Timber, the Inconspicuous Welfare Queen

Monster machines!

A few weeks ago I had the fortunate opportunity to attend an excellent weekend bamboo course with Giant Grass on the outskirts of Melbourne. Along with a thorough overview of bamboo and its uses, a group of us spent a couple of days designing and then putting together a bamboo structure at an urban community garden.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://fromfilmerstofarmers.com/timber-the-inconspicuous-welfare-queen/

Mass produced dimensional lumber long predated modern harvesting and processing techniques that use fossil fuels.

I used to live in a river valley on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state in the US. All the old growth timber was harvested and milled without a pint of diesel, mostly during the 1920’s and 1930’s. The timber was felled and bucked by hand (chainsaws didn’t come into use until the 1940’s). The logs were gathered with steam powered yarders and transported by rail using steam engines to the nearest body of water that could float the logs.

They were then bundled into huge rafts that were towed by steam tugs to the nearest mill, which cut them up using steam powered saws. After the lumber was milled, most of it went out by steam ship or steam powered trains.

All that steam use was standard procedure, mostly because there was plenty of biomass residue available for making steam; not too surprising, since wood was everywhere.

Steam is still a big part of the forest products industry. Many facilities are still powered by ‘hog fuel’, pulverized waste wood.

There may be many things about modern wood construction that are fossil fuel dependent, such as the nails you mentioned, Tyvek moisture barriers, acrylic paint, and adhesives, etc., but lumber itself need not be one of them.

Thanks for the clarifications and pointing out the use of “hog fuels.” I still wonder though how much of the steam-powered contraptions you speak of (such as steam-powered trains) were powered with coal rather than wood or it’s by-products. That could just be splitting hairs though, as trains could very well run on wood instead of coal if wanted (so long as forestry industries and users of their wood didn’t effectively cannibalize forests for the fuel needed to harvest tree from those very forests).

I suppose it could nonetheless be said that since timber was felled and bucked by hand rather than with diesel, to do so would require a significant amount of more people (I did a weekend course a couple of years ago on this – granted, I am rather scrawny to begin with, but this is no easy work). Which would mean, going by what you added, that if mass produced timber was still possible (never mind the nails and such), its production would be on more of a human scale, and there would be less of it produced per hour of work put in.