The Last Word On Wood
Or... What's Up With Pine?









Due to a readers concern of chemical additives applied to many wood products
including Pine,  I spent the afternoon talking to the scientists and experts in the
wood manufacturing field.  My first call was to the USDA Forest Service.  I talked 
to a scientist with 20 years experience in all aspects of wood and wood coatings. 
Then I talked to experts of the words largest organization of Pine and Pine products.  The people of the Southern Pine Council were more than helpful in my quest for answers, and found my questions extremely interesting.  Here's the bottom line:

For our purpose, attempt to get wood right from the sawmill.

Now, having said that, here is the scoop on chemical additives:   We all know to stay away from
"pressure treated" wood.  This type of wood has obviously been treated and is so dangerous that
it will no longer be available for sale in the US in a few months.  Another safer treated product is
taking it's place.  Of course, this is very dangerous to birds also...but not as dangerous to humans
as the current product.  The problem is,  that if you should find an old piece of "pressure treated"
lumber now or years from now... it may not look treated.  So NEVER make toys or perches out of
ANY  lumber that you find laying around unless you know exactly where it came from .

The "cheap" bright pine lumber now sold in stores is not treated with anything. ( See exception on
the next paragraph)   This is the lumber that we're all familiar with.  It's always cheaper than
other lumber and is of a lower grade.  One of the reasons it's cheaper is due to the fact that no
chemicals of any kind have been sprayed on it,  nor has it been dipped in any chemical.  However,
never use those pre cut "stakes" like you find in most stores.  These are mostly used by surveyors
and are usually chemically treated because they will be pounded in the ground.  Now... having said
all that,  is the "safe" wood described above completely safe?    Nothings 100% in this world so
keep that in mind.  I personally am not afraid to use wood that I pick out at the lumber yard.

There is a brand new process being applied by a few sawmills on a test basis that will most likely
catch-on in the near future.  This is a waterproof coating similar to Thompsons Waterseal that
allows the wood to stay dry for 30 days until let's say... a house is built.  The reason for this process
is that many homes built in the last 10 years or more are suffering from mold spores.  One of the reasons is that the wood used was wet to start with and when enclosed never really dried out.  Add
other possible means of dampness and people sometimes have to have their houses torn down, it's
so bad.  I was assured however that this process is detectable,  but you have to know what you're
looking for.  If you take your fingernail or pocketknife and scrape the wood, the treatment will be
obvious as a somewhat waxy substance,  just as if you did the same thing to a freshly treated deck.
Again,  this process is somewhat rare as of this writing but will probably catch-on in the near future.

Now...  here's where the rubber meets the road:

Most ALL lumber including hardwoods and Pine ARE dipped in a chemical for various esthetic
reasons IF THAT WOOD IS TO BE USED FOR "LOOKS".  In other words, applications like
door frames and moldings... mantles and other "finished look" products.  This lumber will be
much higher in price than ordinary construction lumber AND will have the appearance of a much
better grade of wood.  We've all seen pre cut shelves and things made out of this,  and more than
likely it was dipped in a chemical to preserve the color and finish of the final product.  This wood
while not as dangerous as the "pressure treated" to our birds is non the less NOT to be used for
toys or perches of any kind.   Again... know where your wood came from before using it.

Finally... it wouldn't be a bad idea to cut off the ends of any board by a couple of inches.  Why?
Because if by chance any thing WAS applied to the wood, it's the ends that will "wick" up the
chemical.  Anything else would only be a surface application and not soak in much.  Any time I
make toys or perches,  I always sand or grind the wood anyway.  Both for reasons of foot grip
and "just in case".   I never place a 2x2 board in a cage without (for instance) grinding off the
square corners first.  Of course,  all the surfaces get grinded before I'm through simply because
of the small size of the wood to start with.  A bird standing on a square perch is neglect in my
opinion (and I've seen plenty of this wood used this way)  no matter how fast the bird chews it up.
Actually,  now I don't use pine for perches at all... I use it for toys only.

Ok, so there it is.  If you're not comfortable with trusting your judgment at the lumber store,
then your best option is to buy wood at a local sawmill or someplace you trust.  Unless you cut
down the tree yourself,  you really don't know where that wood came from or how it's been
treated.  I personally wont worry about it right now as I'm comfortable with the information I
have gathered.  More importantly..... I have made the Pine Council very aware of how much
money is spent on pine by all the toy manufacturers  (millions made on the finished products)
and how concerned we all are of any new developments in the future that we should be made
aware of.   I only hope all the toy manufacturers stay on top of this information also,  because
should it become the norm for the sawmills to water treat all lumber in the future,  the toy
manufacturers had better be ready to find a supplier of virgin wood.  In the meantime,  it's up
to us to stay on the toy manufacturers to provide us with a safe product for our best friends.

Back To The Toys Page
Back To The Announcements Page