Earlier this week I took a tour of the Forrest Products Laboratory in Madison Wisconsin. The Madison Woodworkers’ Guild, which I joined recently arranged for the tour. I have to say it was 2 and 1/2 hours of awesome. I wish I had a camera with me. Maybe one of the other members will share.
This June 4, the FPL will celebrate their 100th anniversary and they will have a public open house on June 26th. It would be worth the trip.
The Lab tests all sorts of wood products, from nano-fibers to houses. Our tour was after hours so we got to see the equipment close up but not in operation. There was a Million pound press that’s used for tinsel strength tests. One of the highlights for me was seeing the lumber cannon. It uses compressed air to shoot a 2×4 at a wall to determine what kinds of material will stand up to the impact. I was surprise to learn that they aren’t all that concerned about penetration but are testing more for the blow out on the back of the wall. The 2x may only put a small dent in the front but blow out a lot of shrapnel out the back.
The lab does product development as well as testing. One of their early contributions was the application of creosote to railroad ties. Prior to the lab coming up with the creosoting process, raw wood ties were used and had to be replaced every 6-8 years. Creosoted ties last between 30 and 40 years.
They are working with fungi to find ways to slow down wood deterioration but they are also trying to find ways to speed up fungus’s ability to breakdown wood fibers to speed production of pulp and other products. They are working on improving wood-plastic extrusions. The helped design the self sticking stamps used by the postal service. They have some pretty impressive woodworking machines and a collection of over 110,000 wood samples kept in something like a card catalog.
The lab has 22 acres of facilities at the University of Wisconsin Madison. There is plenty more to see. The Guild is planning another visit.