Forest Products Laboratory – Madison, Wisconsin - Atlas Obscura
Unusual adventures and hidden discoveries. Explore our 2018 trips now »

Madison, Wisconsin

Forest Products Laboratory

Where experiments are conducted on all things wood. 

Who would you call if you had a wood-related question? The Forest Products Laboratory, of course. But, did you even know of its existence?

The Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) was created in 1910, and was moved to its current building atop a knoll overlooking the University of Wisconsin Madison Campus in 1932. There, research is conducted on all things wood-related. The lab’s xylarium, or research wood collection, is the largest in the world, with over 103,000 samples. Its herbarium contains one of the largest collections of wood-decay fungi in existence.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, FPL is the only federally funded wood utilization research laboratory in the United States, and as such it answers to the public as a government resource. Operating under the Forest Service, the laboratory dispenses timely advice on wood through its hotline—just call 608-231-9200.

When it’s not answering the public’s burning questions, FPL is a repository of oddities. In their xylarium they have a piece of Leadwood, which is the heaviest and hardest wood in existence, weighing 85 pounds per cubic foot. Another sample, a piece of African Crossfire Mahogany, was the veneer used on the interior of Pontiac automobiles in 1973. It’s a beautiful specimen with brown waves rippling through its golden grain, like caramel cascading down a candied apple.

Within the walls of this curious laboratory, innovative research is conducted on a daily basis for society’s benefit. And resting in cabinets sit artifacts accrued over a century, waiting to tell a story about our past and the potential future of wood technology.