Building with Moonwood
This was another event in the life of Dr. Thoma that made him start questioning modern methods of problem solving. Since the properties of wood saved his children from suffering, he thought that there might be a demand for traditional woodworking. He decided to open a woodworking shop, with an idea that wood might also help other people. He asked his grandfather to be his advisor. And this is how, in the 80’s, they started their business - one that would run completely contrary to the modern trends of civilization. Initially, most of their orders were for flooring. Unfortunately, these floors were often installed in new buildings, where there was still a lot of moisture in the concrete. As a result, the wood would swell with time, and the parquets would expand and contract.
Again, it was his grandfather who came up with a solution. He mentioned how we should only and solely use wood that was harvested at its best. What does it mean, though? The idea is to only harvest wood when the sap levels are its lowest in winter, but most importantly, to do it solely during the waning moon.
“Grandfather”, Dr. Thoma replied. “I studied forestry engineering in Vienna with the best professors. If such knowledge existed, I would have heard about it a long time ago.” Still, his grandfather remained stubborn. “I've been doing this all my life, you should try it, too” - he said. Dr. Thoma was still skeptical; however, he decided to harvest the next batch of timber in January, during the waning moon.
His timber was set aside in one pile while lumberjacks continued to work on a new pile of timber, despite the fact that the moon had already entered a different phase. The timber they cut at this time was set aside in another pile at the neighbor's. Because of the snow, the wood could not be transported, so they had to wait until spring. Once the snow melted, Mr. Thoma went to fetch the wood. The first thing he did was to check for woodworms, and it turned out that there were no signs of pests on it.
Out of curiosity, he checked the other pile of wood at the neighbor's and found that it was completely infested with woodworms! This was the third time that Dr. Thoma reveled in the fact that there was more knowledge to be learned about wood than what he had learned at the university. As he continued to work with wood, he began conducting his own research and took notes. It turned out that this “moonwood”, as he called it, was more resistant to fungus, and especially to blue stain fungi. It dried faster and was more resistant to fire. And, most of all, it was harder and stronger, with no tendency to swell when exposed to moisture.
Today, Dr. Thoma builds homes everywhere including the tropics next to termite mounds, where everything is usually eaten by insects except Holz100 homes. As he claims, there has never been any problems with woodworms or fungi.
Allergy Free Solid Wood Home
When Dr. Thoma's children reached schooling age, he had to quit the forester's position and move with his family to Salzburg, a more civilized area. Two weeks after moving into their new apartment, the children began to cough consistently. Over time, their coughing became so intense that it created a threat of suffocation.
After many visits to the doctors, it turned out that the children were allergic to particle boards that the furniture and the floors in the new apartment were made of. This surprised Dr. Thoma, as particle boards were made from wood. It wasn’t the wood, said the doctor, but the chemicals seeping out of them. The only solution was cortisone therapy. A leaflet revealed that cortisone administered to children under the age of 20 would destroy their kidneys.
Luckily, Dr. Thoma's grandfather, a carpenter already in his 80’s at that time, had a different yet simple solution. Dr. Thoma sent the children with their mother away for the holidays, and together with his grandfather, the two replaced the particle board walls and furniture with simple and handmade solid wood. When the children came back and after a short period of time, all symptoms of their allergy disappeared.
Wood for Violins and Homes
Unexpectedly one day, two men knocked on the door of the forester Dr. Thoma’s house. They introduced themselves as violin makers also referred to as luthiers. They asked for help in finding the right wood to create new instruments. It turned out that old luthier masters used to build the most perfect violins with wood from trees growing in the Karwendel Hills. Dr. Thoma was surprised that no one has ever mentioned this during his education of forestry. Curious and intrigued, he decided to help them in their quest. When they went out to the woods the next day, he learned that the wood specifically used for violins was something extraordinary. Out of a 1,000,000 spruce trees, they needed to find the one tree that would be ideal for the creation of a violin. There was no device or machine that could identify such a tree but only human senses, intuition and a small amount of knowledge in soil science. A tree like this only grew in a specific places; high in the mountains but resting within wind-sheltered coves.
The grain structure of such a tree is particularly fine and even. A wind-blown tree results in an unstable structure which are unwanted in violins.
The luthiers spent days knocking on trees and listening to their sounds, and finally after a few days, they came to Dr. Thoma full of joy. They found a large spruce tree that could may be suitable. They were delighted with what they found, so the tree was cut down and taken away to be made into a violin. With time, Dr. Thoma forgot about this interesting experience. A year passed, and the luthiers came to knock on his door again. However, this time they did not come for wood. Usually, wood for violins must be seasoned for at least 10 years before it is used. Sophisticated chemical processes, technically insignificant, occur in wood within that long timeframe; these processes are, however, important to the process of producing such a special instrument. The luthiers couldn’t stand waiting and decided to try and build a violin regardless. To express their gratitude to Dr. Thoma and his family, they came to play a small violin concert in front of his house, in the middle of the forest.
Mr. Thoma loved trees and the forest, but he wasn't especially romantic about them. However, the sound of his trees coming from the violin introduced him to a new world. He began to realize that there was more to wood than he had been taught at the universities. He was moved to the point that he couldn't stop thinking about it. He was trying to understand how it was possible. The luthiers had no technology, no measuring instruments, just their intuition, tradition, and old knowledge carried over from generation to generation - and they created such an incredible instrument out of a piece of wood. Two worlds began to collide in his mind. On the one hand, his technocratic, engineering education, and on the other one was scientifically unexplained, ancient and traditional knowledge.
