When heated with steam, wood can become flexible enough that it can be shaped into curves such as might be used in building a boat.

And more than 1,000 elementary students got to see firsthand just how much heat and water is required to make wood pliable with demonstrations in which pieces of wood, boiled overnight in water, became flexible enough to bend nearly into a "C" shape before breaking.

The students also got to make plywood themselves by gluing sheets of veneer together and compacting the sheets in a press.

They also got to see how chemically treated wood burns less than untreated wood when put into a blowtorch's flame, watch a demonstration of a portable sawmill and make paper themselves.

It was all part of Oregon State University’s Wood Magic event this week, which brought to campus third- and fourth-grade classes from Corvallis, Albany, Philomath, Lebanon, Salem, Newport and Springfield.

Michelle Maller, who organizes the event for OSU’s Department of Wood Science and Engineering, said about 1,100 kids attended the event, which ran Tuesday to Thursday. The program dates back 17 years, Maller said.

“There really are not a lot of outdoor programs like this anymore, especially focused on wood,” she said.

Maller said the department hopes to introduce forestry to kids at a young age, which hopefully will inspire some of them to have an interest in studying the subject.

“It’s important to teach kids about forest management,” she said. “There is a misconception that forestry is just about cutting down trees.”

Forestry is also about how to use wood, she said, and OSU uses every part of the log; even sawdust becomes particleboard and wood chips become plywood. 

At the event, students rotated through 11 stations that were run by professors and graduate students.

Zach Grapoli, a Philomath Elementary School fourth-grader who attended the event Wednesday with his class, said he liked being able to see demonstrations firsthand and touch things made from wood.

“It’s awesome being here and it’s really fun to see the wood being made into stuff,” he said.

Rocco Delarosa, who is in the same class as Zach, said he liked getting to see demonstrations firsthand.

“Here you can see the people who are doing it, and they teach you how it’s done,” he said.

Fred Kamke, a professor in wood science, said he’s done demonstrations at Wood Magic at OSU since 2005, and he did similar demonstrations at Virginia Tech before that.

“We want kids to appreciate the forest and all the products that come out of the forest,” he said.

Anthony Rimel covers education and can be reached at anthony.rimel@lee.net, 541-758-9526, or via Twitter @anthonyrimel.

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