Breaking Norway!

Norway Spruce lumber that is!   Beginning October 20, the final phase of NELMA’s project to test Norway Spruce to obtain strength values got underway. To summarize from the beginning, about 3 years ago NELMA’s dimension lumber manufacturing membership first discussed the aspect of Norway Spruce and the increasing sense that the species could be norway forest maine - weban added timber resource for the industry. Norway Spruce is not native to the U.S., but as the name suggests, a very common European species of commercial timber. However, no strength testing had ever been conducted on lumber from logs grown in the U.S, so the species remains off-limits for use as construction lumber by the softwood manufacturers.

The initial research drawn from the U.S. Forest Service’s Forest Inventory Analysis (FIA) estimated around 2.1 billion board feet of standing sawtimber volume scattered within 13 states, all located in the Northeastern and Great Lakes region. The state of New York contains a little over 50% of this estimated volume, with the vast majority of all states’ volume the result of plantings by the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) during the 1930’s Great Depression. Reclaiming abandoned agriculture farmland back to forestland was the goal of this CCC program at the time. Those stands range from 5 acres to more than 100 acres and have reached maturity after 70-80 years of growth. Commercial planting of the species continued in the decades following the CCC days largely for pulp fiber; a decision based on its robust growth characteristics in the short northern climate.  Planting the species continues today in various areas of the northeast.

NY Forest-webWhy Norway Spruce and not our native Eastern Spruces by the CCC? Several thoughts exist on that question ranging from the shortage of available nursery stock seedlings at the time due to the demand of CCC re-planting (more than 3 billion seedlings of various species were planted across the country by the CCC), to a suggestion that a plot of acreage had been planted in the northeast in the 1900-1910s by immigrant settlers from Europe that showed the potential increased growth patterns of the species by the 1930s. NELMA is conducting further research regarding this question as part of the Association’s full documentation and anticipated video of the overall project from start to finish.

More than 475 man-hours (60 man-days) of NELMA staff time has been spent so far since the official sampling and testing plan was approved by ALSC and the U.S. Forest Products Laboratory last March. This time includes traveling to previously-identified plantation sites and marking each log with a unique origin color for separation at the participating sawmills, marking each test board with the same origin color when sawn, dried, and planedMaine Logs-web at the mill, along with intricate grading and coding of each random sample piece for identification by log origin when tested. The final test samples will number around 1,200, divided into 3 widths (2×4, 2×6, and 2×8), and 2 grades (Select Structural and No. 2) as prescribed by the official testing standard, ASTM D1990.  The lumber samples will come from the states of Wisconsin, New York, Vermont, and Maine for geographical coverage of the growing region.

Back to last week, the University of Maine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center in Orono is the site for conducting the lumber tests to include bending, tension, shear, and compression.  Dr. Stephen Shaler, Director of the School of Forest Resources, and Russell Edgar, Sr. Lab. Operations, have embraced the project’s significance to the lumber industry and are leading the project to its analytic conclusion, targeted for January 31, 2016.  NELMA’s industry members were invited to “watch” a bit of the testing procedures on October 22, with 10 participants attending to see how much force it takes to completely break or pull apart lumber.  Check out the video below to see how much a Norway Spruce board will deflect on its edge before it breaks……wait for the snap!

UMaine testing image-web“Getting to this point has been a complex and arduous task for NELMA as a small inspection agency tackling the first testing project that has been conducted on a “new” U.S. species in more than 75 years, but the end result should be well worth the effort on behalf of our members”, according to Jeff Easterling, NELMA President. “We need to thank numerous state agencies and member mills that have been instrumental in making this project possible. This includes the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, the Empire State Forest Products Association, the Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry, the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks & Recreation, the Maine Forest Service, and the Massachusetts Department of Conservation.  Significant participation by our members includes Milan Lumber, Pleasant River Lumber, and Irving Forest Products.  Participating mills in the Great Lakes region of NSLB include Biewer Lumber and Pukall Lumber.

Look for additional updates to follow as the project moves towards completion.