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Forest products utilization

More complete use of the forest crop
Useful products at lower costs

The countries richest in standing forests may be counted poor if they have no forest industries. To appraise the role that the forest should play in the economic development of a country and to gauge the relative position of forestry against other forms of land use, once the elemental needs for fuel and basic shelter and services have been met, it is necessary to make an assessment of forest industries, actual and potential.

And not just any forest industries, but efficient forest industries, because their end products must compare in quality and price, not only with competing substitutes for wood and wood-base materials but perhaps also with other products resulting from another form of land utilization.

But what are efficient forest industries? To deserve the epithet they should offer a high degree of encouragement toward good forest practices, particularly higher forest yields and more complete utilization of the forest crop; they must be backed by efficient harvesting, transport and manufacturing operations; they must ensure a satisfactory status for forest workers; they must be geared to take advantage of forest produce other than wood; and they must serve the development of key industries such as housing and paper manufacture.

With these criteria in mind the problem of improving forest utilization and developing satisfactory forest industries may well be discussed in relation to two interrelated objectives:

1. more complete use of the forest crop;
2. the production of useful and satisfactory goods at lower costs.

More complete use of the forest crop

In relatively few countries, outside western Europe and those nations with extremely limited timber supplies, does the forest crop contribute in anything approaching maximum degree to social needs. Even under the most intensive conditions of utilization there are usually opportunities for the reduction of waste or of conversion to more useful products. In many countries, and especially in tropical regions, entire forests are unmerchantable or unmerchantable except for a few choice species, while trees of low utility, small dimension or unknown qualities cannot be harvested profitably. Logging and manufacturing wastes are often so high that larger amounts of wood are wasted, or burnt as low-grade fuel, than appear in the form of final products.

In general, these problems are more prevalent with broadleaf (deciduous) species than with conifers, for the occurrence of the latter in larger and less mixed stands and their qualities of reasonable strength with light weight, ease in seasoning and general workability, have made them eminently suitable for general construction purposes, which (after fuel) still offer by far the greatest single outlet for forest products. All of this is well known.

The problem of more complete utilization, then, is one of finding commercial outlets for species and sizes now unmerchantable, particularly for hardwoods, and for logging and manufacturing wastes of all kinds. This problem is not only important from the standpoint of better current use. It has important future implications as well, for often only through more complete utilization can stagnant or slow-growing old forests be converted to productive young growth with minimum waste; poor form or low-valued species be removed that might otherwise occupy growing space needed for better trees; and smaller trees harvested in the thinning and intermediate cuttings essential to the best silviculture and hence the greatest productivity and most efficient land use.

Under these circumstances it is only natural that a great deal of work should already have been done to extend our knowledge of unknown or little known species, and to improve the use of small size and low utility trees and industrial wastes. Much of this has taken the form of methodical and systematic research at leading forest products laboratories, forestry schools, museums and botanical gardens, and in the forest industries. The knowledge thus added on the anatomical, physical and chemical properties of new woods; the improvement of seasoning, preservation and pulping practices; and the creation of new products such as wood-based plastics, fiber and chipboards and numerous similar developments have helped substantially toward better and fuller use of the forest resource.

Only a few illustrations are needed as a reminder of the substantial and often spectacular changes that have taken place as a result of such past study and experiment. Sweet gum (Liquidambar stryaciflua), once an unmerchantable "weed" species of the eastern coastal plain of the United States, now ranks first among the hardwoods used from this area for furniture. Its tendency to warp and twist in seasoning was overcome by systematic study. Then the oaks, cedars, and other species of high natural durability were replaced on a wide scale with other less valuable and more abundant woods of suitable physical and mechanical properties for ties, poles and other uses requiring contact with the ground, once preservative treatment could be substituted for natural durability. Laminated timbers, once an engineering and architectural curiosity, permitting the employment of small dimension pieces, are now commonly employed in boat building and other construction requiring large timbers of high strength. Resinous pines, earlier considered unsuitable for paper making, are now used in substantial degree in the production of "kraft" and similar papers with the development and perfecting of the sulphate process. Hardwoods, already used in paper-making in rapidly increasing quantity (10 million solid cubic meters in the United States alone in 1951) are finding new outlets, as in the preparation of rayon and other dissolving pulps. In addition, new processes under trial, such as the semi-chemical pulping methods (chemigroundwood, cold caustic soda, neutral sulphite, sulphate semi-chemical) promise more widespread future use for hardwoods, including tropical hardwoods, as knowledge grows and the hard economics of pulp and paper production and marketing become more favorable. And those are only a few among the many illustrations that might be cited.