When he shared his thoughts in a conversation, one of the luthiers asked if he knew what the added value was when creating such a violin. Of course, Dr. Thoma had no idea. “Look” - the luthiers said - “a violin like this weighs about 470 grams. If you wanted to pay for it with the equivalent of its weight in gold, you would be laughed out of court. If you wanted to pay 10 times as much in gold, you would be laughed at as well. Only if you offered a 100 times its weight in gold, you might be lucky and be able to buy such a violin”.
Craftsmen, who had no advanced technology at their disposal, were able to make spruce timber a 100 times more expensive than gold. It is not just the material value that counts. Such an exceptional instrument becomes priceless for all human cultures, since its sound will continue to provide joy to many generations of music lovers for centuries.
100% Pure Wood Building System
Historians have divided our prehistoric periods in the categories of stone, bronze and iron. There is not a single word about wood, as if it did not play a role in the development of humankind. Even in those prehistoric ages, we know that mankind learned how to start a fire and without it, we would not have come this far without wood. When people moved over to the water’s edge and started fishing, they used spears, fishing rods and built boats which are all made of wood. They started building houses, then castle towns and chapels - all made of wood. Then they invented the wheel and built wagons - all made of wood. Men sailed to America on wooden ships and discovered the rest of the world. Humans owe most of their development to wood, and still, it appears that most people are not aware of how incredible this raw material is.
The current trends in design and architecture look at wood as an anachronism. The future of wood lies in laminated particle boards, glued with chemicals and covered with a synthetic grain-simulating film - A billion dollar business. Use of wood without the influence of the chemical industry seems impossible today; they produce glues, preservatives, insulation, varnishes, films, and hundreds of other toxic products, which are often deadly to both humans and the environment. It’s a market worth billions - and even then, it is instead wood that is considered dangerous, because of its alleged flammability. For this reason only, houses were preferred to be made of bricks to last for years and heavily insulated with styrofoam.
The world would have kept following this destructive path without a second thought, had there not been one man, who in the recent past with his experience, perseverance, and endurance, started a revolution in the field of timber. He rediscovered and reapplied certain valuable knowledge that had already been commonly known since the ancient times, initially derided and mocked in modern Europe. However, staying firm and true to his own experiences and family generations of woodworkers, he didn't give up. Finally the scientists, who had initially mocked him, began to applaud him, even having renowned institutions and scientists back up his theories with studies, experiments, and lab testings. He successfully began to disintegrate the system of lies created by chemical, wood and other industries of the like, lobbyists and corrupt politicians.
Dr. Erwin Thoma, an Austrian raised in the Alpine forests, was a hiker and a mountain guide, but always wanted to become a forester. As a result of his forest engineering education, like many young people in the 70s and 80s - he was convinced that modern engineering was able to solve ongoing environmental problems. Modern machines, chemistry, and even computer science have all been invading all areas of the economy and forest management, as well.
In Austria, young foresters often have to wait several decades before receiving their own forest supervision area. He was lucky, however. It turned out that there was an area in the Karwendel Mountains where no one wanted to supervise as a forester as its residency was entirely snowed in and cut off from the world in winter - the closest store would be found 50 kilometers away. However, this was a dream come true for Dr. Thoma and moved in with his wife.
Forests, Energy, and Clean Air III
The example of our middle European countries shows that all building materials and energy required for our daily life could be covered from sources which are harmless to our environment. Every architect and builder could save an incredible amount of energy which is now being wasted.
For example, the choice of a wooden window means that only a 126 part of the energy is used compared to an aluminum window. Or the other way around, you could use the same energy which is being used to install one house with aluminum windows to fit 126 houses with wooden windows!
Compare the energy usage in the production of windows, doors, floors, building, furniture, etc.
The energy used to produce 1 aluminum window could produce 126 timber / wood windows.
Sources: Bavarian State Forestry Commission, Technical University Munich; Bavarian Advisory Committee for Forestry and Timber Management; Bavarian Ministry for Agriculture and Forestry; Federal Environment Ministry, Bonn.
This comparison can be applied to all types of building materials. Think about flooring (wood or synthetics), insulation (hemp or foam), doors, stairways, furniture and much more. Once we use this vast energy resource more effectively such as solar power generators or forests, we will require less power plants, storage, transport, and infrastructure. Our forests are the most energy rich resource available to us and we need to treat and manage nature's gift in a useful and sensible manner.
In Austria, if they were to use wood as building material for our homes (from the floor to the roof, furniture, heating, etc.) they still wouldn't be able to use up the yearly re-growth of wood. There still would be enough trees left to decay and mulch the forest. According to the forestry inventory, only half of the combined yearly re-growth from Germany and Austria together is being harvested. Most of it is being used in a wasteful and toxic way. Imagine what this could mean for North America.
The use of toxic wood preservatives, paints and glues has turned modern wood products into toxic waste which cannot be returned to nature and close this cycle of wood.
