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The Activities of the Subcommittee on Mechanical Wood Technology

The Subcommittee on Mechanical Wood Technology was set up in accordance with a recommendation made by the Standing Advisory Committee for Forestry and Forest Products at Oslo in August 1946. In September of the same year the FAO Conference at Copenhagen ratified this recommendation, and drew up the working program of the subcommittee, requesting that the following points be taken into consideration:

(1) Standardization of grading rules for lumber and a technological classification of woods in relation to their uses.

(2) Elaboration of standards for mechanical testing of wood.

(3) Elaboration of building codes for the use of architects and contractors; improvement of building codes and use of modern equipment and methods of assembly.

(4) Methods of improving properties of wood by chemicals.

These general recommendations have been quickly carried out. The subcommittee, formed at the end of 1946, is com posed of fifteen qualified experts in the field of physical and mechanical wood technology, chosen either for their position or their previous work in the various countries. As suggested by the Standing Advisory Committee, they were chosen not as representatives of their countries, but as experts capable of considering different technical problems from an international viewpoint.

In order to reduce traveling costs, it was agreed to divide the subcommittee into a European and an American group, which would discuss the problems separately and exchange information. In accordance with this arrangement the European group held its meeting at Zurich (Switzerland) 11-16 January 1947. The American group met several months later, 7-10 July, at Washington, D. C. Less than a year after the Copenhagen Conference, therefore, the Subcommittee on Mechanical Wood Technology had been formed, had begun to work, and had even reached important conclusions on certain points.

A summary of the main points that have been discussed by the subcommittee and of the conclusions reached is given below.

First the question of standardization was considered. Both on national and on international levels it is becoming increasingly necessary to use the same technical terms and definitions and the same methods for measuring, testing, and establishing specifications of wood products. During the past few years a great effort has been made in this direction, and the subcommittee was of the opinion that it should do its best to advance this work.

From the first discussions it was apparent that two main points of international standardization are possible: (1) technological classification of lumber and standardization of lumber sizes; (2) standardization of specification tests, both physical and mechanical, of wood and of wood products.

The most important discussion on standardization of testing methods was held at Zurich. It was decided to ask the different laboratories specializing in timber research to collaborate in the work of the subcommittee. For instance, the Forest Products Laboratories (U. S. A.), and Princes Risborough (Great Britain), the Institut National du Bois (France), and the EMPA Laboratory (Switzerland) have promised their wholehearted co-operation with regard to the unification of testing methods. A rapporteur was appointed, whose work will soon be submitted to the experts of the subcommittee. It is not too much to hope that important results will be achieved in this field in 1947.

At Washington the standardization of lumber dimensions came under review. Although testing methods are applied by only a small number of specialists, the questions of lumber technology and classification directly concern the greater proportion of timber users and merchants. Trade and technical practices and economics vary greatly from region to region and may vary even within one country; this makes the problem very difficult. It is, of course, not technically possible to adopt a universal scale for determining the dimensions of all sawn timber, but it is doubtless possible to create some order out of the present chaos. For example, it should be feasible to prepare a model list, giving as simply as possible the different dimensions standardized for softwoods in various countries. The subcommittee could not settle it in a few days however. It has requested the Division of Forestry and Forest Products of FAO to facilitate exchange of information on practices existing in different countries with a view to examining to what extent international standardization of dimensions is possible. The problem is still being studied and in the next few months further steps may be made towards the solution.

Besides the general question of standardization, a second important item in the program of the subcommittee is the best method of utilizing wood in construction. The rational utilization of wood must, indeed, be considered as of primary importance. On the one hand, in a period of scarcity, it reduces consumption through economy in the use of material, while in normal times it enables timber construction to sustain comparison both technically and economically with other types of construction and so helps to strengthen the competitive position of wood as against substitute materials. All these points have been discussed and have received the attention of the subcommittee. It has also been decided to study construction methods and building codes. Very substantial progress in construction has been achieved in various countries during the past few years. It is time now to apply this knowledge and, if possible, to improve upon it. The subcommittee believed that a complete study of new construction methods should be made both in Europe and in America. An inquiry regarding building codes for timber construction has been sent out to various countries with a view to comparing the rules in force and attempting to draw up a world technical code based on acquired experience.. At the same time it has been decided to assign to qualified experts the study of the use of wood in dwelling construction and prefabrication. In this way, complete documentation will be collected. The results of this study should then be published as completely as possible, to provide the member nations with information on the most modern and rational principles of building construction.

The study of construction is not complete without a consideration of timber preservation. During the meeting at Washington, the attention of the subcommittee was drawn to modern methods of preservation and new preservative products. The preservation of wood in certain tropical countries was also studied. The use of rational construction methods that allow for all the characteristics of wood largely prevents attacks by insects and decay. However, there are certain cases where wood is particularly exposed and where preservative treatment is indicated. The Division of Forestry and Forest Products of FAO was asked to act as a center of information on this project. It will collect information concerning preservatives and methods and will disseminate it among member nations. Laboratories which have especially studied this question-in particular, the Forest Products Laboratory at Madison, Wisconsin, U.S.A. - will give their full co-operation in this matter.

These are the most important questions that have been discussed. But other problems that are important in the rational utilization of wood have also been considered by the subcommittee. The utilization of waste, the transformation of sawdust and shavings into fiberboard capable of replacing boards, and the substitution of sheathing in construction have been subjects of deliberation by the American group, which considered it advisable to follow up development of this work both on the technical and ion the economic level.

In the opinion of the subcommittee the elaboration of an international terminology for wood technology would promote exchange of research and documentation among technicians of various countries. A resolution was taken that this work should be begun as soon as possible by the Division of Forestry and Forest Products of FAO in cooperation with members of the subcommittee and the laboratories and other organizations they represent.

It is hoped that the coming year will bring the first fruits of the collaboration of timber technicians, both from the Old and New Worlds, which has emerged these last few months from the Division of Forestry and Forest Products of FAO.

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