The "Wooden Wonder" (or "Timber Terror") of World War II was the De Havilland Mosquito, a highly successful aircraft, made primarily from wood, used in both fighter and bomber configurations. The fact that it competed effectively with aluminum-based aircraft shows that it is a mistake to discount wood as an important resource for the USE.

Wood, of course, is a very familiar material to the down-timers, but that doesn't mean that they have nothing to learn from the up-timers. The latter can offer advice as to where to find valuable tree species not already in European use, new wood products, new uses for existing products, new equipment for processing wood, and more sophisticated forestry management techniques.

Social Aspects

The use of wood is pervasive in seventeenth century society. In consequence, changes in "wood technology" or forest management can create unpleasant surprises for the up-timers.

For example, the up-timers might want to limit the cutting of trees to "sustainable growth" levels. Yet one of the goals of the Swabian peasant rebellion of 1525 was to restore "the right to freely collect building materials and firewood from the village's forests," unless those rights "had been specifically sold off." (this was article five of "The Twelve Articles") (Sands 31; Handisides)

Another example is that we might want to build more modern sawmills, which process wood faster, with less labor and less waste. But in England, the first sawmills were attacked by mobs of handsawyers, who feared that the new equipment would deprive them of their source of living. Sawmills weren't accepted in England until 1788. Sawmills were quickly accepted in America because where there was a labor shortage (and plenty of timber)(Lillard, 23; Cox 14; Pike 39).

We might also want to protect the trees which are most suitable for shipbuilding—it will be a while before we are building all-iron ships. But Pike says that the eighteenth century British "broad arrow" policy (marking selected pine trees to reserve them for use as ship masts, and punishing scofflaws) "did more to cause the American Revolution than the Stamp Act and the tea tax put together." (Pike 48)

Grantville Forestry Resources

The up-timer Gordon Alexander (1938-) is a former employee of the USDA Forest Service. (If he were employed in West Virginia, it was most likely at the Monongahela National Forest.) While he has only a high school diploma, the Grid says that he has taken "lots of specialized courses from the Graduate School of the Department of Agriculture." The USDA Graduate School offers certificates of accomplishment in Natural History Field Studies, Horticulture, Landscaping, and other subjects. The available courses include tree identification, but not forestry management per se. Hopefully, he learned that on the job.

The Grid doesn't reveal Gordon's job title. The most common positions at the Forest Service are forestry technician (7457), forester (5287), civil engineering technician (1771), clerk/administrative assistant (1599), and civil engineer (1073). Nowadays, a forester usually will have a suitable college degree, but that might not have been true when Gordon started. A formal college education is not required for a technician, but some have associate degrees.

Phil Jenkins is a young up-timer (14 as of the RoF) with interests in "forestry and forest management." David Caine is a contractor whose company trimmed trees for the power company. Grantville also has biologists and gardeners.

Grantville residents could conceivably have taken forestry courses in West Virginia. West Virginia University (Morgantown) has an accredited professional forestry degree program, while Glenville State College (Glenville) has a forest technology program. The Grid identifies college graduates, but not the schools attended.


There are articles on trees, woods and forestry in the Grantville encyclopedias. I have checked the catalogue of the Mannington Public Library (which is the model for the Grantville one), and it has a number of useful books. There are at least seven guides to trees (they concentrate on American trees, of course) and at least two on West Virginia logging, Clarkson's Tumult on the Mountains and Blackhurst's Of Men and a Mighty Mountain.


It is somewhat more difficult to determine how much forest is in the Ring, and which species of trees it contains.

West Virginia, in 2000, was 76% timberland. There were eight state forests; the nearest to Mannington was the Coopers Rock State Forest in Monongalia and Preston Counties.

Grantville is in Marion County, whose timberland, in 2000, fell into the following stand-size classes: 99,300 acres of saw-timber, 17,600 pole-timber, 13,100 saplings and seedlings; total, 130,000 (65% land area). (Table 68). In terms of forest-type, there were 80,700 acres of oak/hickory, 7,200 of elm/ash/red maple, and 42,000 of northern hardwoods (Table 69).

The 2002 Census of Agriculture profile for Marion County reported that its 50,153 acres of farms included 5,887 acres of pastured woodland and 11,786 acres of unpastured woodland (figures were a little lower for 1997). Marion County has a total land area of 310 square miles (198,400 acres). The Ring has a diameter of six miles, so it has an area of 28.26 square miles (18,100 acres). If it has its fair share of the county's farm property, then it should include at least 6,500 acres of farmers' woodland. And there will be trees on residential plots, and in public areas, too. And perhaps also some outright timberland.