When we recognize this ingenious and simple resource, and integrate our ways into the natural cycle again, we will be able to fully replace fossil fuels with renewable energy in the building of future living and working spaces.
Forests, Energy & Clean Air II
If we keep burning oil, gas or coal, we effectively release stored sun energy, because they too are of plant and organic matter. However, the important difference is the toxic emissions like sulfur and nitrogen molecules which are being released by burning fossil fuels. Additionally, fossil fuels were created in millions of years whereas trees grow in decades or centuries.
If we use energy which has been stored for millions of earth years in a fraction of an earth second, we set something in motion which is out of our control. The ozone hole in our earth's atmosphere, our global climate changes and mass dying of trees are results of speeding up this slow cycle.
Greenhouse gases are mainly carbon monoxide, methane, nitrogen and CFCs. They prevent the radiation of heat from the earth into space and thus contributes to the rising temperatures on earth. The measured concentration of these gasses (apart from CFCs which has only been introduced in the last few decades) has risen constantly since 1800.
The three most complete global temperature records available - from the UK Hadley Centre, NASA, and the US National Climate Data Centre - all show a clear upward trend in global average temperatures over the last 150 years (calculated using an 11-year running average).
Science is still unable to identify the exact causes and prospects of the anticipated climate changes on earth and this causes endless political and environmental debates. There is no doubt that globally the average temperature has risen since 1880. If we keep wasting oil, gas and coal and continue plundering our planet, the hole in the ozone layer will be of secondary importance.
We can best avoid environmental and climatic damage if we tune into natural energy cycles. We finally need to recognize the options nature presents us in form of renewable resources and learn how to use wood in ways which will allow us to safely recycle it after we have used it as furniture or building timber.
Maybe sit back for a moment and remember the last time you went for a walk through the forest. Can you feel the soft ground under your feet, the cool, fresh, spicy and healthy air? Don't you think the air freshening, solar power generating, wood-producing forest is a divine gift? It serves us daily free of charge and without fall. There is not one day where nature stops to work for the benefit of people and the earth.
We need to fulfill just one important criterion to keep this wonderful system running: treat wood only with natural products, so it can be released back into nature's cycle and decompose. In other words, avoid using chemical treatments, paints and adhesives. They are of manmade substances and turn wood into toxic waste which is not biodegradable when composted or released into the air and waterways.
Forests, Energy & Clean Air
As mentioned, even the European energy supply relies on approximately 75 percent from non-renewable sources like oil, gas and coal and this has a decisive disadvantage: it threatens our environment and our health!
Burning one ton of oil releases 2.8 tons of CO2 waste into the air. This means that the intense use of oil, gas, and coal causes the rise of CO2 into the atmosphere and relates to all the associated risks as warming of the atmosphere.
The question is: does our modern consumer society cause these results and if so, do we have to put up with it? What are useful alternatives?
Our forests can be part of our energy supply. The forest takes CO2 from the air and uses it as a building block to grow trees. If we build products which have a long lifecycle like furniture or homes, CO2 stays bound in the form of 250 kilogram carbon per cubic meter wood. A family which decides to build a wood home takes about 20,000 kilogram carbon from the air.
A tree is the largest, self-renewable storage sink of CO2 and sun energy. It is a power plant which produces oxygen and clean air for us humans. When burned correctly, wood releases not one gram more CO2 than it had absorbed from the atmosphere during its growth. A perfectly balanced and closed circuit which is not compromising the CO2 balance sheet of our environment.
The practice of using wood in the best way reduces pollution by using only dry and well-seasoned wood. It should be stacked neatly off the ground, protected from rain, and have dried for at least 6 months. Wood burns best when the moisture content is around 20%.
When lighting a fire, keep the air supply open and flames intense. Dark dense smoke contains gases which were not burned and is an indicator that the combustion is not good enough. Maintain and clean the wood stove and flue once a year because soot does not conduct heat and reduces efficiency. Always have more than one log on the fire, this gives the flames more surface and creates airflow to keep the fire going. To maintain airflow, empty the ashes regularly.
We turn our back towards the sun
and mine coal in the mountains.
We turn our back towards the sun
and drill for oil
We turn our back toward the sun
and split atoms.
When will we turn around?
- By Franz Gillinger
Nature is reaching out, let's take her hand. We can observe natural energy cycles where one day's energy production contains a multitude of what we spend in a whole year. Solar energy used straight from the collectors could cover about 70-80% of our residential energy demand for hot water and heating. With energy produced from wood, hydro and wind power, we could cover a large part of our total energy demand in the medium and long run. Despite this, even the energy supply in Europe still consists of approximately 75% of non-renewable energy like mineral oil, gas, and coal.
Planet earth became habitable millions of years ago when carbon from the atmosphere was absorbed and stored in forests which turned into the coal, oil, and gas we use today as energy. However, the way we use fossil fuels today reverses this process and if we don't change, this direction will lead us to an earth that is inhospitable.
Every day, nature re-grows millions of cubic meters of wood in the forests of our planet. Just in the tiny land of Austria itself where the Thoma Holz100 forests originate, every second grows one cubic meter of wood.
Every day, the sun evaporates unimaginable amounts of water from the oceans into the atmosphere. This water returns as rain and fills creeks, lakes and rivers which lead it back to the oceans. The sun's power also causes air movements. Winds and storms could run all the machinery of this world. And the sun rises every day, what more could we want?
