110 Years of FPL: Laminated Wood Products

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!

FPL’s pioneering work on the engineering design of glued-laminated construction helped launch the laminating industry in the United States. Much of the research on laminated wood originated at the time of the first World War when the Bureau of Aircraft Production approached FPL with a need for lightweight airplane wings.

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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.