Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Spitting wood chips

Wood chips. There, I said it. Now let us wait for the Pavlovian Response to kick in and for your blood pressure rise with indignation that any one could grind up something they have been growing for decades to produce such small pieces of stuff. Funny though that such a response does not occur whenever wheat is ground into flour for sale. Well, flour can be made into some really useful things like bread or cakes or even croissants! While tasty, these products are nothing compared to wood chips.

Now obviously wood chips can be made into paper, but not toilet paper as so many politically active campaigns implicitly suggest. Chips from hardwood species make high quality paper for writing and drawing - you know, all that cultured stuff, while softwood species make paper with high tear strength. Imagine a sheet of metal the same size and weight as a piece of paper - you could more easily rip that metal than that paper!

But wood chips are the input to so much more. The chips can be reconstituted and moulded into sheets of fibre-board and all manner shapes and sizes - versatile and maintaining enviable strength properties. But further, nature has excelled itself with wood chemistry too. The amazing chips contain complex long molecules, rich on oxygen which form sugars and starches. These, in turn, can provide the world's most amazing glues, ethanols, alcohols, synthesis gas, and a host of drugs, polymers and dyes. Wood chips can be used to build you home, keep it warm and keep you healthy and attractive. They can also be used in the construction of your car and in keeping it running and fuelled.

Some uninformed commentators like to appear horrified that forest industries sell wood chips when they could sell solid wood products. It apparently does not occur to them that the seller would sell to the market that gives them the best price, which would have to be the market that can make the most out of the wood in whatever form produced. While wood chips are extremely versatile and able to be turned into valuable products even when generated by small and damaged trees, solid wood products are restricted to low value pallet timber and fencing when the trees are small.

Commentators and journalists who complain when wood chips are generated during forest operations are simply trying to attract readers without the effort of research and making a real story. They hope that the emotional baggage of the word is sufficient to draw readers in and adopt a certain attitude towards the forest owners or managers. Be aware of any news article or banner with wood chip mentioned as there is an excellent chance it is part of a campaign of manipulation.


  1. Well, well. You learn something new every day. I didn't know all that about wood chips! Thanks for enlightening me. And btw I love the clown serenading the wood chips :-) tres cute!

  2. Wonderful trees and all they are have a true knight championing their cause! More people need to really hear these facts.D&M

  3. and who invented it?
    a saxonian - and in a valley here there is still a working mill from the 19.cent to see!

    1. Many thanks for your comment Beate and for the news about your Saxonian neighbour. I hope someone is planning a 200th anniversary of the birth of this important man :-)