What does it take for us to realize that our energy demand is tiny compared to these powerful natural processes? When will we recognize that nature's designs are the most economic and wholesome?
Once we understand how to tune into that huge natural energy current, we won't need to waste fossil fuels like oil, gas, coal and nuclear energy so that nature can re-establish the natural balance of our earth.
By the time trees have grown from a seedling to a gigantic old tree and broken down, they have had decades of working out rankings with each other to establish their social position in the forest hierarchy. Animals and the entire forest community has been protected and nourished by them. The trees also provide for their own existence by supplying leaves and pine needles to the forest grounds to produce enough mulch for the coming generations. Finally when the tree has fulfilled its need for procreation, it leaves the same way as it came. Old tree giants collapse, break down and enrich the soil with nutrients for the next generation in which they live on.
This process from tree to mulch is in perfect natural order and a very productive cycle. The sun's energy and the carbon dioxide which is absorbed by the tree is released back into the atmosphere, when the tree is rotting.
We wish for an exponential increase of solar and passive homes, made of of wood, hemp and many uses of natural materials for our future generations. Mothers buying toys and fathers building homes set this trend and their demands will reach the people responsible in the economic and politic echelons.
Let's make the most of this sacred cycle and live in harmony with nature. Conservation means appreciate and manage our forests appropriately in a loving and caring way.
The Pine Tree
The oldest pines reaching 5000+ years, the pine is considered the great grandmother of all trees.
Wherever the climate becomes difficult and the soil becomes quite barren, the pine is the first and last representative of the conifers. One of their specialties is their water-holding capacity.
On sunny, dry slopes with barren, stony limestone soils, they are equally successfully populated and protected by their tufted, long pine-needles in low-nutrient sandy soils of dry depths. Spruce and fir trees would not be able to endure such conditions. But that is not all. Even in cold climates, the pine endures much better than most species. The great pine forests of the world extend to the far north and to the coldest regions of the Siberian forests.
The Significance of the Pine Tree
The pine is the tree that grows on barren soils and often in cold or droughts that would normally prove uninhabitable for any other. However, in the end, she produces an extremely graceful and delicate figure in spite of adverse circumstances. Her yellow-orange colored bark gives the tree an overall colorful, cheerful dress which is also held in the pinewood by its orange colored core. The pine's consistent beauty is important to our minds as it is the tree that changes difficult living conditions into happy endings.
Pinewood helps to bring sad, melancholic, and retired people's minds into positive thinking and restore themselves again with the joys of life. With versatility, she masters the most difficult living conditions. She is the strongest warrior among the trees and shows us that idleness and opulence have little to do with a fulfilled life. In addition, the great grandmother of all trees reminds us of the greatest wisdom she has learned in her long life: "Love thy neighbor as thyself".
Rules & Regulations in Forestry
In the spirit of technical advancement, the relationship between human beings and building materials is defined by numbers and patents. Today, many wood workers only work with standards and regulations.
I am not demonizing all norms and regulations here; however, it simply is erroneous and destructive to reduce our relationship with trees to numbers and regulations. Sorting out and grading the quality of building wood by counting the branches of the trees doesn't result in buildings which last for centuries. A practical example are the trade laws, norms and standards which regulate the wood industry. They grade by the exact numbers and size of branches in a board or beam. Our experience however shows that the amount of branches is one of the least criteria which contribute to quality. For our winter gardens and glass facades we fit large glass panels of solid untreated timber beams. Those beams ave to be absolutely steady. If there is any movement as through cracking or warping, the glass would shatter. The largest glass panels we ever installed were about 5 meter high thermal glass panels in one piece. These panels are still intact even after many years and have amazed quite a few.
It would be extremely difficult for us to achieve the required qualities (like durability and stability) by solely relying on industry norms. These regulations don't say anything about the right selection or the right time for harvesting trees. They do not mention the markedly different qualities of juvenile and mature trees. There is no comparison between wood drying naturally slow and super-fast kiln drying.
We have used beams which have up to 10cm 'splay knots' to support large glass panels. According to standards, these beams are of low grade. However, they have performed perfectly for many years and they will do so for generations to come. Branches are the organs of a tree and are a big part of the wood story.
For the winter garden I could have used an industrial 'high grade' wood without any knots. It could have grown in an unnatural monoculture, harvested while still juvenile, in the middle of a growth spurt and dried fast in a kiln. The wood would have been sprayed against the bark beetle and possibly been dipped into fungicide. This wood would be perfectly graded and comply with all standards. Nevertheless, I would not use wood that has been so badly mistreated to build a winter garden but be very concerned about the possibility of glass panels breaking, and the wood's low resistance to insects and fungi as well as toxic residues.
Nothing ever benefits from fanaticism, pretension and narrow-mindedness. To live in harmony with nature has to do with true appreciation and consideration and the same goes for wood as well.
The Ash Tree
With their ability to connect extremes, the ash is a symbol of strong willpower.
The Ash in the Tree Family
We observed the role of these good and connecting neighbors since childhood at the fence of our neighbors. Among various forest and tree families, the ash appears to be a particularly balanced representative between extremes. While the fast-growing ash trees cannot easily settle young and difficult soils like the alder and birch, but does so immediately afterwards.
