Options for Underutilized Hardwoods

Research Issue

[photo:] Small diameter wood is commonly an underutilized component of hardwood harvests. However, new and emerging wood products are providing more uses for these materials.Determining how the current and near-future hardwood roundwood resource can be harvested, merchandized (distributed), and processed into products that accrue value and other benefits throughout the supply chain is a constantly moving target affected by changes in: 1) the resource, 2) markets and trade, 3) the relative value of different species, 4) harvesting and processing technologies, and 5) landowner management objectives. Underutilization of small-diameter and low-grade trees has been a serious concern for many decades. Now, timber inventories point to an additional concern -- a substantial increase in the proportion of eastern hardwood forests comprised of large-diameter timber containing a disproportionately high component of low-grade or cull material. This signals a critically important structural shift that portends changes in wood raw material, habitat characteristics, and potential changes in forest health. 

Our Research

Current excitement surrounding the potential for a substantial growth in cross-laminated timber (CLT) markets and manufacturing in North America, combined with efforts to find acceptance for the use of hardwoods in CLT production, is a potentially important opportunity for managing and marketing hardwood timber. Understanding how demand in the eastern U.S. for hardwood roundwood for CLT, bioenergy, and other uses might fit within or cause perturbations to wood supply chains is critically important to current roundwood-using companies, forest landowners with timber income objectives, and communities where manufacturing operations currently exist or may locate, as well as for overall regional forest sustainability. The series of steps required to answer questions about roundwood supply chain capacity, sustainability, and profitability includes: analyzing inventory data; executing timber utilization studies; building knowledge of procurement requirements and amounts for different types of roundwood users; identifying and tracking planned woody biomass plant startups; understanding wood fiber supply chain constraints and costs; and developing knowledge of potential impacts of shifts in roundwood inputs on existing primary production operations.

Expected Outcomes

New and expanded markets for underutilized hardwoods will enhance utilization options and financial returns to forest landowners  In turn, these opportunities will result in greater retention of forest land and reductions in the rates of forest fragmentation and conversion to other land uses.

Research Results

Wiedenbeck, J.; Scholl, M.; Blankenhorn, P.; Ray, C. 2017. Lumber volume and value recovery from small-diameter black cherry, sugar maple, and red oak logs. Bioresources. 12(1): 853-870.

Thomas, R. Edward; Buehlmann, Urs. 2017. Using low-grade hardwoods for CLT production: a yield analysis. In: Möttönen, V.; Heinonen, E., eds. Proceedings of the 6th international scientific conference on hardwood processing; 2017 September 25-28; Lahti, Finland. Helsinki, Findland: Natural Resources Institute of Finland: 199-206.

Bumgardner, M.; Nicholls, D. 2015. Low-grade and character-marked hardwoods: A research review and synthesis of solid wood manufacturing and marketing. The Forestry Chronicle. 91(05): 548-559.

Bumgardner, M.; Bowe, S.; Wiedenbeck, J. 2013. Assessing the influence of forest ownership type and location on roundwood utilization at the stump and top in a region with small-diameter markets. Canadian Journal of Forest Research. 43: 376-384.

Grushecky, S.T.; Wiedenbeck, J.; Hassler, C.C. 2013. Examination of roundwood utilization rates in West Virginia. Forest Products Journal. 62(7/8): 507-515.

Research Participants

Principal Investigators

  • Jan Wiedenbeck, USDA-Forest Service, Northern Research Station – Supervisory Research Forest Products Technologist
  • Matt Bumgardner, USDA-Forest Service – Northern Research Station - Research Forest Products Technologist
  • Ed Thomas, USDA Forest Service - Northern Research Station, Research Computer Scientist

Research Partners

  • Eini Lowell, USDA-Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Research Station – Research Forest Products Technologist
  • David Nicholls, USDA-Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Research Station – Research Forest Products Technologist
  • Robert J. Ross, USDA-Forest Service – Forest Products Lab – Research General Engineer
  • Urs Buehlmann, Virginia Tech
  • Omar Espinoza, University of Minnesota
  • Shawn Grushecky, West Virginia University
  • Last modified: June 12, 2018