In Coopers Rock State Forest, about half the forest cover, found on dry ridge and upper slope areas, is dominated by trees belonging to the oak-hickory group (e.g., white oak, black oak, northern red oak, scarlet oak, chestnut oak), and are associated with yellow poplar, blackgum, sugar and red maples, white and green ash, elms, basswood, cucumber magnolia, and occasional beech, black cherry, black walnut and eastern hemlock. The other half, found on stream bottoms and lower slopes, and in "moist coves," is the yellow poplar group (yellow poplar, eastern hemlock), associated with cucumber magnolia, black cherry, northern red oak, red maple, ash and black lotus. (Coopers Rock State Forest: Forest Resources Management Plan)

The state has an active "urban and community forestry" program. Their website ( says that red oak, sugar maple, hackberry, white ash, scarlet oak and hophornbeam are good for street tree use, and that serviceberry, black gum, hornbeam, swamp white oak, tulip tree and river birch are good for landscape use.

There was a state tree nursery in West Columbia WV, from which West Virginia landowners could purchase "urban green units" (minimum order of two units, 25 trees per unit) of white pine, Scotch pine, red pine, Virginia pine, Norway spruce, Japanese larch, Douglas fir, European black alder, black locust, black wlnut, Chinese chestnut, chinquapin, "Streamco P. Willow cuttings," red oak, chestnut oak, white oak, American chestbut, and butternut.

There are several tree farms in Marion County (e.g., the 378 acre Crawford Tree Farm), but none, so far as I know, that would have been captured by the Ring of Fire. Of course, Grantville residents may have purchased trees from these tree farms.

European Forests

Deforestation—the loss of forest cover—has been a recurring problem in world history in general, and in Europe (and its colonies) in particular. The principal cause of deforestation was the clearing of land for farming. However, the use of wood as a fuel and building material was also important.

So far as early seventeenth century forest cover is concerned, it is a mistake to treat Europe as a monolithic entity. At one extreme, we have Poland, Russia, Norway (part of the Kingdom of Denmark) and Sweden (including Finland), which export timber to less fortunate countries. At the other extreme, we have Spain (including Portugal), Italy, the Netherlands, Denmark proper, and to a lesser extent England, which are largely denuded, and thus heavily dependent on the Baltic timber trade. France and Germany are in-between; there are still significant forests, but those countries have been forced to take various conservation measures, and also to import some wood. (Elliot, 11-12)

Cox says that in the late seventeenth century, only one-eighth of England's original forest remained. (Cox 26). According to Clark, the price of firewood was 7.81 shillings per cord in 1540, 16.94 in 1570, 18.62 in 1600, and 26.09 in 1630. Timber prices were anomalously low (3.11 shillings per cubic foot) in 1630; the price was 8.00 in 1631, as compared to 2.87 in 1600.

In France, forest area declined from 35% at the beginning of the sixteenth century, to 25% in the middle of the seventeenth century. (Sands 32)

In 1602, Denmark banned the export of oak; they needed it for their own navy. This forced the British (and Dutch) to rely primarily on timber from Konigsberg and Danzig. (Tossavainen sec. 6.2.1) By 1628, oak was once again a Danish-Norwegian export, but the trade in large timbers (e.g., for masts) was forbidden in 1640 (6.5).

The 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica (EB11) reports the forested area, relative to total area, for each European country. Bear in mind that it is likely that these values are mostly lower than those which prevailed in the early seventeenth century, except that there was some reforestation in the nineteenth century. In particular, 1911 Norway is probably lower than in the seventeenth century, and Greece, Italy and Spain higher. This probably reflects the depletion of Norwegian timber by exports to England, and the recovery of southern European forests thanks to diminished naval and merchant fleet building.



17C Political Control






Russia *


(this includes Finland, which was Swedish)













(one-third Ottoman, one-third Hapsburg, one-third independent)






























Great Britain





(* net exporters of timber in 1911)

The large-scale transportation of timber down the Rhine, from sources in the Black Forest, Alsace, and around Lake Constance, began around 1250. The trees were cut in the winter, when sap was low and the logs could be dragged across ice or snow, and then rafted downstream come spring.