On the other hand, they are very rich in lush, profound reasons, producing immense figures up to 30 meters in height. In contrast to its predecessors birch and alder, they can live to be several hundred years old. With its deep heart root resulting in hard, tough, durable wood, the ash again joins the group of large and powerful trees.
The Importance for our Health and Soul
The ash combines extremes; it shows us a prudent midpoint approach. Prudence, constancy, and awareness of mind which are all responsible for deliberate action, are also the messages and gifts which we receive from the ash. The ash is a much more imaginative, flexible and agile alternative to people who consider the extremely energetic beech or the powerful oak as oppressive and sometimes too rigid.
Another gift of the ash is the development of strong willpower, which has to do with its endurance. The toughness of the body as well as the mind can only be developed by people with strong willpower. The meditation of the ash and its constant stillness, for example - through an ash wooden floor or furniture are excellent tools to train and strengthen our mind and bodies to become tough mentally and physically as ash wood.
The True Threat
In the early 1980's, forestry death was brought to the attention of the public for the first time. Dire reports predicting there would not be a single tree left standing in Europe took turns with appeasements and playing down the problem.
Nowadays, we are able to look at several studies done by governments and forestry departments. We know about the regional dramatic repercussions, for example in the 'Erz- and Riesengebirge', where whole mountain ranges are bare of trees and are turning into steppe. We also registered tree diseases of particular types such as elm, oak and spruce to name just a few.
On the other hand, most of our forests have survived the catastrophic storms of 1990 (violent storms Vivian and Wiebke) quite well. Forest managers and farmers have learnt much and nowadays, monocultures are rarely being planted anymore in middle Europe.
Is the decline of forest still an issue today? Our technically advanced world, where all decision-making is done by the logical left brain, has tried to capture the phenomena of forest dieback with environmental impact studies, percentages and statistics. However, this is a big mistake which is about as erroneous as the planting of monocultures 20, 50, and 100 years ago.
Imagine your child has measles. The doctor does nothing else but counts all the red spots on your child's skin and records it in a highly bureaucratic way. Would you trust this doctor? It is a similar situation with our forest. Statistics alone will not do the trick.
Every tree is an amazing living being which connects heaven to earth. The plant and animal communities which live in and around trees constitute the forest. The question is, when is a tree 'well'? What is the foundation of our wellbeing? The answer is that we are feeling well and healthy when we are being loved and able to pass this love on to others. It is well known that people who speak to and touch their plants lovingly have the most beautiful flowers. We can apply this to our forests too and love our woods. We too will be healthier and feel better.
How is 'loving the forest' supposed to look like in our daily life? To love something means to fully integrate it into one's life. The human being or the object of our love must not leave or be banned from our life. And this is where our forests have suffered most ill. Polluted air and bark beetles are only symptoms manifesting what has already happened in the hearts of humanity.
Think about the large herds of bison in the northern American prairies. As long as the local Native Americans loved, appreciated and respectfully treated the animals, both the Indians and the bison were well. This balance lasted over hundreds of years. The bison meat nourished the Indians and the skins gave them a roof over their head. The European settlers brought along their own way of life and didn't understand the bison the way Indians did. Because the bison didn't have a place in the hearts of the white population, it did not take long for the animals to become extinct.
It's not the bark beetle which threatens our forests; it is us who do not cherish it. Insects are as much a part of the forest community like birds, fox or deer are. The real cause for the death of our trees is the idea that we do not need them anymore in our daily lives. Once we believe this, that's when we start neglecting the forest.
It becomes more dangerous for the forest, when our children grow up in houses made of toxic materials and plastic instead of wooden furniture and toys. They don't get to see and feel the magic and beauty of wood grain, wood floors, toys and musical instruments. Young girls and boys nowadays grow up playing on synthetic flooring instead of warm, wooden surfaces. Children surrounded by reinforced concrete instead will find it difficult to connect with wood later in their lives.
Do you remember a wooden object from your childhood, one which you have touched often? Do you remember the floor boards or furniture in your bedroom which you were looking at every day when falling asleep? All the faces and animals and other imaginative beings you saw carved in its knotholes and grain? Subconsciously we experience our surrounding and mother nature in this manner every day.
Can we afford to go without them?
When we perceive precious wood in our forests as a cheap resource instead of a divine gift, our forests are in danger. We start clear cutting large areas for profit instead of harvesting mature trees to make space for young ones and give them their chance of developing. Once the wood has been treated, it is toxic and cannot be returned to nature to turn into mulch and provide nutrients for the next generation.
To protect our environment means to accept and use it in a sensible way. Let us provide a healthy environment for our forests and make the best use of this amazing resource. Once wood plays a valuable role in people's lives again and we embrace wood as a divine gift, the forests will be treated as they should be.
Life has a better quality to it when we are able to live in homes which have furniture and floors made of natural wood. However, one has to cut down living trees. Is this the right thing to do?
Does the life of a tree start when the seed is sprouting or before, when the oak seed, beech nut or cembra nut or a winged seed falls off the tree? Or even earlier, when the seed is ripening on the mother tree? Maybe even before that, when the genetic information for the upcoming flower and seed production is being determined? Is it possible to say when exactly life begins? Grasping the mystery of trees leads us to many magical natural cycles.
