Q: We manufacture children's furniture using oak and maple solids, and MDF with hardwood veneer. We are having complaints from the field concerning a very unpleasant, nauseating odor from the drawers. Any ideas?

A:  The odor you describe in more detail in your letter is the result of fatty acids in the wood turning rancid. The fatty acids are not normal for wood, but come from anaerobic bacterial activity in the wood. The bacteria are present in the living tree itself, entering through the roots of the tree and moving through the tree at a rate of about 2 inches maximum per year (we discussed this subject several months ago). Therefore, they are most common in just the butt log of the tree, which is the part used for veneer manufacturing.

In tropical logs, it is possible to get the bacteria from long log storage in a pond. We seldom pond logs in North America anymore, however. The solution is to identify the infected wood when you are using it - odor is the best way, although color and shake are two other characteristic features. The odor is most pronounced at high humidity. There is no treatment to eliminate the odor from smelly wood.

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