminated Wood Structural Members, from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, tells of the earnest Assistant Director of the Forest Products Laboratory at that time who “asserted that it would be possible to save ten billion feet of timber annually, if the American people would put in general practice what is already known relative to the closer utilization and preservation of wood.”

In an attempt to preserve what virgin forest remained, experiments began in 1912 to create bowling pins of laminated construction. Athletic goods, according to this publication, “require but a small number of woods for their manufacture. Special qualities are necessary, however, to meet the requirements of these products.”

These photos show special strength tests that resulted in standards that are still adhered to these days, according to the United States Bowling Congress and its USBC Equipment Specifications and Certifications Manual: “Gluing procedures should conform to those described in the Forest Products Laboratory (U.S. Department of Agriculture) manual entitled ‘Fabrication and Design of Glued Laminated Wood Structural Members.’”

So when you’re knocking back a few sodas or beers and knocking down those pins at the bowling alley, just remember that FPL and utilization of our forest resources helped make your pleasure possible.

Throwback Thursday: Utilization and Forest Health


This historic photo shows the log yard from the very early days of the Forest Product Laboratory. The Forest Products Laboratory A Decennial Record, reminds us of the reason why FPL exists: to find ways to utilize forest waste to keep forests healthy.

This book about the first 10 years at FPL tells of early pioneers in the United States who moved through our forests and harvested only the best of trees, leaving devastation and waste in their wake. Soon the need for forest conservation became evident as one of the most vital economic issues of the nation.

The Division of Forestry was established in 1881 and it recognized from the earliest days the national need for research in forest products. This need became increasingly evident as people moved further west and forests were exhausted. Studies of the mechanical properties of the more important woods were begun at the universities of Washington, Yale, Purdue, California, and Oregon. Most of the research work of the Forest Service had been carried out in cooperation with various universities and when the idea of a centralized facility for research and development in forest products arose, many universities stepped forward offering accommodations.

According to A Decennial Record, “Finally, the offer of the University of Wisconsin, which included the erection of a suitable building and the furnishing of heat, light, and power for it, was accepted. Construction started in the summer of 1909, and the installation of equipment was begun in the fall, shortly after the nucleus of the organization arrived from Washington and established temporary quarters.”

FPL has come a long way from those temporary quarters, but our researchers have continued to innovate and always keep in mind the reason behind the work we do for the American people.




Congratulations to Dr. Robert J. Ross 2014 Felix Ponder Award of Excellence Recipient

Dr. Robert J. (Bob) Ross of the Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) was awarded the 2014 Felix Ponder Award of Excellence today by FPL and Northern Research Station Director Michael T. Rains. Ross is a Supervisory Research General Engineer and the Project Leader of FPL’s Engineering Properties of Wood, Wood Based Materials and Structures Research Work Unit. He is also an ST (Senior) scientist, which is the highest level that a federal research scientist can achieve. There are only three ST scientists among the 60 scientists at FPL.

“Thanks to all of you, and all you do,” a surprised Ross said. “I really don’t know what to say. So many people do so much more and are more deserving.”

Dr. Robert J. Ross

Dr. Robert J. Ross

During a conference call with NRS and FPL employees, Rains cited just a few of Ross’ endeavors outside the workplace as among the many reasons why “he should be a role model for all of us,” and why Ross “was such a worthy recipient of this honor.”

Ross has served as Project Leader for several Research Work Units at FPL, including its physical and mechanical proprieties testing unit, since 1988. His current research focus is the development and use of nondestructive evaluation technologies for various wood products and structures, from standing trees to historic buildings and ships. He has written or co-authored more than 200 technical reports/articles about nondestructive evaluation and jointly holds 24 U.S. and foreign patents.

In addition to being a science leader, Bob is very supportive of employees with special needs. In collaboration with the Madison Area Rehabilitation Center, Bob has sponsored employees with special needs for a number of years and has fully integrated them into his work unit. He is also very active in the Williamson – Marquette Neighborhood Center (WilMar), where he and other FPL employees prepare a meal on the first Saturday of every month for needy Madison residents. Bob donates significant time and money to Port Saint Vincent de Paul, a shelter that functions as a “port in the storm of life” for low-income men. He is also very active in St. Coletta of Wisconsin, which provides residential and vocational programs for people with developmental disabilities.