Perhaps the most spectacular and promising of recent advances are in the field of chemical conversion. To date the most substantial of these have been in the field of pulp, paper and plastics. Two rather new methods, hydrolysis and hydrogenation, give promise of extending even further the use of wood as raw material for the chemical industries. Hydrolysis, by changing wood into sugars, followed in some cases by conversion to other products, is a most promising approach to large-scale chemical utilization of wood waste. Wood molasses, industrial alcohol, high protein yeast, chemical solvents are all possible products of this process. Hydrogenation creates a complex of alcohols, phenolics and neutral oils, a possible mine of many useful chemical products such as solvents, fuels, lubricants, neutral oils.

Possible utilization of this kind is particularly effective in the use of wood waste, because chemical processing, though all too often a customer for roundwood, is best adapted to the consumption of wood of a great variety of forms or sizes or quality. Sawdust, shavings, slabs, trimmings, and cull logs are all suitable and, as has been stated, the amount of wood waste available is of such magnitude as to offer the basis for a great new chemical industry if even partially utilized. It is estimated, for example, that in the United States alone some 16 million tons of industrial wood waste remain unused each year with an additional 27 million tons burned as fuel in plant operations. Left in the woods each year are even larger quantities of cut wood, too crooked, split or defective for lumber, but eminently suited for chemical conversion.

Forest products other than wood also offer a means of more complete use of the forest crop. Natural resins, such as oleoresin from pines or the so-called "wood resins" distilled from pine stumps, numerous tannins, essential oils, dyes and drugs offer a wide variety of supplemental products of utility and often high value. Here research has also proved a powerful tool. To take two illustrations among many: the distillation of "wood" turpentine and its refinement into a product competitive in quality and much lower in price than natural "gum" resin is one of the minor triumphs of industrial research. Conversely, "bark" chipping combined with the application of strong acid to the wound or streak of turpentined pines is improving the competitive prospects of this material, and, by reducing the damage and degrading done to the valuable butt log of such trees is encouraging the extension of turpentining operations to stands heretofore barred to such practices. Dependable products in assured supply in respect of quantity and quality, and more efficient production at lower costs are often the keys to more complete utilization of minor forest products. Better collection and extraction methods and good marketing procedures are often especially important. In the case of medicinal herbs, for example, a better knowledge of the medically active substances and their pharmaceutical properties, combined with sanitary production in standard quality and certain supply, would go far toward assuring forest producers additional substantial and sustained income.

Knowledge, then, and usually knowledge gained by research, is the key to more complete use of the forest crop. It should therefore be incumbent on each country to develop and maintain national or regional research facilities adequate to its needs, together with associated services for disseminating the knowledge gained to forest producers, manufacturers, engineers, builders, architects, and other key groups in the complex of forest utilization.

The information needed must cover a wide field. In less developed areas where untouched forests are still abundant and woods of great variety available, it would seem sensible and reasonable to begin with the basic information desirable for each tree species on botanical, anatomical, physical and mechanical properties. This information should ultimately include adequate data on the "engineering" qualities, such as specific gravity, bending and compression strength, hardness, shear, cleavage and toughness. The work of FAO's Technical Panel on Mechanical Wood Technology in the improvement and international standardization of these and related tests should prove of real value in this connection. But investigative work should also include study of "processing" qualities such as seasoning characteristics, decay resistance, and relative ease of preservative treatment, moisture absorption in use (shrinking and swelling), bending, weathering, gluing, nailing and painting properties, sawing and machining qualities and related information on color, figure, texture, grain, luster and so on. In general this knowledge, often acquired only through systematic and often prosaic but essential testing, will lay a proper base for intelligent use in producing structural timbers, lumber for construction, box boards, furniture, vehicles, mill work and so on, ties, sleepers and mine props, plywood and veneers, and those other outlets for wood which still use, aside from fuel, over nine-tenths of the forest crop.