As a living and active being, the tree pioneers into the dark world which we came from and will return to. We try to negate this underworld from our thoughts, maybe because it reminds us of our own mortality? Could this be one of the reasons why we don't like to think about death?
By penetrating this underground with its roots, the tree interacts and changes this world. Deeply anchored in the earth's darkest realms, the tree grows its trunk into one opposite element. It carries branches with needles or leaves, flowers and fruit upwards into the sky towards the light of the sun. An exact mirror image to the roots in the soil, the leaves and needles interact with light, air, wind and weather. Trees impact the physical and chemical levels by absorbing carbon monoxide and producing oxygen. It also affects the sensory world of humans, animals and plants by its form, color and sound.
Of what practical value is it for builders and buyers to know about the secret life of trees? From an ecological building point of view, we know that untreated wood is a breathing building material; it absorbs, retains and releases moisture. It makes contact with us humans via our senses. We perceive its color, form and the spirit which has worked it.
A piece of furniture or floor can have a calming, uplifting, joyous effect and supply us with energy. It also can be frustrating, worrying and weakening. Crucial here is the question: what has been done to the wood. How was it treated and worked with?
To harvest a tree doesn't mean to kill it. The falling of a mature tree is part of the natural cycle. The decay to humus is the basis of existence for the next generation.
This brings us to the conclusion:
Trees are living beings and they connect the divine air element with the earthy, dense and dark energies of the soil. It is possible to work with wood in ways where synthetic chemicals are not needed. Natural wood can last for hundreds of years and after its usage it still can be safely returned to nature. As ash and mulch it provides nutrients for the next generation of trees and the natural cycle closes.
If you are a mother looking for toys for your children, a builder, worker, architect, wood sawyer or forester in the forest, we all can work on this huge task from our point of view. By consciously working with nature, we enrich, enliven and keep her riches for our children. Embracing the gift of our forests is the easy way to bring the mystery of trees into our hearts. Enjoyment, fulfillment and finding our own mystery will be our reward.
(Continuation of "The Right Questions II"):
5. Timber Harvesting Time
Steadiness and durability can be achieved best by harvesting your wood at the right time. Adhere to the following criteria for building and future timber & wood:
6. Is this choice agreeable with your personal taste and health?
Think about which tree best suits and matches you. There is a distinct difference to living on a larch or an oak floor. To choose the right type of wood translates into positive energy, harmony and better quality of your life.
My advice: make this decision when you are in nature and surrounded by a mixed forest. You will feel which tree has the best effect on your senses.
7. Once it has fulfilled its purpose, can it be returned to nature?
If the use of chemicals has been consequently avoided, the answer is positive: "Yes". It can be returned into the natural cycle as mulch or ash and enrich the soil with nutrients for the next generation of trees to grow.
8. Has it been sawn appropriately?
For winter gardens, use core-free and squared pieces. Boards with standing growth rings (edge grain) are best for wooden floors and bathrooms. For example, square timber with core cracks more easily, while squared timber without core is more stable.
Now that you know the right questions to ask when buying wood, you now have a great checklist to refer to. Although these questions are meant to guide you, the decision ultimately depends on your taste and lifestyle. It is just a mnemonic device to make your life easier and not about keeping up with norms and regulations. The time you are putting into research and planning now will save you a multitude of time and effort later and also helps you avoid harm physically to your health as well as economically in the long run.
Although many companies may not meet all of these standards, you now know who does and even goes beyond them. If you want to use the highest quality of wood combined with innovative engineering for your next project, don't hesitate to contact us.
1.The Origin of the Wood
To transport wood from one continent to the other is affecting our environment and costs energy. You, as a customer want to be sure your wood is not from a radioactive contaminated area (e.g. Chernobyl, Fukushima) It is important that your wood is from well-managed forests and not from some clear or over felling area where reforestation and appropriate care for the re-growth is not appreciated.
My choice is local wood, because you automatically exclude these risks without having to find out from badly informed suppliers.
2. The Age of the Trees
Durability and composure are influenced by the maturity of the tree. As a general rule for good wood: coniferous wood should be older than 120 years.
Fast-growing leaf trees like Birch and Alder: older than 50 years; moderate and slow-growing leaf trees like Maple, Ash, Oak and Elm: 100 to 200 years.
These indications are references for high quality workmanship purposes.
3. Potential Chemical Treatments:
If you want to be on the sure side, choose a supplier who confirms in writing that his supplies have not been chemically treated in their manufacturing process.
4. The Right Choice of Wood for the Project
It is best to consult a specialist or research on the internet.
Sophisticated wooden buildings require slow and steady grown trees. For heavy traffic areas, durability is of importance and hardwoods like beech, oak, and ash are excellent for solid floor boards. Environmentally, this is the best choice and it is wise to avoid hardening the surface with laminates and sealants. Outdoors it is best to use naturally weather resistant wood like larch, oak or untreated robinia.
With Holz100, you are guaranteed the ideal choice of wood which is the right answer to all of these questions - and more!
