The second tree of these two Celtic maples was more fortunate. A spruce has grown just under it and absorbed the forces of the cliff edge. The maple was able to grow straight and free of tension. This stability and harmony continues to reproduce itself throughout the tree, up into its crown and results in the quality wood we like to use.
The art of forestry is about working with this extraordinary process instead of hindering it. Nature really doesn't need human intervention.
The first maple tree has accomplished its job. It is deeply rooted, has stabilized the earth and keeps it from slipping. However, this struggle has left marks on the stem and wood. Even though it has grown in a tree community which is perfect for maple trees, I would not use its wood for difficult tasks like long and wide floor boards or glass frame.
Through pushing and stemming, the fine roots spread and dfer the heavy load of the growing tree into the slippery hill side or cliff. When they explore deeper soil levels, they carefully include any bump and little pebble. The constant nutrient exchange between roots and soil stabilizes and renews the forest floor even in initially depleted areas and facilitates growth.
The way the tree is rooted in the ground is a deciding factor for the straightness and growth of the fiber and its quality.
Let's look at the two maples. Both seedlings landed in a difficult location at the edge of the cliff. The increasing weight of the growing trees will cause the cliff edge to give way, therefore the roots and the trunks need to balance these forces.
This load increases many times when the tree carries snow or its crown is bent by the forces of a storm.
The small tree grew into a structural wonder. No building engineer in the world is able to transfer the weight of these buildings as ingenious as trees do via their root systems.
Its brother was luckier; a spruce tree (to the right) allowed it to grow straight.
The trials of growing at the edge of a cliff are inscribed in the twisted grow of a Maple tree.
These illustrations are the real drawings of two Celtic maple trees which both grow on the same cliff edge above a creek. To grow at this abyss, the roots which first held the sprout when it only weighed a few grams eventually has to defer the weight of a five to ten-ton adult tree into the ground.
(In Austria and Germany, only half of the yearly re-growth in forests is being used for manufacturing. The rest stays in the forests to provide shelter and nutrition for young trees. Just in Austria alone, it takes approximately two minutes to grow enough timber for a single family home! That would amount to 260,000 homes per year. If all of these houses were built, it would take 30 years to house every Austrian, from small child to old age in a solid, wooden house.)
In a human family, every member has different tendencies and skills. In the forest too, we need to find the best musicians for the orchestra, the most skilled people for trades, and academics for intellectual work and so on.
The following example of two Celtic maples growing right next to each other shows that they are not necessarily the same quality and grow equally.
Two Brothers Standing at the Abyss
When working with natural materials o trying to understand human nature, we always need to observe and tune into each being anew and avoid generalizing.
The previous elaborations about spruce monocultures and mixed forests communities shouldn't lead us to the conclusion that all natural forests consist only of 'violin wood'.
- The traditional wisdom of our grandparents needs to be recorded and passed on to the next generation. As has been practice for hundreds of years, the old forester Fritz Loeffler artfully covered his stack with tree bark to keep his fire wood dry.
- The scent of Swiss Pine repels insects from grain stored in this wooden trunk.
- Parquet flooring made of cherry tree and alpine maple; all floors from Thoma Holz100 are made of pure moonwood.
- The sun's radiation causes the different effects depending on the orientation. The left side faces south and the right side east.
- The Holz100 system merges traditional and modern building methods.
- It looks like a 'normal' Timber / Wood building. However, it is a Holz100 building with solid 360mm thick exterior walls.
- Dr. Thoma's grandfather skillfully used simple wooden hand tools for decades.
(Old roof shingles made of Larch - the wood turning grey effectively protects it from weathering.)
(Here the yearly growth rings are clearly visible.)
Wood harvested at the right time, naturally dried and professionally crafted will last for centuries without being treated.
The further away from its natural environment a spruce has been planted, such as warmer, low-lying areas, the more susceptible it is to diseases and pests.
Forestry management in Austria has learned this over the past few years. Today, a conscious and aware forester would not plant monocultures of trees which might not even be native to the area. Quite the opposite, today monocultures are being converted back into mixed forests.
It took the forestry industry decades of planting monocultures before they began to realize that these unnatural plantings had many disadvantages. In a monoculture, the forest floor is no longer penetrated and infiltrated with a diversity of roots and the mulch produces mostly acidic soil. Those trees then become more susceptible to insects infestation, fungus, storms and heavy snow load.
You won't find any pure coniferous forests below the 3,000 - 4,000 ft. (1100-1200 meters) altitude and certainly not pure spruce forests. Coniferous forests with spruce, pine and larch trees grow best at higher altitudes such as in the Alps and in the northern European regions.
The healthiest and best-adapted natural forests which have emerged over thousands of years were cut down in just one or two generations. What has re-grown since then are not wonderful mixed woods but sickly monocultures of trees foreign to the area and soil conditions.
A very one-sided economic approach contributed to the conversion from naturally mixed forests to monocultures, of mainly spruce trees. Until the 1970s, University classes taught that spruce trees were the 'bread and butter' of the forestry industry.
We still can find natural tree families in untouched and remote forests.
Even though we are now being taught about the importance of natural woods as part of forestry studies, it was forestry people who, in the past two centuries, have changed large parts of te middle European woods.
The Natural Forest
A natural forest is another phenomenon which is important to the origin of the trees. Everywhere in the world Mother Nature had a particular combination of trees in mind which perfectly suited the location and harmonized with the soil. This forest family was best suited to the climate zone and grew abundantly.
The finer and more interwoven a fiber structure is, the more elastic, smoother, tighter and longer lasting is the fabric. The very fast-growing spruce in lower altitudes compare to the fine fibers of high-altitude spruce trees like jute does to silk.
For this reason, we only work with very fine fibred wood grown in the Alps (approximately 3,000 - 4,000 feet, 915-1220 meters above sea level) particularly when building projects with glass facades where the wood must not move or shrink.
The same type of tree grown in higher altitudes produces a spacing of just a millimeter or even less between the yearly growth rings. This much finer structure has many advantages for building quality homes and furniture
(When looking at the distance of the growth rings, you can see if a tree has grown fast or slowly)
We will take a closer look at influences such as the right location in the forest and stress-free growth in the next chapter. The most important type of tree for building wood in Europe is the spruce. You find this fast-growing tree in lower-lying areas in nutrient-rich soil with growth rings that have up to 3cm spacing between them.
Dense Fiber Grows at High Altitudes
The correct choice of tree (according to what is going to be used for later) and the right timing of the harvest are the two main criteria when working with wood in a natural way. Both measures are basic requirements for straight, stable and long-lasting wood.
<Finely grown trees with little space between the growth rings (e.g. pine, 1mm and less) usually are less prone to cracks and tension, more durable and therefore higher quality building wood.> One can compare the consistency of wood with textures and fabrics one uses for garments. The finer the weave and tighter the stitches, the more valuable and precious is the fabric.
If you count those rings, you find out how old the tree is. A specialist can tell more about the quality of the tree by looking at the distance between the rings and how evenly they have grown. Finely grown trees with little space between the growth rings (e.g. pine, 1mm and less) usually are less prone to cracks and tension, more durable and therefore higher quality building wood.
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