Indeed it is obvious that some advanced manufacturing processes, the production of laminated beams, for example, are expedients forced by lack of suitable natural materials, in this case structural timbers of suitable size. Commonsense natural outlets should, of course, be sought first where the nature of the forest and the quality and variety of the species permit. A primary task will be the improvement or development of domestic or regional markets because wood is bulky and usually of low value per unit of weight. Ordinarily only wood products of exceptional quality and value will bear the cost of long distance shipping. Careful thought in this connection should be given to the proper development of industries serving the needs of the country's own people and commensurate with the degree of industrial development. It would seem unsound, for example, to emphasize the production of plastics at the expense of badly needed housing, or of industrial chemicals where chemical industries are primitive or undeveloped. In addition, it must be remembered that the more complex utilization processes, for example production of pulp and paper, plastics, and rayon, often require considerable quantities of skilled and semi-skilled labor, trained technicians and a high degree of management skill not always readily available in less industrially developed areas.

Nevertheless a study of chemical properties, used here to include pulping qualities, should accompany other investigations at an early date. Chemical industries are not only a desirable supplement to the sawmill, plywood and other essentially "mechanical" industries (though a clear cut distinction here is obviously impossible) in offering new outlets - and especially outlets for smaller dimensions, waste, etc., with accompanying benefits in better silvicultural practice and increased productivity - but they also usually result in a product of higher value, permitting the utilization of more and on the average better paid labor, factors clearly in each nation's interest. A study of pulping qualities alone requires information on a considerable number of other properties ranging from chipping and grinding characteristics to the types of fiber and pulps, and the resultant papers that can be produced by various processes. Again research, usually both public and industrial, is the key to progress. FAO's Technical Panel on Wood Chemistry and Advisory Board on Pulping Tests have aided advances here by summarizing the latest information on processing woods and agricultural wastes and by suggesting procedures for international tests of new fibrous material for paper (FAO Forestry and Forest Products Studies No. 3 and No. 6, respectively).

In summary, then, more complete use of the forest crop will usually require more adequate knowledge of species and sizes now unmerchantable as a basis for developing desirable utilization outlets as economic conditions permit. As an essential first step, therefore, each country should see that:

1. its woods (and other useful plants and products of the forest) are properly identified and their qualities and available quantities reasonably well known; this will require adequate research facilities, national or regional, and reasonably good forest inventories;

2. accompanying extension services assure prompt dissemination of new and useful knowledge to forest producers, processors and users, including such key groups as engineers and architects;

3. proper extraction, processing and marketing facilities assure dependable products of desirable quality and utility in assured supply.

Useful products at lower costs

Just how important in improving forest utilization is the production of dependable products of desirable quality and utility at lower costs? Obviously such production is a key factor, because the great technological and industrial advances of the last 150 years have placed wood in an extremely contested position where its usefulness and serviceability and its comparative price are of great importance. Indeed these technological advances have already robbed wood of many of its ancient markets. Once almost the sole fuel and one of the few primary materials for construction, wood has steadily been replaced in whole or in part by coal and petroleum and by a multitude of new construction materials, especially steel and cement. Metal beams and structural items, reinforced concrete, concrete - bridges and piling, composition floors, steel furniture, all metal vehicle bodies, metal lath and window sash, metal doors and trim, composition roofing, make up only a very incomplete list of the items of this kind that could be cited. Many of these changes are in man's best interest and mark satisfactory social and economic advances. But too often they have taken place because the comparable wood product has become expensive or too scarce, or because it lacked adequate durability or, improperly dried or manufactured, failed for other reasons to give satisfaction in use. An additional factor has been lack of good advertising and marketing procedures, for too often wood has been left to "sell itself" against new and aggressive competition. It is obviously in a nation's best interest to see that these failures are corrected so that forest products and hence forest lands can be put to their best and fullest use.

It is also readily apparent that modern technology, while throwing formidable obstacles in the way of more complete use of the forest crop through the development of numerous competing materials, also opens innumerable channels for better use of the crop and its processing at lower costs.

New and better products

Some of the most interesting prospects for new and better products from wood, such as laminates, building boards, paper products and plastics, have already been discussed briefly in the section on more complete use of the forest crop. It will be sufficient to re-emphasize here that many of the difficulties in the traditional uses of wood have been due to bad manufacture, improper drying, lack of preservative treatment, and inadequate knowledge of its strength and other pertinent properties. Many of the prejudices against lumber will disappear as manufacturers improve the quality and serviceability of the product. As some writers have pointed out, it is highly desirable to select the right wood for the right purpose, a wood of good natural durability or satisfactory preservative treatment, for example, for use in contact with the ground; but equally undesirable to pay a price for qualities such as durability, where the use intended does not require this quality. Here the great variation in qualities between tree species should be a real advantage in wise use where knowledge is satisfactory. Organized demonstrational and educational effort is needed to focus the attention of the buying public on the merits of wood when properly selected and prepared. Too often builders, architects and other mass users know far too little about wood and discriminate to its disadvantage or use it unwisely, with ultimate prejudice on the part of the consumer. Better knowledge, properly disseminated, is here again the key to better utilization.

