By Brad Withrow-Robinson, OSU Forestry & Natural Resources Extension – Benton, Linn & Polk Counties

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Wood accumulating in every un-used space may indicate a problem…

This blog often carries information about insect or disease problems emerging in local forests and woodlands.  Today I will address a sensitive but common problem in the local woodland owner community, starting with the question:  Do you or someone you know have an irrational attachment to wood?  Behaviors such as holding back low value logs to saw into boards hoarded for undefined future projects may indicate an important condition you need to be aware of, the wood sickness.

Common signs of the wood sickness are large accumulations of round or milled wood in a person’s yard, shed, garage or barn. Excessive buildup of chain saws and other logging tools, portable mills, and all sorts of secondary wood working tools are often also evident. Symptoms experienced by suffers may include dry mouth, shallow breathing and irregular heartbeat when near burl wood, quarter-sawn oak or spalted wood.   Quilted maple, figured walnut and live edges have been known to cause sweating and dizziness.

People suffering from wood sickness often imagine great future profit, but are generally reluctant to part with any of the gathered wood, leading to an ever-growing supply.  Thus, many hours which these men (yes, a great majority are men) could spend in productive family interactions are spent accumulating wood, arranging piles of wood, rearranging piles of wood, trading wood and shaping pieces of wood into other forms. The most common conversion is from round to rectangular shapes which are more easily dried, arranged and rearranged.  But the wood may also be formed into floors, furniture, bowls and other household objects in the belief that it will lead to validation and acceptance of the sufferer’s activities.  There is of course little evidence of this ever happening.

Left untreated this condition can become an all-consuming obsession that may lead to the substitution of many familiar metal or ceramic objects with wooden versions, among other things.  Treatment options are quite limited, with no pharmaceutical treatments currently available.  Rumor has it they are trying out support groups on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  In acute cases impacts on the family can be severe, leaving the “woodshop widows” with little recourse  but to retreat to the comfort of spinning wheels and sewing machines and the consoling fiber arts.

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Wood hoarding is serious business for these two sufferers struggling to come to grips with the condition

This article is not meant to stigmatize those with the wood sickness, but to raise awareness and understanding of those with this affliction.  It is not limited to but certainly correlated with woodland ownership, and the suffers are commonly friends and family members just trying to lead normal lives while facing future years of retirement.  We are deserving of compassion and understanding.

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2 thoughts on “Wood Sickness

  1. Thank you for posting this,it helped me to finally understand the force that has been driving my life for all these years. Now I recognize that I have been powerless to resist this compulsion. I have been in the grip of this substance for all of my adulthood, and it has cost me dearly.
    Not only do I possess large stacks of various types of this material, it is to my shame that I confess to recently lusting after and finally buying another table saw, because owning only 2 was causing feelings of inadequacy. I now understand that this was a futile gesture, because just one saw was the gateway to a slippery slope wherein no amount of tools will ever be capable of satisfying this blind urge to possess all the tools and machines that I see in the woodworking magazines and catalogs that I sometimes drool over, even locking myself in the bathroom with them, until my legs go numb from lack of circulation and other people are knocking on the door, wanting to use the facilities…
    I have been totally immersed in wood for many years, having framed well over a hundred houses, and then that not being enough, churches, restaurants, garages, sheds, and even dog houses. But, not even that was enough to satisfy this mindless compulsion to create, and I also engaged in furniture building, and even whittling. Even as I write this, I am gazing out the window at a tree, imagining how certain branches would make brackets and then how many board feet are in the trunk.
    I have suffered physically from engaging in woodworking and carry many scars from accidents with tools, and tend to walk a little strangely from the residual effects of two falls that occurred while working on projects. But still I persist…
    Once, many years ago I was offered, and took a job working in a sawmill, my twisted rationale was that then I would be learning the secrets of making lumber from trees, which would add to my versatility as a Carpenter.
    Anymore, I do not even bother to conceal the signs of a hard core wood worker when I venture out into public. I will go into a restaurant with dried glue on my hands and sawdust in my hair, not even caring that the evidence of my activities is obvious for all to see, and oblivious to the smirks and glances of pity from others who fail to understand the grip this has upon me.
    But, perhaps in spite of the toll that this affliction has taken upon me, there is an upside to it all.
    There are mornings when I wake up with an eagerness, my mind bursting with ideas and visions of designs for more, always more.
    But, in all honesty, I seek no relief from this condition. Having gone so far down this road, one becomes resigned to this life, and even would not walk away from it, even if offered an alternative, a life free of the compulsion to design, create and build. It has brought me a joy and pride of accomplishment coming from the fact that there are things in this world that, if not for my efforts, would not have ever have come into existence, and they are used and enjoyed by many.
    So, waste not your pity upon me, and before you go, hand me those clamps, would you ?

  2. I have had the sickness for a while and was unaware if its existence. With my tree service, I have access to my fair share of urban hardwoods that seem too good to just throw in the chipper. I have accumulated a sizable amount of wood bending stock telling myself that I’ll learn how to wood bend ‘someday’. I go to sleep dreaming of portable sawmills and solar kilns. Somehow though, all that happens is I seem to be losing storage space. I haven’t kept that many logs, have I?

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