Natural Wood vs. Treated Wood
Working only with natural wood protection has several advantages. Natural wood will provide a healthy and long-lasting usage of buildings and also eliminates expensive and complicated products. Here is an excerpt from a tender brief from an engineer's office:
"The existing wooden balconies have, despite consistent maintenance and treatment with commercial chemical wood preservatives, fully rotted away. The main reason is the disregard of constructive measures to protect the wood. It also suggests that chemical wood preservatives do not effectively protect external wood, however, it does turn wood into toxic waste."
In addition, this brief went on to prescribe the demolition and the expensive disposal of the toxic waste. The newly erected balconies were made of alpine larch which has been harvested at the right season and moon phase, such as Thoma Holz100. The homeowner could have saved a lot of money had he used natural wood preservation methods along with high quality wood.
Now then, how can we make this movement from treated to natural wood?
The Right Questions When Buying Wood
Imagine you want to replace an old carpet with a wooden floor. You would visit a building supply or parquetry distributor where you can choose between different colours, qualities, and price.
Convenience is often seen as a positive quality and most likely, you will be able to take your new laminated flooring material home straight away. However, ask yourself these:
Nowadays, in Europe, there are wood suppliers who can even provide photographs of the forest where the wood for your flooring has grown. Perhaps you would like to see and absorb the environment from where it came from.
It is best if you can treat your floors with natural resins and/or beeswax instead of sealing it with synthetic applications. Then you can be sure that your floor can return to nature and stay in the natural cycle. No matter if you want to buy a bedside table or build a whole family house in wood, to attain the wood quality we are talking about in Holz100, it is helpful to think about the following questions, before you choose your supplier.
In the next article, we will examine these questions in detail.
The Oak Tree
An incomparable, powerful and shaping species - the effect of the oak on us is clear.
The Oak in the Tree Family
Among the various tree roots beneath the surface, the oak's stand out as a strikingly powerful and ingeniously rooted system. The earth is separated into two; a flat-rooted layer spread just below the surface of the earth which uses the first intake of warmth and the oxygen supply in the spring, resulting from the close proximity to the earth's surface - and a secondary layer which consists of much more powerful roots secured deeply into the ground. Even in hot, dry climatic areas in the summer, the moisture available in the air is used by the oak's system which makes the best use of scarce resources, allowing the growth of these powerful tree giants.
In addition to its enormous shape and the unbelievable stability of these trees, their presence is very noticeable. Oak trees can be over 1000 years old. In the development process of the forest, they take over the task of preserving the forests over periods of time that would feel like half an eternity for human beings. Almost everything of this tree is more permanent, powerful, harder, and heavier than we know of any other tree.
The Importance of the Oak
Anyone who wants to realize big projects and build high wooden spaces require strong, deep roots in material and design - ambition alone is not enough. Ambition without roots and strength drive our dreams to become hallow. The oak therefore is the epitome of the powerful, energetic and earth-bound tree; characteristics that can be drawn out and become invaluable to many.
All of those who work hard in their lives find that the oak as a tree represents willpower, perseverance, and endurance. The power of the oak is immediate, direct, yet quaint. Oak trees love nutrient-rich, deep soils; just like how the pure, raw energy from nature encourages us to enjoy life to the fullest and find support among our deep-rooted relationships.
Man and Tree
"During and after finishing my forestry studies, I dedicated myself mainly to native forests and wood. The old wooden chimney became an important symbol of a real connection and friendship between man and tree." - Dr. Erwin Thoma
The relationship between man and tree has grown in understanding of one another over lengths of time as both learned how to cohabitate together very well. Together we can master most challenges and much of the traditional architecture that exists to this day is living proof of it. There are buildings which have endured centuries of wear and tear - some have even survived fires. They were never treated with toxic paints and preservatives such as the old Court Building in 'Suiz', built 700 years ago with untreated wood and still stands to this day.
Man relies on trees not only for building homes. We find examples of this symbiosis in nearly all areas of life, such as wooden bridges which connect two river banks. Their untreated posts have been standing in the water, often for centuries, without polluting the waters with toxic chemicals and without rotting away.
Due to its colour and texture, untreated wood furniture is highly individual and is always one of a kind. Wooden hand tools are sleek, tough, gracious and light. Wooden barrels play a significant role in perfecting the ripening process of the wine or cognac stored in them.
How did the old masters know? The ones who produced wooden musical instruments, without which we would have never heard such beautiful music?
Ever since we began collecting information about human life, we have found evidence of a strong bond between man and tree in the form of tools, buildings and other wooden items. Historical sources go back centuries and records show that the best times to harvest trees is always in the winter.
This has been mentioned throughout Chinese civilizations, Roman antiquity and medieval ship-building techniques until the beginning of the 20th century. Caesar and Napoleon, the Roman historical Plinius, the French, German and Austrian forestry commissions preferred that the time for harvesting wood be in winter, ideally when the moon was waning, just before the new moon in Capricorn. This happens to be around Christmas/ New Year every year.
The close study of these historical sources also brings to light another point of interest: besides the right timing of the harvest, the correct and thorough choice of wood type for the job required is of importance as well. Even the way the tree has grown and the different types of soil and other aspects have an influence on our selection process.
With the increasing use of chemical preservatives in the past century, man, the sorcerer's apprentice, has unfortunately forgotten about these traditional methods.