This knowledge has grown steadily in recent decades. Better knowledge of wood properties, improved methods of preservation and new preservatives, better paints, better glues, more adequate engineering information on strength, hardness, toughness, ability to withstand shear, new chemicals and treatment against fungi and insect attacks, increased fire resistance - all of these and many similar factors have and are receiving current study. A successful fire-resistance treatment, for example, or a practical method of preventing shrinkage and swelling in use, both technological possibilities, would go far to regaining lost markets and insuring customer satisfaction. But this is only a beginning. These advances must be perfected and extended to unused or little used species.

In addition, engineers must take full advantage of the qualities inherent in wood as a structural material - high strength per unit of weight, non-conductivity, good impregnation qualities, workability, varying combinations of strength and other useful properties - all factors capable of withstanding strong competition in world markets. Research must show the way to radical improvement in wood construction. One major step has already been taken in the development of machinery and methods for the production of prefabricated houses. It is hoped that the factory methods thus permitted may shave 10 to 20 percent off the price of conventional houses, with an end product at least as good, if not better, insofar as the house-owner is concerned.

As previously stated, the chemist has already recognized the possibilities of wood as a raw material, and a new and brilliant array of useful products from this source is technically feasible; many are already in substantial commercial production. The future here is unpredictable. Solving the enigma of lignin alone, comprising approximately one-third of all wood substance, might well lay the basis for a great new chemical industry.

Lower costs

In addition modern technology offers innumerable ways of lowering costs through more efficient production and processing practices. Heavy machinery for road building, tractors for skidding and yarding, and trucks for more economical hauling have, for example replaced skidders and railroad logging in many operations. New type cableways offer a means of harvesting isolated stands or stands in difficult terrain. Tractors and other modern equipment have made it feasible to remove the larger and heavier logs which are difficult or impossible to handle with hand or animal operated equipment, thus improving utilization and opening up new areas for management. In effect, new and better tools and machines of all kinds for cutting, skidding, loading and even unit bundling, or packaging of roundwood for ease in transport, are steadily remaking forest harvesting procedures, with resulting economies and reduction in waste.

One additional illustration will serve to indicate the methods and potentialities. The relatively new practice of skidding in tree lengths prior to limbing (crown removal) results in better utilization where the method is appropriate, permits more efficient limbing and power bucking at the landing and promises immeasurable benefits in regard to fire losses and fire protection costs by reducing the amount of dangerous logging slash left in the woods, heretofore an inevitable concomitant of harvesting operations except in regions of intensive utilization. The use of better tools and equipment and appropriate mechanization offers, therefore, rewards of great magnitude ranging from lower costs, particularly where wages are rising, to ability to harvest areas and species hitherto unmerchantable.

Even larger gains may be possible in processing fields where better sawmills, improved equipment for planing and finishing; better glues and gluing processes, including water-resistant synthetic resins; improved preservation methods, new chemicals to prevent staining, and new processes for the production of fiber and chipboards and innumerable paper products and derivates show the possibility of more effective utilization at lower costs.

The possibilities for savings and efficiency through the organization of integrated industries has already been mentioned. But new tools and machines, new methods of operation, and better arranged and mechanized plants offer less substantial but important efficiencies on all sides. Small sawmills, for example, have been greatly improved by the application of sound engineering principles, and portable mills are now available equipped with band or circular saws, lumber and slab conveyors, log ramps and edger.

Even sawing and chipping processes, older than recorded history, are now being subjected to careful study by new electronic devices, and the superior Reineke double kerf saw is only one of the new and useful devices that have appeared and will continue to appear out of ingenious and searching study of this kind in an infinite variety of fields. Here, again, research is the key to more effective progress.

