*Norwegian Wood*, the book

by on January 12, 2016 at 12:37 am in Books, Economics, Education, History, Philosophy, Science | Permalink

The author is Lars Mytting, and the subtitle is Chopping, Stacking, and Drying Wood the Scandinavian Way.  If only every book could be this good and to the point!  Here is your Norway fact of the day:

Even in oil-rich Norway, as astonishing 25 percent of the energy used to heat private homes comes from wood, and half of that is wood chopped by private individuals.

In per capita terms, however, Bhutan is number one for wood chopping.  Yet in the 1960s, the government of Norway had its own advisory body for the burning of wood chips.

I enjoyed this segue:

Although it may seem strange today, chain saws were regarded with suspicion at that time and there was much resistance to their use…

There were quite a few colorful players in the early days of the chain-saw industry in the 1950s.  The competition was hard and the business attracted people with a fiery temperament.  One legendary character was John Svensson (alias Chain Saw Svensson), who imported saws made by the Canadian firm Beaver.  He had been arrested and tortured during the war and for the rest of his life suffered pains in his arms and joints; when demonstrating the Beaver saws he always made a point of stressing how the vibrations that passed up through the handle brought a welcome relief to his aching joints.

Svensson was not a man to take professional disappointments lying down.  On one occasion he was so annoyed when a visiting government delegation refused to let him demonstrate his chain saw to them that he felled five trees across the road to stop them from leaving.

The interest of a Norwegian man in his firewood often rises sharply in his sixties.  Perhaps this sentence from the book says it all:

It took a while, but that didn’t bother them, as long as it turned out the way they wanted.

You can order the book here, recommended.

1 Tom Warner January 12, 2016 at 1:23 am

Myanmar another major woodcutter. Gets about a third of its energy that way. Another third from burning farm byproducts, mainly pea stalks. Usually you find all those lumped together under “biomass” in energy statistics. I bet Myanmar’s northern states are about on par with Bhutan, more than a ton a year per person.

2 Chip January 12, 2016 at 5:26 am

There’s something primal about a log fire. My Singaporean wife is mesmerised by a camp fire even though the closest she ever came to an open flame was a local satay stall.

This reinvention of the axe also drew lots of interest from hipsters and urbanites:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1949064069/new-leveraxe-the-smart-axe

3 dearieme January 12, 2016 at 6:49 am

You’re a bit late to this, Mr Cowen. We gave the book as a Xmas present. The recipient was so delighted that he giggled his way through it, pausing only to insist we all look at some of the photos.

4 Florian Schack January 12, 2016 at 6:56 am

As we say here in Denmark: three things never tire the eye – fire, axes and people doing manual labour. Wood-cutting is an excellent combination, especially when done without a chainsaw.

5 Govco January 12, 2016 at 12:31 pm

Effective Nov 1, 2016 wood burning in a fire place is banned inCalifornia’s Bay Area. Because I don’t know why.

6 Adam January 12, 2016 at 2:03 pm

Because wood smoke accounts for an enormous percentage of the particulates in the air in California, and particulates cause all sorts of health problems for humans. California in general has a big air quality problem.

Also, what you said isn’t true. The ban is on wood-burning fireplaces in new construction begun after Nov. 1, 2016.

Not saying you have to be in favor of this, but it’s not that hard an issue to understand.

7 JWatts January 12, 2016 at 2:17 pm

The root cause is too many people living in a fairly inhospitable area. As long as the population of southern California keeps growing the restrictions will get worse. And these types of restrictions will tend to impact the poor more than the rich. I expect southern California is trending away from an American middle class structure, towards a rich/poor bifurcated population.

8 Govco January 12, 2016 at 3:39 pm

You sound reasonable, Adam, so you must know this is a “look at me” political gesture with no real impact for the Bay’s air. The studies are as robust as ridership predictions on the new train to Fresno.

Jwatts- that’s Northern Cal, but yes…

9 Ronald Brak January 12, 2016 at 9:32 pm

Govco, In Sydney on cold winter weekends home wood heating can account for up to 48% of the particulate pollution. Higher standards for wood heaters are very likely to be the most cost effective way to reduce particulate air pollution in many Australian urban areas. I don’t know much about California or the incidence of wood heating there, but it is clear that home wood heating can have a significant effect on air quality.

10 mulp January 12, 2016 at 5:00 pm

It’s been worse in Colorado and the restrictions on wood burning were put in place long ago.

