From the workshop
In harmony with nature
The rumbling of the Norway spruce is quieter than expected, almost swooshing silently before being caught by a thin layer of snow. In the light of the waning moon, in the forest around Davos, trees are being felled for moon wood. A wood that is said to be denser, stronger, sturdier and thus of higher quality if felled in harmony with nature.
"Our lives used to be much more in sync with nature," says forester Mar-kus Hubert, trudging ahead. His aim: a 30-metre-high, approx. 200-year-old Norway spruce. The tree must make way for the saplings to grow. "A healthy forest needs healthy trees," says Hubert. It is late January, a few days after the full moon. The water in the frozen stream is now running beneath the ice and there is less liquid in the wood at waxing moon – this helps it to dry out better and means less damage or loss during processing. The forestry team of the Davos local authority fells moon wood from October to February or March, "definitely not in summer," stresses the forester. We always used to fell the wood in winter because we had other things to do in summer, but that all changed with the beginning of industrialisation: wood that is actually much too damp is also felled in the summer and quickly dried out in huge furnaces. "We no longer give nature a chance," says Hubert, gazing pensively into the forest. Over the last 15 years or so the trend has slowly reversed. Meanwhile, around ten per cent of the trees felled by the foresters in Davos are moon wood. This is used for high-quality woodwork, such as furniture, window frames, boardings, panelling and floors.
«We no longer devote enough time to nature.»Markus Hubert
A gentle thud on the ground
The Norway spruce is on a slope just above a path. Markus Hubert and his colleague Andres Kessler inspect the tree. Is it the right diameter? Is it healthy? Pockets of rotten wood must be taken into account as they can affect the direction in which the tree falls. How tall is the tree? Space for twice the length of the tree is required for safe felling and the tree shouldn’t snap or affect the neighbouring trees when falling. This particular Norway spruce is perfect as there is an aisle running parallel to the slope and no other trees are in the way. Kessler removes part of the bark with an axe to prevent any dirt in the bark from damaging the chain on the saw. He then sets about cutting a kerf in the tree with the chainsaw. This determines the direction of the fall. The penultimate step is the felling cut, which Kessler makes from the back of the tree to the holding wood, i.e. just before the kerf. This so-called band zone controls the tree like a hinge. Finally, the forester chops three felling wedges in the felling cut on the back. He then uses a hammer to carefully hack a deeper wedge in the tree.
Slowly the tree begins to move, leaning more and more with every strike. And then comes the swoosh, before the Norway spruce hits the ground with an almost gentle thud. For a few moments all eyes look reverently at the centuries-old tree. Then Kessler fires up the chainsaw again, cuts up the Norway spruce according to the wood buyer’s requirements and removes the branches. If working on a major felling job, the forestry team uses a cable crane to transport the wood. The wood is then piled at storage locations along the edge of the forest, before being collected by the respective timber processing companies. This particular Norway spruce is being left to lie until spring, much to the delight of the surrounding game, who like nothing more than to nibble on the fresh green. It will then be processed by Bernhard Holzbau AG in Davos Wiesen at a later date.
Left to dry thoroughly
"50 per cent of the wood we work with is moon wood," says Philipp Bosshard, head of building envelopes and a member of the Board of Bernhard Holzbau AG, on his way back to the car. The wood is processed in our own sawmill in a 1960’s Bögli multiple-blade gang saw, which takes only moon wood. "It’s best to cut the trunks within three months," says Bosshard, "otherwise you run the risk of the wood discolouring." Sawyer Heinz Gadmer skilfully manoeuvres the next trunk towards the saw. He then lines up the trunk so that the growth rings are as straight as possible and the marking is right in the centre. This particular piece of wood is prone to snapping and will therefore be cut out. The 'Bögli multiple-blade gang' then gets to work and things get loud. As soon as the first metre of wood is through the saw, Gadmer clamps the planks together to stop them from falling apart. After sawing up the wood, the planks are piled outside; narrow bits of wood between the planks ensure the wood gets enough air. "Then the drying process begins, which is when the wood loses 25 to 30 per cent of its weight," says Bosshard, winding his way through the pile on the huge storage area. "We usually keep our moon wood here for at least a year. That is unless it dries out by August, like in the summer of 2015."
«Developers and architects know that the quality of moon wood is better than wood felled in the summer.»Philipp Bosshard
Moon wood for floors and window frames
On the way to the joiner’s workshop we find out that most of the trees felled in and around Davos are spruces, i.e. Norway spruces, and moon wood larches. Only a few are Swiss stone pines, of which there are more in the Engadin. "The trees should also be high up on a northern slope, where they are exposed to the least sun," says Bosshard. At the joiner’s workshop he picks up a solid wooden window frame – made from local moon wood: "Demand for moon wood is high, especially for floors and window frames. Developers and architects choose such wood because they know that the quality is better than wood felled in the summer." Bernhard Holzbau AG also uses the moon wood in the carpenter’s shop: in cooperation with the Austrian firm Thoma, the family business builds wooden houses completely free of all metal, chemicals and other pollutants.
The quality of the moon wood is almost tangible: the wooden window frame feels smooth and even yet smells of forest and fresh air. The exact same smell that pervades the entire Bernhard Holzbau AG site. Deep in the valley on the way to Davos Wiesen, surrounded by healthy Graubünden forests, a piece of tradition is being revived, bringing people and nature closer together.