By Chris | July 14, 2010 - 4:47 am - Posted in How To, Marine Structures, Treated Wood

On his 4th voyage over to America, Christopher Columbus lost all of his ships to shipworms. All of them. Why was so little wood found on the sunken Titanic when they finally raised it from the ocean floor? You got it…shipworms. You got that right, right?

Mollusks, Actually

So what are shipworms…and why and how do they cause so much damage? Shipworms (also known as Pileworms) actually are not really worms at all, but are rather a type of clam that has very small shells used for boring into wood in saltwater.

A marine bivalve mollusk (with 65 different species)…they get their name for their long, narrow, cylindrical bodies – resembling worms. However, upon closer inspection, you will find a small drill-like shell. This shell has two halves with a gap between them, like a clamshell. In the gap there is a muscular foot that acts as a suction cup, holding the shell in place while it’s razor-sharp edges scrape the wood ahead of it. Shipworms have long tubes that stick out into the water so the worm can breathe, and can also seal the worm in the wood in cases of extended periods out of water…low tides for example.

Up To 6 Feet Long

shipworm (tereda)Also known as “Termites of the sea”, shipworms eat sawdust. The stomach of shipworms has a pouch for storing sawdust and an organ/gland full of bacteria that aide in digesting wood. The bacteria take nitrogen from the water and convert it to protein for the worms’ nourishment. The shipworm invades wood while still in the larval stage, making an entrance hall that is usually too small to see. It uses the shells on its head to burrow. The ridged, rough surfaces rub the wood away as the worm moves from side to side. This cuts away a perfectly circular tube that is just larger than the shell. The wormlike body follows behind the shell, producing a chalk-like substance to line the burrow. As they burrow deeply into the wood, they grow very quickly. As the worm grows, so does the burrow. Depending on the size of their homes, shipworms can range in size from 6 inches to as long as 6 feet.

Expensive Damages

Once a shipworm claims a home, it is there for life. A piece of wood may be infested with shipworm, but they will deliberately avoid each other’s tunnels. Instead they twist and turn their tunnels until the wood becomes a mass of tubes and holes, and eventually collapses. Shipworms are sometimes called the mollusk with the million-dollar appetite. These creatures are credited with single-handedly destroying the Hudson River piers in New York City. Researchers estimate that untreated timbers, such as pier pilings, exposed to Hawaii’s ocean waters will last less than two years.

A Positive Note

However, this incredible appetite has a purpose. Large amounts of wood get into the oceans by river deposits, forests and mostly, humans. Shipworms play an integral role in reducing the amount of driftwood in the world’s oceans.

How To Stop Shipworms

So, how do we stop the shipworms & protect our ships & wooden structures? By protesting at the White House? Not likely. Shipworms don’t like copper….so we can build using copper nails, or even copper sheeting. A cheaper and easier method is simply using CCA treated wood which contains copper (CCA = Chromated COPPER Arsenate).

Well, We Like Oysters

Or, we can eat them. In some places, shipworms are considered a culinary delicacy. In the Philippines, it is prepared as ‘kinilaw’ – eaten raw, with vinegar or lime juice & chopped peppers and onions…Similar to ceviche. The taste has been compared to a very wide variety of foods ranging from milk to oysters.

Press Release…

To offer the cheapest bulkhead materials you will find, Building Products Plus in Houston, TX has developed ( to promote their ultra low-cost vinyl bulkhead materials packages — especially for 3, 4, and 5 feet tall (exposed height) walls.

The prices are actually listed on and include all wood and hardware required to build a basic vinyl bulkhead. The materials are shipped in what they call “ready to build” packages.

Vinyl Sheet Piling Has Become a Commodity

The vinyl sheet piling market has become thoroughly competitive during the last decade. 10 years ago there were only a few producers but now with abundant vinyl sheet manufacturers, advances in technology, and the spread of production knowledge vinyl sheet pilings have essentially become a commodity product.

Building Products Plus keeps prices low by maintaining relationships with multiple vinyl sheet piling producers and by purchasing opportunistically. The resulting low costs are passed to you. The manufacturer of the materials you purchase may vary but all vinyl bulkhead materials quoted on and sold from meet minimum specified requirements for the wall size indicated.

Vinyl Bulkhead Design

To help plan your project, you will find some basic bulkhead design drawings on at The drawings will be helpful for purchasing your bulkhead materials and understanding the basic elements of your wall.

Vinyl Bulkhead Quotes

You can get a quote for your specific wall, including delivery, by phone or online at Your quote will be created by an experienced project consultant who can help you make decisions about the best vinyl sheet piling lengths, best wood treatment levels, and hardware choices.

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Building Products Plus, LLP is a manufacturer and supplier of extended-life building materials for marine and shoreline, high-end commercial, and farm and ranch projects. Based in Houston, TX, Building Products Plus has been supplying long-lasting building materials since 1993.

By Chris | November 23, 2009 - 9:44 am - Posted in Alternative Materials

This is a great project – the straw bale house being built by researchers at the University of Bath a hop and a skip west of London. straw bale walls lined with wood or hemp panels

The straw bale house is called the balehaus@bath and has set out to demonstrate the effectiveness of smart design and the use of renewable materials to decrease a home’s carbon footprint.

