- Project plans
- Project activities
- Legislation and standards
- Industry context
Last edited 05 Dec 2017
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.
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?
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.
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%.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
 Find out more
 Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki
- A guide to the use of urban timber FB 50.
- Birch wood.
- BRE Buzz articles on Designing Buildings Wiki.
- Chip carving.
- Definition of tree for planning purposes.
- Physical Properties of Wood.
- Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification.
- Rip sawing.
- The Art of Pyrography.
- The differences between hardwood and softwood.
- Timber construction for London.
- Timber preservation.
- Timber vs wood.
- Tree hazard survey.
- Tree preservation order.
- Types of timber.
Featured articles and news
How does anastylosis help in the reconstructing of ancient monuments?
More than just aesthetic and historic values and meanings.
An exciting and novel collaboration between the RIBA and the SPAB.
Republic of Ireland updates to planning and development.
The different types of pile foundation.
Achieving a net-zero carbon UK by 2050.
Responding to an invitation to tender.
Statutory instruments laid in Parliament to amend the Climate Change Act.
How will we pay for infrastructure post-Brexit after EIB has gone?
What can we look forward to in the next few decades?