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Volume 11, 1878
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Art. LXXV.–Notes and Suggestions on the Utilization of certain neglected New Zealand Timbers.

[Read before the Wellington Philosophical Society, 9th November, 1878.]

There is probably no other British colony in which the vegetable products are wasted to so great an extent as in New Zealand. I do not now refer to the wanten destruction which, in the North Island especially, accompanies

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the utilization of timber, and for which the next and succeeding generations will suffer, nor yet to that necessary destruction over areas in process of settlement, so much as to the general neglect to utilize timbers which would command a constant market at remunerative prices in Britain, and in the common use, in the Northern districts at least, of best timber for purposes that would be equally well served by timber of an inferior quality. In the former case the evil is the result of ignorànce, in the latter of wantonnesss.

The magnificent kauri forests of Auckland have often enabled that district to pass through periods of difficulties, with comparative ease, by finding employment for numbers who would otherwise have been destitute. But at the present increasing rate of consumption, this source of wealth will have become exhausted within thirty years; the export of kauri will have ceased long before the expiration of that period, and there is no timber in the colony by which it can be replaced. The suggestion of any means by which this period can be retarded is therefore a matter of general interest, and from this point of view the utilization of certain neglected timbers, which, although inferior to kauri, are still valuable for general purposes, is one of considerable importance.

Again, there are many neglected timbers of great value for general cabinet work, marquetry, or other special purposes, which might assist to swell our catalogue of exports, and for which a constant market might be secured. In most cases these timbers have been neglected from simple ignorance of their value, but the excessive cost of land or water carriage to the port of shipment has too often proved an insuperable obstacle; this, however, thanks to the public works policy of the last few years, is being diminished almost month by month. The high cost of labour has also contributed towards perpetuating the neglect. The owner of a sawmill, after clearing his bush of kauri or other marketable timber, has not cared to incur the cost and risk of converting timber of unknown qualities and comparatively small dimensions for an uncertain market. Some of these timbers when growing are of solitary habit, which to the ordinary timber merchant would present an increased difficulty.

Although no class in a community can derive benefit from the extension of an industry without the community at large benefiting to a greater or less extent; yet it must be admitted that the small settler in forest districts would benefit more largely than any other class by the utilization of these neglected timbers. Commencing with little or no capital, our settlers would gladly welcome the opportunity of converting a large portion of their timber into hard cash instead of ashes, and would thus be enabled to tide over the first years on their land with less difficulty than at present.

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Let us suppose the case of a forest settler on the lower flanks of the Rimutaka, or in many parts of the Wairarapa, the Kaipara, etc. In clearing his land he finds trees of honeysuckle or rewa-rewa (Knightia excelsa), the timber of which is almost useless for out-of-doors work, on account of its perishable nature, while, as it is difficult of combustion, it is worthless for firewood; yet, placed in the English market it would fetch a much higher price for cabinet work than the so-called American Birch, which is retailed by the timber merchant at from 6d. to 12d. per superficial foot of inch thickness. The timber should be prepared by cutting into from 10 to 14 feet lengths, so as to be easily moved to a rough saw-pit, when it could be reduced to planking, say from three to six inches thick; or, if in the vicinity of a saw-mill it might be converted at a still lower rate, or perhaps sold in the log. When converted it should be “perched” or “stripped” in such a way that no two planks would be in contact, and a constant circulation of air should be maintained between them. In this condition it could be sold to local cabinet-makers or consigned to a merchant or agent for export. But it is necessary to offer a word of caution with regard to two points of considerable importance, for the neglect of either would lead to loss and disappointment. First, the timber should not be sent on board ship until it is thoroughly dry, or it will inevitably become foxey and tainted. Secondly, it is imperative that the consignee in England should be someone thoroughly acquainted with the timber trade, for it is certain that many valuable timbers and other products endure continuous neglect simply from their not finding their way into the proper channels of distribution in Britain. Dr. Hector informed me that the object most admired in the New Zealand Court of the American Centennial Exhibition, was a cabinet, constructed chiefly of rewa-rewa, which, after lying in the London docks for an indefinite period, had been picked up by a cabinet-maker, who recognized its value for his purposes, but who had been unable to learn from what country it had been brought, although striving to procure a further supply.

It is not easy to form an exact idea of the cost of conversion and delivery at the port of shipment, so much depends upon situation; the following may be taken as a sufficiently liberal estimate:—

Falling, 1d. per cubic foot.

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Logging 3d. " "

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Conversion 3d. " "

Cartage, 3d. " "

Railway charges, 3d "

Say tenpence per cubic foot, or seven shillings per 100 superficial feet. The settler would therefore obtain not morely remunoration for his labour, but a direct profit by selling the planking at so low a rate as one shilling

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per cubic foot, and might expect to obtain from one shilling and sixpence to two shillings per foot cube. Freight to England would cost another shilling, so that while yielding a handsome profit to the settler, the rewa-rewa could be sold in London at rates equally low with those of other woods of similar or even inferior quality. But a still higher rate of profit might occasionally be obtained; in all ornamental woods exceptionally figured planks fetch higher prices than the ordinary forms, and this would often be the case with rewa-rewa, and timbers of a similar quality. There can be no question that, in a large number of cases, timbers of this kind would defray the first cost of the land and leave a considerable surplus, instead of being simply a source of expense as at present.

