Q: We have some concerns about plantation grown wood, especially regarding color and stability. Is there a difference between “wild forest wood” and plantation wood?

A. Today we are seeing a lot more plantation grown wood in the marketplace, and you may not even know about it. It processes and looks like normal wood. But, from time to time, there are a few differences that we should be aware of and check for.

We know the growth rate in a plantation is much faster than in a competitive forest. In many species, this means stronger wood. However, there is a “catch” to this statement. Studies that look at wood strength and other properties tend to ignore wood in the first 15 years of growth in the log because the wood in this region, often termed juvenile wood, is not as strong, can warp more easily in drying as well as warp more after drying when the MC changes (side bend and twist seem more common), and may have a different color and absorptivity during finishing.

Because of faster growth of a plantation tree, the juvenile core will be larger in volume, so it is more likely that lumber sawn from the plantation log will have this juvenile wood and behave poorly, as noted. We may therefore have to change processing slightly to help moderate any problems, compared to “normal” wood.

One area that is a bit unclear is that some species with natural decay resistance (including cedar, cypress, redwood) seem to have less decay resistance in today’s growth compared to the older growth of 50 or more years ago (called “old growth” wood). Speculation is that we will see certain properties change when looking at “old growth” compared to plantation growth, but the properties affected and extent of this effect is not well studies today.

Summary: Be aware of the sources of your wood supplies and the potential for some changes in properties or characteristics that may, in turn, require some small modifications in processing.

Gene Wengert, “The Wood Doctor” has been training people in efficient use of wood for 35 years. He is extension specialist emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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