This award honors the late Dr. Felix Ponder, Jr., who was a soil scientist with the Forest Service Northern Research Station for more than 30 years. Dr. Ponder combined excellence in science with deep commitment to making a difference in people’s lives. Dr. Ponder worked for 18 years on the campus of Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Mo., serving three years as project leader of the second research work unit in the nation located on the campus of a historically black college or university. His work with students was instrumental in drawing people into natural resource careers.

Ross was presented with a handcrafted walnut pen-and-pencil set which had special significance to Dr. Ponder.


JY Zhu Recognized: Multiple Awards for this Productive Researcher

Director Michael T. Rains visited FPL yesterday to present length of service awards to employees, which recognize workers for each 5 years of their service. Mr. Rains also made a special point of remembering awards granted throughout the year, and researcher JunYong (JY) Zhu deserves a shout out for his many accomplishments. Possibly the most prestigious of this year’s many awards for Dr. Zhu was the 2014 R&D Deputy Chief’s Distinguished Science Award.


Dr. Zhu was recently honored with the 2014 U.S. Forest Service R&D Deputy Chief’s Distinguished Science Award.

But that’s just one of Dr. Zhu’s 2014 accomplishments. Did you know that FPL research results in many patents? Indeed, the Patent Program helps convert Forest Service research into usable information and technologies that benefit both the American public and industry. Dr. Zhu is an inventor on 7 issued patents and 5 pending patent applications. Following are Dr. Zhu’s most recent patents:

JY Zhu and Hao Liu – Metal Compounds to Eliminate Nonproductive Enzyme Adsorption and Enhance Enzymatic Saccharification of Lignocellulose.

JY Zhu and Richard S. Reiner (FPL) – Methods for Integrating the Production of Cellulose Nanofibrils with the Production of Cellulose Nanocrystals (Patent No. 8,710,213, Issued 4/29/14).

One of FPL’s most prolific researchers, Dr. Zhu received the GMFAA Employee of the Year Award, Technical Category, for his sustained research excellence and productivity. He has published more than 90 refereed research papers and has delivered over 75 presentations. His contributions have been directed to utilization of small-diameter wood for fiber products and developing forest biorefinery technologies and nanocellulose production strategies.

JY Zhu received the Technical Association of Pulp and Paper Industry (TAPPI) 2014 Research and Development Award.

FPL and the American public are fortunate to have such a devoted and hard-working researcher working for us.

The Many Products from Trees

The late John W. Koning Jr. was a much-beloved person at FPL. He joined the staff at the Forest Products Laboratory in 1961 and conducted research in paperboard packaging. Following retirement in 1986, he joined the Engineering Professional Development Department in the College of Engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and worked with industry in developing educational courses. He published articles on a range of subjects including research management and corrugated containers.

Koning’s greatest publishing accomplishment may have been the massive book that he compiled and edited: Forest Products Laboratory, 1910-2010: Celebrating a Century of Accomplishments.


One tree can yield countless products.

In that book, Koning reminds readers that while we all celebrate the beauty of forests and their value for recreation, forests also provide wood that is used in thousands of products ranging from components of housing to paper to chemicals. Speaking about the Forest Service in 1998, then Chief Mike Dombeck stressed, “The basic point of our sustainable forest management strategy is this: not only do economic stability and environmental protection go hand in hand, economic prosperity cannot occur without healthy, diverse, and productive watersheds and ecosystems.”

The public’s 193 million acres of National Forests and Grasslands are now recognized for their multiple uses and are under management to continuously provide a broad array of benefits:

  • Clean air and water
  • Natural flood control
  • Timber, forage, and non-wood products
  • Wildlife habitat
  • Endangered species recovery
  • Scenic beauty
  • Recreational opportunities
  • Food
  • Community revitalization
  • Improved human health
  • Carbon sequestration