I would ventureto suggest that some of our leading merchants might render good service to the community, at little or no risk to themselves, by shipping a marketable parcel of rewa-rewa and similar woods to London; doubtless, many persons could be found who would gladly supply planks at a much less price than I have named; for example, the Karori settlers ongaged in cutting firewood, either leave rewa-rewa on the ground to perish, or deteriorate their general sample of firewood by mixing rewa-rewa with it, and selling the whole at about sixteen shillings the half-cord, or threepence per cubic foot. An offer to purchase all the planking they could bring, at about one shilling per cubic foot, would ensure a sufficient supply to enable the market to be tested with but little risk to the shippers. Possibly, a few settlers might combine to prepare a parcel for shipment, and divide the profits; but in either case it would be advisable to have the parcel, on its arrival in London, submitted at a minimum price to some well-known wholesale furniture manufacturer, or have it offered at one of the large periodical timber sales, taking care to have the qualities and uses of the woods clearly stated.

It is unnecessary to offer a complete list of the various local timbers adapted for furniture work or other special purposes, as particulars may be found in the report on the durability of native timbers published by the Public Works Department, as well as in Captain J. Campbell Walker's report on the organization of a forest department for New Zealand. I would, however, especially draw attention to the toro, tipau, mapau, and ngaio as valuable timbers, plentiful in certain districts, but at present only utilized for firewood.

But we have vast quantities of timber which do not possess sufficient durability to allow their being used for out-of-door work, although capable of being saturated with some preservative solution at a small cost, and thus made available for general purposes. Conspicuous amongst timbers of this class are the kahikatea and the tawa. The former is common throughout the

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colony, attains large dimensions, and, under the name of white pine, is used in the southern part of the colony for inside work and other purposes where great durability is not required, but by no means to an extent commensurate with its actual merits. Unfortunately, in the converted state it is liable to the ravages of a small boring beetle. The tawa forms fully one-fifth of the entire forest of the North Island, but can scarcely be said to be utilized in any way except for firewood.

It would be difficult to over-estimate the advantages to be derived from the utilization of so large a quantity of neglected material; and with this view of the importance of the subject, I venture to suggest the desirability of experiments in this, direction being undertaken by the Public Works Department, the more especially that they may be made at small cost. A cistern containing a solution of chloride of zinc, pyrolignite of iron, chloride of lime or kreosote, all of which are successfully employed in Europe, might be elevated some eighteen or twenty feet above the ground. The logs to-be operated upon should be placed in front, and a cap firmly attached to the end of each, the cap being connected by a pipe with the tank above, when the pressure of the solution from the higher level would be sufficient to drive out any sap that might remain in the timber, which would then become charged with the preserving agent.

Our white pine is greatly superior to the American spruce, and would successfully compete with the best Baltic white deal in the English market, if it could be supplied at a low rate, say to sell retail, at from 12s. 6d. to 13s. per 100 superficial feet. It should be shipped in the form of 2 ½ by 7, 3 by 7, 3 by 9, or 3 by 11-inch planking, or in bulk. Wider planks, say 14 to 20 inch, would fetch proportionately higher prices. It would, however, be impossible to pay the present high rate of freight, but as ships not unfrequently leave our ports in ballast, it is possible that lower rates might occasionally be obtained. A gentleman engaged in supplying the Kaipara mills with kauri, informed me that he should be glad to deliver kahikatea logs at 1s. 6d. per 100 feet superficial; so that, allowing for waste and cost of conversion, the planking might be turned out at the mill at 4s. 6d. per 100 feet, but even this would require a very low rate of freight to allow of a fair profit to the consignee.

I may be permitted to mention a singular instance in which the development of our railway system has promoted the utilization of our neglected resources. In all parts of the colony, except Auckland, the rimu, or red pine, has long formed the chief timber used in the manufacture of furniture, but in most parts of the Auckland district it has been completely neglected. Even within twenty or thirty miles of the city of Auckland, hundreds of noble trunks, from forty to sixty feet in length, and of large

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diameter, have been destroyed by fire every year in the process of clearing. This has arisen from the difficulty of conveying the timber by land, watercarriage not being available as in the case of the kauri; so that rimu, the cheap timber of the south, could only be obtained in Auckland at a higher rate than kauri, and as kauri has the advantage of being more easily worked than rimu, the latter has been rarely used by the cabinet-maker, notwithstanding the advantage it possesses in colour and “figure.” But, since the construction ef the Waikato Railway, I am assured that a change has taken place in this respect. Rimu is abundant at Drury, Pukekohe, Pokenoe, and other places along the line, and the settlers have taken advantage of the facilities for carriage placed at their disposal–they have converted their rimu into boards instead of burning it, and rimu furniture is much more common in the workshops of the Auckland cabinet-makers than was the case prior to the formation of the railways. We may fairly expect that similar results will take place with regard to other neglected products.