In the 1650s, the Dutch got their timber primarily from Norway (about 125,000 "lasts"), but the Rhineland was also a source (about 22,000 lasts). In the following decade, their Rhineland imports climbed to over 60,000 lasts. (De Vries, 427)

Deforestation was certainly a problem in parts of seventeenth century Germany. In 1662, John Evelyn wrote that in Alzey, Germany, near Worms, the inhabitants were so "miserably distressed for wood," as a result of their own destructive habits, that "they were reduced to make use of straw for their best fuel." (Evelyn XXI 4). But Thuringia, at least, is still heavily wooded. ( 1632, Chaps. 11, 51).

In general, deforestation in Germany (especially in the south) wasn't as severe as in England. The literature on the American colonies refers repeatedly to how clueless English settlers had to seek forestry guidance from those of German as well as Scandinavian descent. For example, discussing American architecture, Cox says, "Log [cabin] construction techniques were introduced by Europeans from more heavily forested areas—Germans, Finns, Swedes . . . ." (Cox 8; Lillard 15) Later, referring to the production of tar and turpentine, Cox states, "Authorities tried to increase efficiency by sending knowledgeable Germans, Poles and Scandinavians into the woods . . . ." (17) Fire-clearing, and communal logrolling bees, were introduced to Pennsylvania by Swedes, Finns and Germans. (10) Axwork was taught by Swedes and Germans (Lillard 19). The Germans wouldn't have had this expertise if they didn't have forests to acquire it in.

The principal forests of Germany include the Thuringerwald in Gotha, the Schwartzwald (Black Forest) in Baden-Wurtttemberg, the Odenwald in Hesse, the Spessart between Aschaffenburg and Wurtzburg, the Baierischerwald near Bohemia, the Kranzberg near Munich and the Frankenwald in northern Bavaria. German trees included spruce, silver fir, Scotch pine, birch, beech, and oak ("Forests and Forestry", EB11).

Trees and Wood

To botanists, trees are either gymnosperms (plants with needle-shaped leaves, bearing cones and naked seeds) or angiosperms (plants with broad leaves, which produce seeds encased in a seed coat). For commercial purposes, trees are divided into two major classes: softwoods and hardwoods. The softwoods are usually gymnosperms (conifers) and the hardwoods are usually angiosperms (broadleaved trees). There are, however, tropical angiosperms with soft wood, and there are conifers whose wood is quite hard (e.g., pitch pine).


Within a given tree, the wood is differentiated into the central heartwood and the peripheral sapwood. The average commercial log is 25-30% sapwood, so we would prefer not to waste it, if that can be avoided. Heartwood is more strongly colored than sapwood, and so, for ornamental use, heartwood is usually preferred (although sapwood can be stained). Sapwood and heartwood are usually of equal weight if they have the same moisture content. Sapwood is not significantly inferior in strength to heartwood of the same moisture content and density. Unfortunately, sapwood is usually more vulnerable to attack by fungi and insects than heartwood. So durability is a problem if the wood is to be used outdoors, or elsewhere where the risk of attack is significant. One consolation is that sapwood is more readily impregnated with preservatives. (Desch, 51-56).

The branch of a tree bends in response to gravity, putting the top into tension and the underside into compression. If the trunk of a tree leans, the wood is tensed on one side and compressed on the other. The living tissues of a wood react to stress by forming lignin-rich tension wood on top (hardwoods), or cellulose-rich compression wood underneath (conifers). These reaction woods are usually considered undesirable. However, for skis, compression wood had the advantages of drying faster without warping, and of not sticking to thawing snow. (Wikholm)


In temperate climates, cut wood displays annual growth rings. The early (spring) wood is softer and lighter, while the late (summer) wood is harder and darker. (The late wood contains more wall material.) The difference is pronounced in some species, subtle in others. (Desch 16, 26; EB11/Timber) In the seventeenth century, it was already known that the age of a tree could be determined by counting the number of rings (Evelyn), and of course one could readily deduce that a tree with a low density of rings was growing rapidly. Strength is related to the growth rate; there is a rate at which strength is optimized. (Desch 56)

To a botanist, a tree is mature when it starts producing seed. The white cedar can drop cones when it is merely six years old, but it is most prolific when it is over seventy five years old. Likewise, a white pine can bear cones at five years old, but good production comes several decades later. The paper birch, a deciduous tree, starts seed production at age fifteen ( Oaks don't produce acorns until they are twenty years old.

To a logger, a mature tree is one which can be cut into merchantable timber, which usually means that it is over thirty centimeters diameter (the smallest base diameter for lumber) at "breast height" (1.3 meters). A "pole" has a diameter of at least seven centimeters, and can be used in paper production. A tree is considered "overmature" when decay becomes substantial. "Snag" is deadwood which is still standing (firewood in the eyes of neighborhood farmers, but an important wildlife microhabitat so far as environmentalists are concerned). (Wikipedia).


