WoodCentral's Book Reviews
Wood Handbook

Wood Handbook:
Wood as an Engineering Material
by USDA Forest Products Laboratory

Algrove Publishing: 2002
Hardcover, 464 pp., $22.95
Available from Algrove Publishing (1-800-871-8158)
ISBN 1-894572-54-8

    I couldn't put it any more succinctly than Leonard Lee does in his "Publisher's Note" at the beginning of Wood Handbook: "The USDA Forest Products Laboratory has brought together in this volume, more useful information about wood than one can find in any other single volume in print today." Period. Anyone who works with wood will find this to be the most useful book on the shelf, a large, weighty tome packed with wood facts and figures.
    The book begins with descriptions of 61 species of commercially important domestic hardwoods and softwoods and 76 imported species. Each description tells about the wood's country or region of origin, its appearance, physical and working properties, and major uses.
    Next are three chapters offering facts and figures on wood and its properties, beginning with a short but excellent chapter on the nature of wood itself, followed by two mega-chapters, chock full of charts and graphs and in-depth information about the physical and mechanical properties of wood. Among other things, you can look up shrinkage characteristics, working characteristics, decay resistance and several more arcane physical properties, as well as mechanical properties such as strength, elasticity and several very scientific yet concisely laid out engineering characteristics. Everything you need to know about fiber stress in bending, modulus of elasticity and other properties that affect beam design and other engineering situations is right here, clearly laid out in table form.
    Learn all about how the properties of the wood affect its strength and working properties -- from grain slope to reaction wood to knots to bird peck to the age of the wood. Read more than you thought existed about mold and decay and insect damage and nuclear radiation effects and electrical properties. If you can conjure up a question about wood as an engineering material, you can probably find the answer here.
    After all this, you're less than one fourth of the way into the book! Next up are chapters on lumber grades and nomenclature, design criteria, fasteners, allowable loads and some very intensive engineering mathematics, bonding characterisitcs, adhesives, surface prep, assembly procedures, plywood and manmade boards, gluelam beams, kiln drying, defects in dried wood, dimensional changes, storage procedures, insect damage, wood preservation, finishing products and procedures, engineering of buildings and bridges, fire and safety considerations, specialty treatments like plasticized, laminated and impregnated woods, and -- last but not least -- a huge glossary and a comprehensive index. Whew! And these are just the main bullet points.
    I've been accessing this information from a variety of sources over the years, but now I have one sole source for all of it, a truly essential reference book on wood. I've already given this book a central position in my library, right between my dictionary and my classic books on wood and wood technology. Wood Handbook may turn out to be the most dog-eared of any of them.

. . . Ellis Walentine