Track 2: Materials over Time: Points of Change

General Abstract

1 - Specifying Wood: Reconciling History, Changing Ecosystems, and the Lumber Industry

Wednesday, September 26
10:30 AM - 12:00 PM
Location: HYATT-Grand EFG

Specifying Wood: Reconciling History, Changing Ecosystems, and the Lumber Industry

Through the execution and the bidding of hundreds of projects, I have read specifications for the use of wood in historic structures from dozens of architects, engineers, and other preservation professionals. Rarely are those specifications very useful, as they stand written.

This paper will provide a knowledge base with which to write wood specifications that will meet the design criteria of performance in use, durability, and authenticity. Furthermore, it will provide the basis to create specifications that can be met by contractors, as well as the information necessary to evaluate contractor- proposed alternatives.

Throughout history the availability of different species of lumber has been ever evolving and changing. This is true today more than ever. The performance and visual characteristics of many species has changed over time. Our dependence on both the historical record and extant evidence in determining the choices of woods for a project can sometimes run counter to the desired design objectives. A specification “to match original species” may not be achievable, nor desirable. The wood may no longer be commercially available or the characteristics of old growth and second, third and fourth growth timber may be drastically different.

Most preservation professionals rely on and build from their specifications for previous projects. This is generally a good practice, however, the reuse and adaptation of previous wood specifications fails to account for both the continually changing lumber industry and the volatility of the imported wood market. What seemed a sound choice even a couple of years ago, may be unavailable, unsustainable, or less desirable due to updated performance information. The search for responsibly harvested durable wood for restoration work can become a continual research project.

It is important for preservation design professionals to understand the domestic, foreign, and salvage supply chains for building lumber. It is equally important for them to understand the basic physical characteristics of wood, as well as the sources of wood technology research. This knowledge should be the foundation for developing the performance and authenticity criteria for each project, making appropriate compromises when necessary, and writing useful and accurate specifications.

Learning Objectives:

Jack Abgott

Vice President
Nickles Contracting Inc

Jack Abgott has been a historic preservation contractor for over 35 years. He has worked on dozens of National Register properties and numerous National Historic Landmarks throughout the eastern United States. His projects have ranged from log cabins to lighthouses; from Jefferson, Latrobe & Strickland to Cret, Wright, and Venturi: from Independence Hall to Lucy the Elephant. Jack has a degree in architecture from Syracuse University, a Master of Architectural History and a Graduate Certificate in Historic Preservation from the University of Virginia. He is currently the Vice President for Operations at Nickles Contracting Inc.


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Dean Koga

Building Conservation Associates, Inc.


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1 - Specifying Wood: Reconciling History, Changing Ecosystems, and the Lumber Industry

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