It isn't surprising that wood is a useful structural material because the successful growth of forest trees is dependent on the physical properties of wood. From an engineering standpoint, wood is a bundle of cellulose fibers. If stretched along the grain, it does quite well (the tensile strength of spruce is about 17,000 p.s.i.). On the other hand, it is weak if compressed in the same direction, which causes the fibers to buckle (for spruce, the compressive strength is 4,000-5,000 p.s.i.). The lateral (across the grain) strength of wood is rather low, whether it is compressed or tensed (a few hundred p.s.i.).

Wood is also quite stiff (stiffness is the resistance to bending); it has a Young's modulus of about two million p.s.i. Both the tensile strength and stiffness of wood compare favorably, on a by weight basis, to that of steel.


Generally speaking, the denser the wood of a particular tree, the greater its average strength (Desch 147). The specific gravity (density relative to that of water, which is 62.4 pounds per cubic foot) of the actual wood material is actually about 1.4 or 1.5. Timber floats because it contains a lot of air, and some timbers have more air space than others. The specific gravity of timber varies a great deal:

balsa 0.1 spruce 0.45oak 0.7lignum vitae 1.1 (Gordon, 157)

While an increased density has a favorable effect on strength, it has an unfavorable one on transportabity; the denser the timber, the less floatable it is.


The principal dimension of lumber ideally runs parallel to the grain. Any slope reduces the bending strength, stiffness and impact resistance. A slope of only 1 in 25 reduces bending strength by 4%, stiffness by 3%, and impact resistance by 9%. (Desch 65).

Wood contains water and, the lower the moisture content, the greater the strength. Air-dry wood (moisture content about 12%) has about twice the strength in bending and endwise compression as it did prior to seasoning, and if kiln-dried (moisture content 5%) the factor is threefold. (Desch 168-9).


A tough wood is flexible; it bends instead of breaking. The Encyclopedia Americana "Wood" article (EA/Wood) notes that hickory and ash are flexible while hemlock and pine are brittle. However, a tough wood must also be strong. EA/Wood says that elm and hickory are both tough. High moisture content increases toughness. (Desch 168-9)

Hardness is also different from strength, and it is something of a mixed blessing. The harder woods are less likely to be scratched or dented, but they are harder to saw across the grain. EA/Wood classifies twenty nine woods according to their hardness.

Wood is split by cleavage along the grain, and EA/Wood gives information on the relative splitting qualities of eighteen woods.


The durability of a wood is its resistance to decay caused by fungi and bacteria. EA/Wood classifies forty seven woods according to their durability. Woods can be treated with preservatives; the tradeoff is between a cheap wood of low natural durability treated periodically with preservative, and an expensive wood of high natural durability.

In general, these decay organisms require warmth and moisture (wood moisture content over 20%) to do their work. That is one reason for seasoning (drying) wood. Good ventilation also helps to inhibit fungal growth (Desch 248).


Color is of course relevant to the marketability of ornamental woods used in furniture. However, dark woods tend to be more durable, because the same chemicals which provide the coloration may also be part of the tree's defenses against microbial attack. Resins, gums and latexes seal the attackers off from oxygen, while tannins counterattack them.

Contemporary European Trees

Trees have preferences as to soil and climate, and what thrives in one place may languish somewhere else. Oak, for example, didn't grow particularly well in the Norwegian forests, whereas Norway was an excellent source of fir. (Tossavainen 1.1)

The woods used in Western Europe during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance included alder (German erle), apple (apfel), ash (esche), beech (buche), birch (birke), boxwood (buchsbaum), cedar (zeder), cherry (kirsche), chestnut (katainien), cornel cherry (kornelkirsche), cranberry (schneeball), cypress, ebony (ebenholz), elder (holunder), elm (ulme), fir (tanne), hawthorn (weissdorn), hazel (haselnuss), holly (stechpalme), hornbeam (weissbuche or hainbuche), juniper, larch (larche), laurel (lorbeer), linden (linde), maple (ahorn), oak (eiche), pear (birne), pine (kiefer), plum (pflaume), poplar (pappel), rosewood, rowan (eberesche), service (speierling), spindle (pfaffenhuten), spruce (fichte), sycamore (bergahorn), thorn (schedorn or schawrzdorn), tartary dogwood (hartriegel), walnut (walnuss), whitebam, willow (weide), and yew (eibe)(Halstead/Wood). The above list probably omits a few imported luxury woods.

