November23

December – Necessity Is The Mother Of Invention

by Tony Shepley,

Folding pen knives have been around since the 15th century and served many purposes including sharpening a lot of quill pens in the years leading up to the 1800’s. Blades became longer and jack knives became popular throughout the world to the point in the 1880’s when soldiers in the Swiss Army were all issued pocket knives. Rifles had started to become more complicated and therefore needed more regular maintenance and the Swiss were the first to add a screw driver to the basic pocket knife, to make rifle repair and maintenance just that much easier in the field. Subsequent improvements lead to a so called Officer’s Knife which has a couple of blades, more tools and an all-important corkscrew, in case a victory toast was in order.

Victorinox® was the first producer of Swiss Army knives and was joined by a competitor a few years later. The ever diplomatic and neutral Swiss split their purchases between the two companies but Victorinox became the company known for the Swiss Army knife and spawned the evolution of those early combat tools into 100 plus different combinations of tools, blades and accessories. Today they produce some 10 million Swiss Army knives annually in Porrentruy, Switzerland. The most challenging Swiss Army knife to try to fit in your pocket is a 33 tool, blade and accessory knife appropriately called the SwissChamp®.

Swiss Army knives have certainly evolved from early screw driver/can opener/knife blade models to include tooth picks, tiny pens, tweezers and more. As a member of a splinter inflicting industry, I am never without my Swiss Army knife for all the repair and extraction efforts that go along with the job! It’s interesting to think of the features that may not have made the grade, and that frankly we may never know about. Like the Plato said “necessity is the mother of invention”, but continued need is what sustains the invention.

Currently, the forest products industry is struggling with the supply of Western Red Cedar finger jointed clear vertical grain clapboard. We can blame it on the forest fires, of which there have been many, out West this year. We can blame it on the world economy in which high demand from one part of the world pulls supply from another, creating shortages. We can blame the fact that there just isn’t the number of cedar trees left that there were 30 years ago. Cedar mills designed to process huge cedar logs are now cutting logs so small in diameter that old timers just scratch their heads. In the past 15 years, finger jointed clear vertical grain red cedar clapboard has really become popular. Its high quality, long lengths, and uniform appearance are part of an evolution away from traditional random length solid (non- finger jointed) clapboard. What has proved so popular has also proved very scarce this year. Mills, suppliers and retailers are all on allocation and can only get a fraction of the clear vertical grain finger jointed red cedar clapboard they need. The last cedar shortage this bad was in the 1980’s and necessity forced change. It’s what started the finger jointing evolution. Finger jointing allowed use of parts of the tree that were unusable for solid boards.

Now we face the next challenge but we should keep in mind that change and evolution are always the chance for opportunity. We have cedar options other than the CVG finger jointed that is in such short supply.  Ironically solid CVG clapboard is available, as well as lesser grade mixed grain A and Better clapboard. Typically in times of shortage other species, such as Hemlock and Mahogany clapboard, are offered. We remind you there are reasons you aren’t already using these alternatives.

A new option that we are installing on our Hyannis office (literally as I write this) is a 1/2×6 clapboard from Boral®. Similar to Boral TruExterior trim, it is 70% recycled fly ash and 30% polymers that bind the fly ash into a board, or clapboard, that is extremely stable, doesn’t expand or contract like wood or PVC, and won’t take on moisture. It is a wonderful substrate for paint and doesn’t carry the OSHA health warnings that various fiber cement products do. We can pre-paint it in our paint shop. The clapboard is able to be blind nailed and looks terrific. We aren’t depleting any forests while making it, we’re just recycling the residue from coal burning power plants.

Think of Boral as another option, another tool, or another addition to your Swiss Army Knife tool kit. Innovative, Green, useful, priced right (similar to F/J red cedar clapboard), Boral clapboard is an option to consider. Stop by our Hyannis yard and take a look at the sales office. Most of the exterior trim and clapboard are Boral and we’re proud to show it off now, and for many years to come.

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