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Russell Edgar, Wood Geek

Russell Edgar is Sr. Lab. Operations & Wood Composites Manager at the University of Maine Advanced Structures and Composites Center
Russell Edgar is Sr. Lab. Operations & Wood Composites Manager at the University of Maine Advanced Structures and Composites Center

How long have you been working with wood?

At the age of 31, I decided to switch gears and go from working with wood as a hobby to it being a career.  A degree from UMass in Wood Science, then one here at UMaine led to an opportunity to become the Wood Composites Manager at the (then named) Advanced Engineered Wood Composites Center at UMaine. Sixteen years later, I’m still here getting to do research on innovative wood products and processes every day. Love my job.

What is it about wood that you love and appreciate?

I learned the word “biophilia” recently. It’s the idea (fact?) that being around natural products makes you feel better and healthier. Wood does that for me. Recently I’ve been intrigued that we can help mitigate climate change by using, and then regrowing, a lot more wood. Fancy term…carbon sequestration. Sequester comes from the latin word to kidnap. Kidnapping carbon…I like the concept.

Favorite wood project?

My favorite wood project was doing all the testing and data analysis, in collaboration with NELMA, to get Norway spruce included in the SPF-S lumber grouping. It had a very immediate and clear economic impact, which isn’t true of all R&D projects. Gotta be a wood geek to care about deriving the compression perpendicular to grain design values for a wood species!

Best wood/wood project story?

I like to tell the story of an architect that came in and had us make OSB using a variety of tropical hardwoods. He planned to cut the panels on edge, stain them, and create beautiful decorative wall panels. We were sweeping the floor, which included a ripped, blue nitrile glove covered in adhesive, and as we went to throw the contents of the dustpan in the trash, he said, “No! Put all that in the panel…it’ll look fantastic!” He had a different eye for things.

Where do you think wood fits into today’s home improvement/building industries?

We’ve been doing a lot of research on mass timber, such as cross laminated timber. I think we’ll see an evolution, or revolution, where our tremendous Northern New England forests will supply the insatiable demand for timber buildings in the near future. It could be a devolution, as we’re returning to building with timber, the original massive structural product.


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