I don't have a chronology of the introduction of forest trees to Germany. However, Nesbet's British forest tree list may be of interest:

Pre-Roman: oak, beech, Scots pine, birch, ash, mountain ash, Scots elm, sallow, aspen, alder, yew, hawthorn.

Introduced by the Romans: plane, chestnut, walnut, English elm, lime (linden), alder, poplar, box, and many ornamental and fruit trees (mulberry, service, hazel, medlar, apple, pear, prune, cherry, peach, apricot, quince and rose) which didn't fully develop.

Before end of fifteenth century (15C): hornbeam, sycamore, willow, poplars (white and grey).

16C: spruce, walnut (re-introduced), laburnum, juniper, holly, holm oak, stone or cluster pine, alderberry, viburnum, mulberry.

17C: silver fir, maple, plane (re-introduced), horse-chestnut, larch (1629), robinia, buckthorn.

The trees brought to Britain only in the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries include Weymouth, maritime, cembran and pitch pines, service, cedar, Austrian, yellow and Jeffrey pines, Normann's and Douglas firs, deodar, and eucalyptus.

European Exploitation of Exotic Trees

Down-time Europeans are well aware that there are many new tree species to be found in Africa, Asia and the Americas. However, it was only economical to ship timber by water. Hence, the only tree species likely to make major contributions to the timber trade are those found near the coast, or the banks of navigable rivers.

For the woods of other trees to be exploited, either they must be harvested locally, and their products exported, or the seeds must be transplanted to Europe. Orange trees were brought from India to Europe (protected, if need be, by growing them in orangeries) and re-exported to the Americas. The American Robinia (black locust) was brought to Germany in 1638 (Fernow 62).

Successful transplantation, of course, requires suitable soil and climate conditions, and, even then, it may be many years before the newcomer is mature enough to be commercially exploited. These transfers tend to be either latitudinal (e.g., South America/Africa, or North America/Europe), or between equivalent north/south regions, because the climate has to be the same. New World trees which found homes in the Old World include the Para rubber and cinchona trees. Likewise, the New World was enriched with Old World trees, including coffee, apple and coconut (Robinson).

America's potential as a source of wood and wood products was recognized by Thomas Harriot (1587)(Cox 11). European exploitation of American forests began prior to the RoF. The James River colony began shipping clapboards to England in 1607, and the first American sawmill was built near Richmond in 1611. The Dutch had three sawmills in operation in New Amsterdam as of 1623. New England followed suit soon thereafter; its first sawmills appeared in the early 1630s, one on the Neponset River (Massachusetts) and the other on the Picataqua (New Hampshire). However, lumbering for export was on a small scale until the Dutch War of 1654, which blocked British access to the Baltic. (Cox, 14-15, Cronon, 109-10)

Certain Asian (sappanwood, Caesalpinia sappan, native to India, Malaya and Sri Lanka), Brazilian (brazilwood, Caesalpinia echinata), and Yucatan (logwood, Haemotoxylum campechianum) trees were valued because their heartwoods contained brilliant red dyes. In the 1600s, fifty tons of logwood was worth in excess of 1000 pounds sterling. (Armstrong)

Lignum vitae (gaiac) is highly durable, and has been used in "sheaves for blocks" ((Baker, 226). It was exported by Martinique (settled in 1635) to France in the seventeenth century; 35,000 metric tons were shipped in 1672 (Richards, 433).

Other woods exported to Europe, albeit in small quantities for high-end furniture, included mahogany (used in the Armada ships), rosewood, ebony, teak and sandalwood. (Elliot, 12; Edlin, 218) There was limited trade in ebony beginning in the fourteenth century, rosewood in the fifteenth, and Caribbean mahogany in the sixteenth (Halstead/Trade).

Exotic (or once exotic) trees valued for plant parts other than the wood (e.g., fruit, seed, flowers, leaves, roots) include coffee, cacao (source of chocolate), nutmeg, clove, and various citrus trees.

Grantville Trees

West Virginia trees include red spruce, hemlock, white oak, yellow poplar, laurel, chestnut oak, walnut, cherry, white pine, persimmon, sassafras, sycamore, hickory, chestnut, locust, maple, beech, basswood, dogwood, and pawpaw. It is uncertain how many of these passed through the Ring of Fire. Of course, those that didn't are still available (if indigenous to America) in the down-time West Virginia!

There are also likely to be some ornamental and fruit trees, of more exotic origin, in Grantville yards and farm plots.

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