11 rayward January 12, 2016 at 7:27 am

I’ve never visited Norway but my best friend’s sister married a man from the Orkney Islands, where the two reside (on one of the islands farthest north). The Orkney Islands may be in Scotland, but the natives are more Scandinavian than Scot. No, I can’t understand a word the man says, though it’s supposedly English. This is a difficult time of the year for my friend’s sister, not only the cold but the darkness. All that reasonably priced Scotch helps – a wee dram! But it’s just as well they don’t have chainsaws, to mitigate the risk of a chainsaw massacre.

12 dearieme January 12, 2016 at 9:55 am

Well they don’t need chainsaws. They don’t have trees.

13 JohnBinNH January 12, 2016 at 11:11 am

There are trees in the Orkneys, but it’s not forested like Norway. Most of the land is open. They do have peat bogs and I saw peat workings when I was there though I was told that these days the peat is mostly used by the distillery, not for household heating.

The Orkneys are fascinating and well worth a visit.

14 dearieme January 13, 2016 at 3:15 am

“There are trees in the Orkneys”: no doubt there are trees in the Sahara.

15 a January 12, 2016 at 7:42 am

I believe there is already a book by that title. I think it came out first quarter 1984.

16 Ronald Brak January 12, 2016 at 8:14 am

Tragically Australia is also big on wood heating, although nothing like Norway. About one in ten Australian homes get most of their heating from burning wood with woodsmoke being the largest contributor of particulate pollution in Canberra. On cold winter weekends in Sydney woodfires can be responsible for half the 2.5 to 10 micron particle pollution. A new wood heater in the colder parts of New South Wales will emit as much 2.5 micron particle pollution as 370 diesel SUVs driven 20,000 kilometers each a year. (Although possibly not VW SUVs.) Stricter stanards for wood heaters appear to be the most cost effective way to reduce particulate pollution for large numbers of Australians. But, as heat pumps fall in price and become more common and the cost of electricity declines, the use of wood for heating should decline.

17 chuck martel January 12, 2016 at 8:49 am

Why should wood heating be so common in Australia when the country produces so much coal?

18 Derek January 12, 2016 at 9:01 am

Probably because electricity is expensive. People here are not doing expensive repairs on their heat pumps but setting up for wood burning.

19 Ronald Brak January 12, 2016 at 9:09 am

If you’ve ever burned coal, you’ll know why. Wood is less polluting and a lot cleaner to deal with. If we burned coal its use would have been banned in built up areas a long time ago. We wouldn’t put up with it, in much the same way we have banned back yard incineration. And while coal has a higher energy density, the fact that wood is sourced locally, often from the backyard, means that average transportation costs are much lower. That said, it was possible to buy brown coal briquettes that were meant for barbeques, but I don’t think people used them for home heating, and the coal brickqutte factory has shut down so I don’t even know if they are produced anymore. It is still possible to buy briquettes to burn, but they are made from wood.

20 Floccina January 12, 2016 at 9:22 am

People who like it claim the “Rocket Mass Heather” burns wood very cleanly.

21 Ronald Brak January 12, 2016 at 10:15 am

I had to look that one up. If standards were made stricter, wood heaters such as the rocket mass heater might be required in large urban areas. However, I think many Australians would give up on wood burning and use electrical heating of one form or another if they couldn’t use traditional fireplaces, as tradition is definitely an important part using wood for heating. If people couldn’t see the fire burning in the grate, I don’t think wood would be nearly so popular.

22 Ray Lopez January 12, 2016 at 11:00 am

Here in the Philippines our in-laws farm ran out of wood so we resorted to natural gas for cooking…

Norwegian Wood, wasn’t that a Beetles song?

23 anon January 12, 2016 at 1:05 pm

I once had a girl, or should I say, she once had me

sorry … this bird has flown

24 Gochujang January 12, 2016 at 11:07 am

I recommend a Morakniv Craftline Basic 546 Fixed Utility Knife for camping. Cleans trout, splits wood. Not bad for $12. Swedish though.

25 Ronald Brak January 13, 2016 at 1:25 am

Splits wood? I’m sure it’s a good knife and all, but you must stab harder than I do. (And I stab hard.)

Mind you, there’s never much need to split wood in Australia as the trees are fond of dropping their limbs here, so it’s not difficult to find convenient fuel when camping. Of course, parts of the continent occasionally catch on fire as a result, but that’s just typcial Australia.

26 Tim January 12, 2016 at 12:33 pm

OMG who gives a shit about wood cutting

27 charlie January 12, 2016 at 4:08 pm

I feel better about my Christmas vacation — chopped and stacked about a cord. Great exercise.

28 jorod January 13, 2016 at 4:34 pm

Some people in Maine still heat with wood.

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