Everything You Never Wanted To Know About Plywood, Ctd

A reader loves his wood:

There's even more to get engaged by when it comes to plywood. It's perhaps the most elegant of the "engineered wood products". As a tree goes through the processes of being cruised, felled, de-limbed, skidded and transported to the mill as a merchandized log, then debarked, softened in a steam vat or pond and cut into pre-determined lengths called bolts, it's a little like a clumsy strip-tease. But it's at the lathe where God's creation is fully laid bare, slowly and almost lovingly unwrapped into a long and sensuous ribbon of veneer.

I've seen rough-edged men drop their voices to a whisper watching a particularly beautiful ribbon unfold right outside the safety glass of a lathe control deck. After that ribbon is "clipped" into pre-measured lengths and dried, the sheets of veneer must be graded to determine the letter grade alluded to by Tom Sachs in the video you posted. Grading is often done photo-electrically but is really best done by human beings, especially at the levels of product quality used in the video. There's just no mechanical substitute for the judgment and keen perception of an experienced grader.

The whole process has long been likened to slaughtering livestock in that nothing gets wasted, and everything possible is captured and converted to best-and-highest use, limbs and bark included and even chips and dust from the mill processes. But unlike an animal slaughter, which starts with God's perfection and passes through unspeakable grossness until it finally reaches, at best, a visually neutral and uninteresting state once market-ready, veneer goes from stunning natural beauty to a stunning new human-altered beauty without having to pass through quite the depths that a feed-lot steer is bound for.

Although you'll probably never hear all this articulated in so many words by the folks who do it for a living, there's a sense of wonder and appreciation that never really goes away. They know a tree had to die to expose that inner beauty, and the best of them never really forget that. Some say timber folks are often the truest environmentalists, and I tend to agree.