Main author

BRE Buzz Researcher Website
Last edited 01 Aug 2016

11 things you didn't know about wood

This article was originally published by BRE Buzz on 1 Aug 2016. It was written by Ed Suttie.


[edit] HMS Victory not all oak!

One of the most famous warships in the world under Admiral Lord Nelson's command at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 ensured HMS Victory’s place in the history books.

We know the oak forests of Britain were harvested to build the fleet that ensure Britannia ruled the waves in the Napoleonic wars. ‘Hearts of oak’ the Royal Navy anthem still further assured the legendary status of oak in the minds of British seafarers. But did you know that the keel is made of English elm?

Elm was probably chosen for its durability when wet and its resistant to splitting. The keel is the major part of the ship, which ties together the upright frames, the stem and stern post.

[edit] Do you live in a timber house?

Timber frame has risen in popularity for delivery of new homes in the UK in part to its versatility for offsite manufacture. There are now over many offsite timber frame housing manufacturing sites across the UK that have ensured timber frame as a share of new build housing has risen from 7% in 2000 to nearly 28% in 2016.

Offsite manufacture improves the quality and reliability of housing delivered and saves time and money on site.

[edit] Lebanon has the same forest cover as the UK

Measured by satellite imagery, the amount of forest and woodland cover in the UK is 14% of total land area which is equivalent to Lebanon. The UK is one of the least forested countries in Europe, where the average is 37%.

Grown in Britain, the Forestry Commission, Royal Society of Forestry are actively campaigning for a new afforestation in Britain to help meet future material demands.

[edit] Wood is made of carbon

Trees convert carbon dioxide into long chain polymers called lignin, hemicellulose and cellulose – the hidden structure of wood, releasing the by-product oxygen on the way for us to breathe.

This storage of carbon helps give wood based construction products some of the lowest environmental impacts and best environmental product declarations (EPD) available.

[edit] Heating wood can make it more durable

The ancient Britons knew when building their timber palisade enclosures to put the pointed end of each timber into the fire to char before banging them into the ground to make a long lasting defence. The charring and heating of wood makes it less likely to rot.

The modern day equivalent is innovative products like Brimstone, a thermally-modified British hardwood that is more durable and used for long lasting exterior cladding on buildings.

[edit] Wood structure is like a bundle of drinking straws

Under a microscope, the end grain of wood reveals the many tubes and vessels that are bound together to form the wood structure. These ‘drinking straws’ were used to transport water and nutrients up and down the tree when it was growing.

Water can enter the end grain of wood 1,000 times quicker than water entering the side (tangential or radial) face as the water is drawn up the ‘straws’ by capillary action.

[edit] A wood library is called a xylarium

The official term xylarium comes from xylem, which stems from classical Greek for wood, xylon. It is a curated collection of wood samples from around the world.

BRE has a xylarium of some 30,000 samples from what would have been former colonies in the 1920s onwards. The facility is used as an educational resource, a reminder of the switch to sustainable plantation grown timber in the 20th century and also to identify wood species as required by the EU Timber Regulations.

[edit] How can wood last forever in a building?

The oldest timber buildings in the world are the temple complex of Horyu-ji in Japan and particularly the pagoda building. The wood used in the centre pillar of the pagoda is estimated through dendrochronological analysis to have been felled in 594 over 1,400 years ago.

The wood has lasted so long in part because it is such a valued, cared-for and unique historical building, but also because the skills of those craftsmen that built in Japan selected a durable wood species and prevented its exposure to moisture, thereby ensuring a long service life.

[edit] Forests and woodland in Britain contribute to health and wellbeing

Construction materials that contribute to health and wellbeing when they are forming are rare. Through access to forests by dog walkers, horse riders, runners, and cyclists, forests and woodlands in Britain are the 'green gyms' of the country as well as contributing a wider £500m to the local rural economy every year.

[edit] Local timber can deliver in 2016

Concerted efforts by Grown in Britain to raise awareness of British forests products and the values of sustaining woodlands and forest infrastructure has led to a trademark brand appearing. Stunning contemporary buildings like the UEA’s Enterprise Centre are built in part using timber from Thetford Forest 30 miles away.

[edit] Wood can make you feel well

Going for a walk in the woods is highly therapeutic. The Japanese medical profession has been prescribing so-called ‘forest bathing’ (shinrin-yoku) to patients for decades.

What about wood the material itself? Conclusive evidence is building about the positive psychological impacts of having nature and natural proxy materials such as timber in interiors in buildings.

In hospitals, it has been demonstrated benefits to patients recover faster, require less medication and feel less pain. In schools, concentration improves, learning improves and absenteeism falls. In offices, productivity increases and absenteeism falls.

You can find out more about BRE’s timber expertise through a newly released expert pack on Timber in Construction.

--BRE Buzz

[edit] Find out more

[edit] Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki