Tag Archives: United States Forest Service

Timber tweak cures baseball bat breaks

Timber tweak cures baseball bat breaks


August 8, 2013

Rate of shattered baseball bats 50 percent less, thanks to Major League Baseball, Forest Service

 By USDA Forest Service

As the 2013 Major League Baseball (MLB) season slides into the All-Star break, U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the results of innovative research by the U.S. Forest Service, and funded by MLB, that will result in significantly fewer shattered baseball bats.

baseball bats. courtesy of TECO

Photo courtesy of TECO.

“This innovative research by the U.S. Forest Service will make baseball games safer for players and fans across the nation,” said Secretary Vilsack. “The U.S. Forest Products Laboratory has once again demonstrated that we can improve uses for wood products across our nation in practical ways – making advancements that can improve quality of life and grow our economy.”

Testing and analyzing thousands of shattered Major League bats, U.S. Forest Service researchers at theForest Products Laboratory (FPL) developed changes in manufacturing that decreased the rate of shattered maple bats by more than 50 percent since 2008. While the popularity of maple bats is greater today than ever before, the number of shattered bats continues to decline.

“Since 2008, the U.S. Forest Service has worked with Major League Baseball to help make America’s pastime safer,” said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. “I’m proud that our collective ‘wood grain trust’ has made recommendations resulting in a significant drop in shattered bats, making the game safer for players as well as for fans.”

Outfielder Kensuke Tanaka’s bat cracks on impact with the ball during a San Francisco Giants game. The U.S. Forest Service has worked with Major League Baseball on bat design that greatly reduces the number of bats broken during a season. (Photo @2013 S.F. Giants)

Outfielder Kensuke Tanaka’s bat cracks on impact with the ball
during a San Francisco Giants game. The U.S. Forest Service has
worked with Major League Baseball on bat design that greatly
reduces the number of bats broken during a season.
@2013 S.F. Giants

“These results would not have been possible without the outstanding work of the Forest Products Laboratory and the tireless efforts of its project coordinator, David Kretschmann,” says Daniel Halem, MLB’s Senior Vice President of Labor Relations. “Major League Baseball greatly appreciates the invaluable contributions of the Forest Products Laboratory and Mr. Kretschmann on this important issue.”

The joint Safety and Health Advisory Committee of Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association began working to address the frequency of bats breaking into multiple pieces five years ago. FPL wood experts looked at every broken Major League bat from July to September during the 2008 MLB season.

The research team found that inconsistency of wood quality, primarily the manufacturing detail “slope of grain,” for all species of wood used in Major League bat manufacture was the main cause of broken bats. Also, low-density maple bats were found to not only crack but shatter into multiple pieces more often than ash bats or higher-density maple bats. Called multiple-piece failure, shattered bats can pose a danger on the field and in the stands.

Courtesy Major League Baseball

Photo courtesy Major League Baseball.

Slope of grain refers to the straightness of the wood grain along the length of a bat. Straighter grain lengthwise means less likelihood for breakage.

With the help of TECO, a third-party wood inspection service, the FPL team established manufacturing changes that have proven remarkably successful over time. Limits to bat geometry dimensions, wood density restrictions, and wood drying recommendations have all contributed to the dramatic decrease in multiple-piece failures, even as maple’s popularity is on the upswing.

The Forest Service research team has been watching video and recording details of every bat breakage since 2009. The team will continue monitoring daily video and studying broken bats collected during two two-week periods of the 2013 season, working to further reduce the use of low-density maple bats and the overall number of multiple-piece failures.

The mission of the U.S. Forest Service is to sustain the health, diversity and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. The agency manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to state and private landowners, and maintains the largest forestry research organization in the world. Public lands the Forest Service manages contribute more than $13 billion to the economy each year through visitor spending alone. Those same lands provide 20 percent of the nation’s clean water supply, a value estimated at $7.2 billion per year. The agency has either a direct or indirect role in stewardship of about 80 percent of the 850 million forested acres within the U.S., of which 100 million acres are urban forests where most Americans live.


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Go Wood: Wood Science 101 (10) – Where Does Lumber Come From?

Wood Science 101 (10) – Where Does Lumber Come From?

One of the more interesting phenomena of today’s world is the insulation we have from the source of our sustenance, or raw materials. Many modern folk would have a hard time explaining where the natural gas in their home comes from, or how bread is made, or even what the very walls around them are made of.So when Mike Wolcott sent me some nice photos of what I call a “lumber log”, that is a re-constructed log made of the lumber and bark sawn from it, I thought it a good opportunity to share just a little bit of the story of lumber.


This artistic work is a nice way to demonstrate in a visual way just where lumber comes from. One sees many different sizes of boards, and a cant in the center of the log; it begins to give one a sense of how many different products can be produced from a log depending on how the log is sawn up. And the placement of all cuts, and therefore the size and value of each board produced, depends most importantly on the very first cut into the log.

In the early 1970’s, the US Forest Service developed a computer program that mathematically calculated the highest volume of lumber that could be sawn from a log of specified dimensions based on what it called the “best opening face“.  Soon, computerized sawing equipment incorporated this computer algorithm into their equipment along with scanning technology that allowed the log to be spun and scanned prior to sawing, thereby allowing the computer to determine just exactly where that first critical cut should be made. The resulting “face” of the log. then, would produce the widest pieces of lumber, and subsequent narrower lumber would be produced as the log is turned.  In the photograph above, the sawyer, or the computer he operated, determined that the best first cut would be on what is the top of the log in the picture. The cut was made just at the edges of the top piece of bark, producing a “slab” from which the top two narrow boards were re-sawn. Then, once the slab was sent on its way, the two-by-six and two-by-eight pieces (the third and fourth boards from top) were sawn and sent on to an “edger” where the square edges of the boards were formed as the rounded corners were sawn away. The log was then rotated and sawing continued on the next face, with most of the pieces in this case being sent on to a “re-saw” or a “gang-saw” to produce the narrower strips you see.

Not long after the computerized saws were capable of producing the highest amount of lumber, or “yield” from a log, technologists figured out how to allow the mill operators to assign market values to the different sizes of lumber in “value tables” built into the software. This allowed the mill operator to then produce not the highest “yield” of lumber in board feet (one board foot is equal to a square piece of wood 12 inches long, by 12 inches wide, by 1 inch thick), but the highest value of lumber in dollars based on ever-changing current lumber market values.

This system works well for softwood lumber, for which most of the value is determined by the dimension of each piece. But in hardwood lumber production, the real value of the lumber is determined by the internal characteristics of the log…the number and size of knots and other defects, the coloring and figuring of the wood, and the surface area of “clear units” in each piece of lumber. These characteristics are determined again by the sawing technique used for each log. The three most common methods of sawing hardwood logs are called “plain or flat sawn” (the most common and highest yielding method), quarter-sawn (the most popular for certain applications where highly figured wood is desired), and rift sawn (used when straight-grained lumber is highly desired).

The following is an excellent high-quality educational video from the folks at the Frank Miller Lumber Company, an Indiana lumber producer that specializes in quartersawn hardwood. It provides a nice way to visualize the sawing process one has to try to imagine when looking at a piece of lumber. http://gowood.blogspot.com/2013/07/wood-science-101-10-where-does-lumber.html

And that’s how it’s done. Show the video to your kids, and then take them to the nearest lumberyard. You might be surprised how much fun you’ll all have.

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