Straw – Renewable & Insulating
Straw is exceptionally renewable and has excellent insulating properties so it is a very energy-efficient building material when considering both production and the operation of the home. Additionally, hay (straw) can generally be grown locally (in most places) so carbon emissions from transportation are reduced as well.

Panels Resists Fire
Flammability tests of the pre-fabricated panels showed that they resisted fire very well – 4 times as long as required. Read more about that here.

See for yourself. Here’s the image gallery and you will also see a link to the “straw cam” where you can watch some videos of the construction.

The house is about more than just the straw bales. Design and other factors are considered as well. This might be one of many great options researchers find to develop greener homes for a “carbon-neutral” future.

By Chris | November 11, 2009 - 6:55 pm - Posted in Big Timbers, New Products, Structural Components

This is a pretty concise “list” (pdf) with images of timber truss designs you can pick from. It covers the basics – the timber trusses most used. To repeat, these are for TIMBER trusses – not pressed or manufactured trusses – so, please, no emails about all the dainty little truss designs I missed. Oh, and yes, there are TONS of custom designs available, too.

scissor timber truss design from American Pole and TimberIt’s no secret I think American Pole and Timber is one of the coolest companies because of their ability to make just about anything and their willingness to say yes to just about any project thrown at them. There are not many companies that could handle the diversity of products American Pole and Timber handles but they have been doing it for nearly two decades now with steady growth.

Aside from their pdf of timber truss designs, you will be interested in the timber truss options they offer and, especially, how they ship exceptionally large timber trusses – timber trusses that are too large to fit on a truck assembled.

Shipping Large Trusses

Kind of off-topic here… They ship nationwide but some of their trusses are GIANT so they actually build the timber truss in their shop in Houston, TX (fully assembled) to ensure the truss is made properly and meets all the required dimensions and specs once assembled. They then mark each component and disassemble each truss for shipment. Depending on the client and truss, they will send one of their employees with the truss to guide and/or help with the reassembly on the job site.

After 10 years in and around the lumber business, I still think that’s pretty cool.

An industry-changing product is now available in the US. It is “treated” wood without any chemicals. Nature’s Choice Deck, distributed by Building Products Plus, is made of premium grade southern yellow pine, uses no chemicals, and comes with a 20 year warranty.

Think about it – “treated” wood with zero chemicals – 100% natural wood.
thermally modified wood - Nature's Choice

Thermally Modified Wood
Although thermally modified wood has been proven effective in Europe since the mid-90’s, it is new to the US where it took on the brand name Nature’s Choice. Developed in Finland, thermally modified wood is kind of baked (for lack of a better word) until the composition of the wood changes such that it is no longer attractive to termites, fungus, and other forms of decay. Using special kilns, the wood is heated for about a day to just below flash point and cooled using carefully timed applications of water to maximize its strength and longevity.

As Green As It Gets
Nature’s Choice ( is as green as it gets. It is made of easily renewable southern yellow pine from managed forest land and produced in the heart of Amish country in production facilities that use relatively zero electricity. It’s seriously green from start to finish. It contains no chemicals so you don’t have to worry about your gardens, lawn, ground water, or kids. And, finally, since it is long-lasting the wood will not need to be replaced often. However, when you do replace it the wood can be thrown away, re-used, or even burned (unlike chemically pressure-treated wood).

This is the stuff dreams are made of, eco-speaking.

Physical Properties
Its strength is up to par, too. You can cut, drill, nail, screw, and everything just like regular wood. No special fasteners are required but you can use a hidden deck fastener system is you wish. In other words, it is regular wood – except, you know, with no chemicals.

Here are the stats from Nature’s Choice Deck technical info page.

    • Uniformly Darker Color
      Increased Surface Hardness
      Resistant to Decay
      Decreased Absorption of Moisture
      Moisture Deformation Decreased by 30 – 90%
      Splitting Strengths Reduced 0 – 50%
      Bending Strength Changes -15% – +20%
      Resins Dry Out or Evaporate
      Equilibrium Moisture 10 – 50% Smaller than in Untreated Wood
      Overall Increased Stability
      Increased Longevity
  • Beautiful Appearance – Darker Color
    Nature’s Choice is made of premium grade (better than #1) southern yellow pine so the boards are about 100% free of wane and nearly totally free of knots. The faces of the boards are different (one side smooth, the other grooved) and since the wood is so highly selected, the boards are essentially reversible.

    The thermal modification process darkens the wood to a beautiful light-mahogany color. The picture above is unstained pine (really!). See the Nature’s Choice Deck website for more pictures. According to the guys at Building Products Plus, all of the pictures on the site (as of the date of this writing) are southern yellow pine. Hard to believe but see the comparison image here.

    Dimensions & Availability
    Currently, Nature’s Choice thermally modified wood is available in 1″x5″ (actual dimensions) deck boards. They say they will offer more in the future. In fact, they mentioned plans for large timbers made with the stuff and maybe even pilings. Yes, chemical-free pilings. These guys are kind of quietly leading their own green movement.

    Expect to see more Nature’s Choice Deck in the future. People have been looking for this sort of thing and it’s finally here.