Around the world, our built environment will feature some form of timber. From the wooden fences that surround our gardens to the table we sit at, different types of timber play an essential role in our daily lives.
For over 10,000 years timber has been used as a construction material. We use ‘wood’ and timber’ as general terms but do we know about the different types of types timber our wooden products are made from?
To help us understand and care for the environment around us, it is beneficial to know about the types of timber we live with. Wood is a renewable and robust material, and when looked after correctly, wooden products can last over a human lifetime.
The Importance of Wood
The growing process of trees removes carbon dioxide from the air and produces oxygen. This process helps to fight climate change as increased levels of carbon are linked to global warming. Producing different types of timber from trees is more energy-efficient than the manufacture of alternative materials such as plastic, steel, and concrete.
A well-managed forest can last forever as when trees are cut down; they are replaced. Expert forest managers plan what the best location for trees to grow is and when is the ideal time to cut them down. The sustainable growth of trees creates a positive life cycle to produce wood and look after the environment.
Wood is a versatile material used for construction, furniture, tools, weapons, fuel and much more. Each wooden product created requires a different strength or appearance, so different types of timber are selected for production.
Timber is classified into two main groups, Softwood and Hardwood.
Softwood timber is produced from the coniferous cone-bearing tree. This group of trees often have needle-like leaves that are evergreen all year round.
Coniferous trees grow a lot quicker than the hardwood varieties and take about 40 years to be ready to harvest. The most common European softwoods are Redwood and Whitewood (Pine and Spruce).
Hardwood timber is created from broadleaved trees that shed their leaves after a growing season. Examples of hardwood timbers are Oak, Ash and Beech. Hardwood trees grow slowly and can take up to 150 years before they are ready to harvest.
The timber produced from hardwood trees has a deeper colour and higher density than softwood. It is often selected for furniture making or exposed building features such as flooring or staircases.
What are Different Types of Timber Used For?
Although the description of softwood and hardwood indicate their classifications are based on the durability of the wood, this is not always the case.
Some softwoods are harder than hardwoods and timbers like Mahogany sit between the two groups. When a type of timber is selected to make a product, the classification is often not the primary consideration.
The factors considered for timber selection are;
Strength – For building, timber that is weight-bearing is the essential feature. If the timber is to be covered by other building materials, it doesn’t matter what the timber looks like.
Appearance/Finish – For furniture and visible building features a timber with an attractive woodgrain would be selected. Fine-grain timber like Walnut has a very pleasing appearance with French polishing, so this would be chosen to create an impressive interior feature.
Durability – Wood for outdoor structures like fencing and gates needs to survive all-year-round weather from the heat to the cold. Hardwoods like oak are often more durable than softwoods, but a softwood timber that is well looked after with treatments can also last well outside.
Cost – Due the time it takes to grow, hardwoods are more expensive than softwoods. If the finished wooden product needs to be robust, durable and look great, then a hardwood timber is more suitable. If the product appearance can be changed with paint or treatment, the softwood cheaper alternative could be used.
Sustainability – When purchasing new wood, the sustainability of the source needs to be considered. Timber should only be purchased from carefully managed forests that ensure enough trees are planted to replace what is cut down.
Although growing trees has a positive impact on the environment, it is important to note that tree growth can take a long time. This means that wooden products that currently exist need to be protected and taken care of. If your property has oak flooring that is damaged, do not instantly think that it should be replaced. Consider floor restoration to care for the oak timber that took 150 years to grow.