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Minnesota Ag News Headlines
A Wood Revolution
Minnesota Ag Connection - 02/03/2023

Maxwell McGruder, a 2010 University of Minnesota Duluth grad, is the marketing coordinator for Arbor Wood Co. This Northern Minnesota company is one of few companies in the US to manufacture thermally modified wood siding, decking, and dimensional lumber. McGruder’s route to this game-changing start-up included more than a few adventures, including working as a photographer in the music industry, locally and around the country. His resume also includes multimedia work and social media campaigns for a number of Duluth businesses in a range of industries.

In 2022, McGruder joined Arbor Wood Co. and the affiliated firm, Intectural. Arbor Wood is part of a growing industry in thermally modified timber. Jon Heyesen, Arbor Wood CEO, and his team, worked closely with Duluth’s Natural Resources Research Institute (NRRI) as they developed and tested the new technology. NRRI secured funding from the National Science Foundation and partnered with Washington State University. NRRI obtained the required mechanical properties and accelerated aging tests for Arbor Wood to use in its processes.

The process heat treats wood in a low-oxygen kiln to enhance water and rot resistance and dimensional stability. Rot resistance is key. The moisture is essentially ‘baked’ out of the wood on a molecular level, leaving an equilibrium moisture content of around 6-7%. The wood is then used for super-durable, all-natural siding, decking, and other construction opportunities. Heyesen is encouraged by the reception.

“The company wants to be better stewards of our resources,” McGruder says. “Using domestic forest land creates jobs and reduces the need for exotic hardwoods, and it’s exciting to be a part of that.”

Heyesen, McGruder, and the rest of the company are working toward a broad acceptance of thermally modified wood. Along with NRRI, they are developing products that are alternatives to top-grade lumber, chemically treated wood, and tropical hardwoods. One eventual goal is to use wood that poses forest fire hazards such as small-diameter ponderosa pine and lodgepole pine ash. Future experimentation includes using Minnesota's softer wood such as balsam fir.

McGruder combines the skills he learned at UMD in graphic design with his on-the-job and life experience in his current work. He remembers, “Vicky Lehman was my first graphic design teacher, and she taught me all about typeface design.” He recalls classes and adventures with Rob Wittig, Joellen Rock, Jennifer Gordon, and others. One expedition was a milestone. “I studied graphic design in Istanbul with Robert Repinsky.”

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