What is Wood?


Wood, the principal strengthening and nutrient-conducting tissue of trees and other plants and one of the most abundant and versatile natural materials. Produced by many botanical species, wood is available in various colours and grain patterns. It is strong in relation to its weight, is insulating to heat and electricity, and has desirable acoustic properties. Furthermore, it imparts a feeling of “warmth” not possessed by competing materials such as metals, and it is relatively easily worked. As a material, wood has been in service since humans appeared on Earth. Today, in spite of technological advancement and competition from metals, plastics, cement, and other materials, wood maintains a place in most of its traditional roles, and its serviceability is expanding through new uses.

Wood is a material of great economic importance. It is found throughout the world and is a renewable resource—in contrast to coal, ores, and petroleum, which are gradually exhausted.

Efforts to stop the reduction of Earth’s forest cover and increase the productivity of existing forests, establishment of extensive reforestation programs and plantations of fast-growing tree species, recycling of paper, and improved utilization of wood through research could ease the problem of wood supply.
Harvesting of wood differs radically from harvesting of other crops. The yearly growth of each individual tree cannot be detached from the living plant. Rather, new wood is added inseparably to preexisting growth until the entire tree is harvested, after a waiting period that varies widely depending on intended use of the wood—for example, 2–3 years on energy plantations (where biomass is produced as fuel for power generation), 6–8 years for pulpwood (eucalypts), 12–15 years for fast-growing poplar hybrids, 30–50 years for fast-growing pines, and 100 years or more in temperate and tropical forests producing wood of large dimensions.

To promote sustained-yield management, efforts have been made to introduce appropriate ecological labeling (ecolabeling) of marketed wood and wood products. Ecolabeling is intended to ensure that goods offered to the consumer have not been produced in a way detrimental to the environment.

After production the lumber may be treated with a preservative chemical to prevent attack by fungi and insects and is measured (classified according to dimensions), graded, and piled to dry. Grading of lumber is usually visual and based on defects. The grading rules for softwood lumber differ from those for hardwoods. Softwood grading is based on the kind, number, and size of defects; it does not take into account the further processing of the wood into final products. Most structural lumber is graded this way. Hardwood grading is based on the proportion of a board that is usable in smaller clear pieces (“units”) and requires only that one surface be clear.