Nevertheless, mechanization alone is not always a clear road to greater efficiency and reduced costs. Power saws, for example, very efficient under certain circumstances, as in log bucking at the landing or log yard, may be less efficient than normal saws in the woods. Mechanized pulpwood operations, permitting wood procurement at greatly reduced costs on suitable terrain and under skilled supervision, have failed miserably when these elements were lacking. Idle and improperly operated machines can be very costly. Small sawmills, of high technical and engineering qualities, may still turn out a low grade, poorly manufactured product if trained labor is unavailable or supervision inadequate. Indeed operations of this type may require good credit facilities and accompanying, satisfactory seasoning, grading and marketing services, in addition to intelligent mechanical operation and maintenance, if they are to be truly satisfactory.

Any country contemplating mechanization, therefore, must remember that skilled management (proper organization and skilled supervision), good maintenance facilities, and properly trained and skilled workers are as essential as suitable tools and machines in most mechanized operations. And these items are often scarce or lacking in less industrialized areas.

Two items seem worth particular mention in this connection. Firstly, much emphasis has been placed in the past on the development of heavy equipment suitable for handling large logs, as on the west coast of North America or in tropical areas. This has been desirable and valuable. But much useful development and testing work still remains to be done in designing forest machines for managed forests, where, by and large, trees will not be grown to the great size and age found in virgin forests.

Secondly, the proper training of forest workers is obviously of special importance in modern forest operations. Although the training of workers in both the forest and processing phases is equally desirable, the training of woods workers offers some special problems because forest labor is usually scattered, often working alone or in small crews; it is commonly of two types: permanent forest workers deriving all or most of their livelihood from the forest, and part-time forest workers, usually farmers or seasonal workers. The work is of great variety, ranging from the use of simple hand tools to complicated heavy machinery such as tractors and skidders, and specialization is not always practicable, especially in small operations. Regional training centers and mobile forest schools, financed by government or industry, have been the main answers so far to this difficult question. Some twenty-nine schools for forest workers in western Europe alone are listed, for example, in a European directory of research and training institutions in this field compiled by the Pilot Committee on Logging Techniques and Training of Forest Workers of FAO's European Forestry Commission. The importance of forest worker training as a means of better production at lower costs with resultant improvement in the social status and standard of living of workers in the forest and related industries is obviously a matter well worth thoughtful consideration and action by government and industry alike.


In summary, then, modern technology while it has created many problems by the invention of wood substitutes, also offers innumerable channels through which efficient forest industries can be developed. Part of the solution lies in more complete use of the forest crop, for at present entire forests are unmerchantable, or unmerchantable except for a few species, especially in tropical regions, while almost everywhere logging and manufacturing wastes are high, and trees of low utility, small dimension and unknown qualities cannot be harvested profitably. In addition, wood as a raw material is in an increasingly contested position, and products giving adequate satisfaction to the consumer, at reasonable cost and in adequate supply, must be assured.

Modern technology has already made substantial progress toward more complete use of the forest and the production of satisfactory products at lower costs but much more remains to be done. A great deal more knowledge is needed on the properties of tree species not now merchantable and on how these and other species may be harvested more economically and processed more efficiently. Research has proved to be a powerful tool in obtaining such knowledge and it will pay each country to look at its national and regional research institutions to see that they are adequately equipped, staffed and financed for the task ahead. With the necessary basic knowledge in hand, and with accompanying extension services to assure prompt dissemination of new and useful information to forest users and processors, modern techniques offer brilliant prospects in more complete and better use of the forest crop. New machines for harvesting, and new processing equipment, methods and products, all promise broader utilization of wood as a raw material and its continued and efficient use in such key industries as housing and in pulp, paper and plastics. Indeed research now under way, especially in chemical fields, promises even further advances in the next few decades in the broadening use of wood as a raw material for key industries. Such use will not only create the employment and wealth inherent in manufacture and trade but assure more efficient use of a basic and renewable land resource, the forest.

The Congress might well consider, therefore, among other questions:

1. What steps need to be taken to assure more complete use of the forest crop, and its efficient harvesting and processing into useful products, competitive in price and utility?

2. How adequate is existing knowledge and the research and extension agencies necessary to obtain, improve, and disseminate such knowledge?

3. What are the prospects in each country and under varying circumstances, of broadening existing or creating new and useful forest industries appropriate to the country's needs and its domestic and foreign trade?


The periodical Tropical Woods, devoted to the promotion of forestry in the tropics, is again to be published by the Yale University School of Forestry on a regular basis. Information may be obtained from the Editor, Tropical Woods, 205 Prospect Street, New Haven, Connecticut, U.S.A.

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