For most, it takes time to properly understand the wisdom such as the one Dr. Thoma's grandfather has passed on in his simple words. However, through Holz100, we hope to introduce the secrets of our mysterious forests and how to incorporate nature in an easy and healthy way into our daily lives. Irrespective of whether you are just from looking to buy some wooden toys, furniture, lay a wooden floor or build a wooden house, we hope to provide North America basic knowledge about wood and its products.
The Spruce Tree
Tense between heaven and earth - the tree of longevity embodies so many benefits and possibilities for our forests.
The Spruce in the Tree Family
The spruce is a tree found in the cooler climatic range. At favorable locations, you can find giant spruce trees up to fifty meters. In the high mountain range, it struggles up to the top of the larch and pine region and makes its home with its roots among the other species of the mountain. Nevertheless, it is not a tree of pioneering.
Well-ventilated and nutrient-rich soils prepared by other pioneers are her favorite. The spruce keeps the soils balanced in cooler climatic areas. As a shallow rooted tree, it is appreciated by the supportive and enriching accompaniment of its deep rooted neighbours.
The Importance of the Spruce Species
The spruce is not a tree of any special extremes - she can calmly find the balance between all things. At every minute, she strives towards the light. She knows her purpose, and with her uplifting figure, she symbolizes the life that is possible only through the union where spruce crowns seem to have been created: straight, ever higher into the sky, to be flooded with light and wind.
The spruce is a tree representing harmony. Balanced and upright, it reflects their environment at all times. It shows us that clear minds can move much more than short acts of force. To be acquainted with the spruce in the forest or at home is a step towards achieving security, balance and a clear spirit/mind.
Even houses built entirely from spruce trees never seem intrusive or oppressive. Like its narrow crown with fine needles, the spruce is pleasantly reserved and sought out for its everlasting beauty.
Timber treated with insecticides and fungicides for outdoor use are often used in sensitive areas such as playgrounds and vegetable patches.
There are two different ways of wood treatment:
1) From a biological building POV, boric salts are harmless but rarely used. This treatment doesn't make much sense for outdoors because the salts are washed out fairly quickly and are only protective for a short time.
2) Synthetic chemicals such as insecticides and fungicides on their own or in combination with salts. One variation, which often is thought of harmless, is the treatment with chromium salts. However, trivalent chromium is suspected to be a carcinogenic substance. Synthetic preservatives turn wood into toxic waste and pose severe health threats to humans, animals, and the environment.
This has triggered reactions from residents and city councils. More and more communities are refusing to use wood treated with poisonous heavy metals for their playgrounds and this is indeed a great development. Their only reason for not doing so is that the expected cost of disposing of this toxic wood would be too high. It is a wonder why their first and utmost concern wouldn't be the health of the children.
The interesting bit of this story is that in the outdoors, untreated wood from slow-growing trees such as alpine Larch and Oak will actually outlast treated pine or spruce. We arrive at the same goal without the use of preservatives.
SHARKS & WOOD PRESERVATION
A shark attack in the Mediterranean summer season would receive sensational reports by the press. They would discuss at length the danger of sharks for the umpteenth time and many people would instinctively perceive it as a warning without hesitation.
Why? Because human history and advancement in biology research has taught us which animals we must be aware of and what kind of threat each one poses to us (ex. parasites, snakes, jellyfish, sharks, etc.). Therefore we have adjusted to this which is now 'common knowledge' not only mentally and physically but also instinctively and emotionally with natural defense reflexes/responses which pass on to the next generation and stay clear of such dangers.
Human behaviour studies show that it takes a very long time for new protective reactions/reflexes to anchor in our DNA and a few generations are not enough. Rotten meat for example, has always existed and for generations and we are protected by our genetics. We have inherited a natural dislike for spoiled food through senses such as taste, smell and sight. No one will have a desire to eat rotten meat and it is given that a butcher who sells rotten meat in his shop be punished by law.
However, only in the past century have we been confronted with an incredible amount of new unknown dangers, one of which are toxins/chemicals.
The negative effects from Hiroshima to Chernobyl, the chemical accidents from Seveso and Bhopal to the court cases regarding wood preservatives can be rationalized, however our reflexes and instincts can't adjust as quickly.
This inability to swiftly adjust our instinctive and emotional reactions to new dangers turns out to be a disadvantage for us. Timber preservatives which endanger our health and environment however are available in hardware and trade shops even though these products are causing diseases and sometimes even death to children and adults.
Only intellectually have we analyzed and registered this information and we know that the production, use and disposal of these products are very harmful to our environment.
We are aware that by burning treated wood, dioxins and either harmful substances are released into the atmosphere which cause health and environmental problems. Regardless, unbelievable amounts of synthetic and chemical adhesives and preservatives are being used every year. The difference between toxic preservatives and rotten meat is that we have been exposed to modern man-made toxins/ chemical poisons only for a relatively short time.
This might be one of the many explanations to why synthetic chemicals are still a part of wood production. However, it is not necessary to use preservatives, chipboard or plywood panels anywhere in the home particularly in this century when wood engineering has advanced. None of the buildings that are hundreds or thousands of years old have been chemically 'preserved'. How simple, timeless and beautiful was our ancestors' ways of building? The laminated products of our modern chemical industry and plywood manufacturers cannot compare in ways that truly matter - our health.
Holz100 Canada Inc.