Throwback Thursday: The FPL Rotting Pit

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.  

Original Forest Products Laboratory Building at 1509 University Avenue
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110 Years of FPL: Strength Testing

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!

A 1950’s test of a large wood cylindrical structure in the 1,000,000-pound capacity testing machine. This machine was also used to evaluate poles, piles and large wood beams.

Forest Product Laboratory (FPL) researchers established selection and testing procedures for determining strength properties of wood, which were adopted as standards by ASTM International (formerly the American Society for Testing and Materials, ASTM). These standards have, in recent years, had an important bearing on the development of comprehensive international standards sponsored by the Committee on Mechanical Wood Technology of the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations.

Strength testing research conducted by FPL employees included the following categories:

Toughness Testing
FPL developed a machine to test the ability of wood to absorb shock or impact loads. The toughness test procedure and machine have become standard both nationally and internationally.

Strength Factors
The staff determined the effect that knots, preservative treatment, decay, moisture content, and other factors have on wood strength. This work has resulted in increased safety, marked improvement in efficiency, and increased satisfaction in wood use.

Low Temperatures
FPL carried out research at temperatures as low as -300°F, which showed that—far from becoming weak and brittle at low temperatures—wood actually gets stronger. This data established wood’s advantages for construction in frigid areas and have helped established new uses for wood, such as structural insulation in commercial barges that provide low-cost, world-wide transportation for liquid methane.

Decayed Wood
FPL evaluated the properties of Douglas-fir lumber cut from timber infected with a fungus called white pocket, to show how it could be used effectively. As a result, Douglas-fir sheathing and dimension grades are permitted to contain certain amounts of white pocket. Over-mature timber previously left in the woods can now be harvested and used more effectively.

Long-Term Loading Effects
Most strength testing of wood reveals the reaction of wood to the application of loads over a very short time. Most wood used in structures however is expected to carry load for long periods of times. The FPL has therefore carried out long-term loading experiments to develop data to support engineers and design professionals.

FPL Celebrates 110 Years of Innovation

Today, June 4, 2020, marks 110 years since the doors opened at the Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) and a world of possibility opened with them.

We could never summarize in one blog post all the incredible advances in the world of wood that have occurred since then. In fact, FPL has produced more than 20,000 publications over the years, all of which are available to anyone who finds them useful, be they fellow researchers, industry partners, or homeowners with a project to tackle. (Many are digitized here.)

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110 Years of FPL: Remembering the Statisticians

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!

Statistics is commonly viewed as the collection, collation, and presentation of numerical data. FPL has long recognized that the field of statistics is critical for testing research hypotheses and making inferences to untested populations. Statistics has provided extensive and powerful tools for designing studies, analyzing data, summarizing or modeling data, and interpreting results for many research studies at FPL.

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110 Years of FPL: Fancy Flooring of the ’50s

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 1950s, FPL researchers were challenged with how to use waste wood as flooring.

During the wood flooring manufacturing process, many of the cut pieces were too short to be used as conventional flooring, so researchers demonstrated ways of combining short pieces of wood into designs that could be installed in decorative ways, just like tiles.

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