Into the Woods

A Brief History of Timber

Timber used to be acquired by individuals or small teams of workers who would chop trees down for their own use, be it for heat or structure. Early logging companies would work in the same area for years, chopping down trees and floating the logs down streams whilst jumping back and forth from log to log for the purpose of clearing jams. The problem with this old way of logging was that there were seldom any rules or regulations that went along with it. Entire swaths of forested land were cleared, and logging companies on the whole earned a bad reputation.

Today, in most parts of the world, if a logging company can afford to cut the trees down in the first place they can almost certainly afford to replant them, and many have taken to doing so as a matter of course.

The definition of timber is wood that is at any stage between its felling and readiness for use as a structural material for construction or wood pulp for paper production. Timber can be supplied as a rough product for uses in such projects as furniture making because it may need further shaping, and is usually a type of hardwood for durability. Finished timber is supplied for the construction industry, and is primarily softwood from coniferous trees, including pine, fir and spruce. The uses for hardwood in this market sector are mainly for high-end hardwood flooring.

Today, the use of timber can be found in a variety of applications, from housing to commercial buildings, and although most industrial buildings are composed of either prefabricated steel or concrete, wood can be used to fit out the interior offices, build stairs and platforms, etc.

Alternative Timbers

There are many different types of timber available today, and not all of it is straight from the tree. Remanufactured timber is made from previously milled timber; these somewhat unwanted parts of the tree are taken and cut using a ripsaw or a resaw to create dimensions that aren’t provided by a standard sawmill. There are always uses for non-standard shapes and sizes of wood, so why throw it away?

Plastic timber isn’t wood at all, but a 100 per cent recyclable material that is made of recycled plastic made to look like genuine wood. It’s widely used for decks and other outdoor projects such as benches and furniture because it is impervious to wet conditions and stands up to the test of time. It can be moulded with or without a wood grain appearance.

Manufacturers claim that this plastic material is more environmentally friendly than conventional timber and that it requires less maintenance than wood or other wood / plastic composites. Indeed, unlike wood / composite timber, any timber that is made of 100 per cent plastic is fully recyclable after use.

Fibre-reinforced composite timber is a composite building material that consists of three different components. It involves a complex mix of refined, blended and compounded natural fibres that form a high-strength fibre composite material with a polymer matrix. It makes use of rice husk, rice hull and plastic, it is designed to be very hard to break and best of all, the material is recyclable up to 20 times. This fibre-reinforced composite is actually hollow, but it still boasts properties that make it superior to contemporary wood as long as the lamination stays intact.

Wood-plastic composites are made of wood fibres, wood flour and thermoplastics, which include polyethylene, polypropylene, and polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Some types also have a chemical additive that works to further integrate the polymer with the wood fibre / powder. This material was first introduced for outdoor deck building it can now be used in a variety of ways. It is said to be more environmentally friendly than wood, but it cannot be recycled.

Even though wood-plastic composites aren’t recyclable they are more resistant to rot, decay and marine borer attack. The next generation of this composite material boasts a durable plastic cap that protects it from absorbing water. Another positive spin on this material is that it can be made in a factory and moulded into any desired shape, like plastic. Another downfall, however, is that this type of wood-plastic composite is much more flammable than regular wood, because of the chemicals and plastics it contains. Most chemical fires cannot be put out with water and the results can be catastrophic – something to keep in mind when lighting up the barbie on the deck.

Despite the risk of fire, recycled timber and other composite materials represent a good alternative, and if used wisely could help reduce global deforestation.

Conventional Woods

Trees grow in all shapes and sizes, and of course they come in countless different species. Even among similar types, they all have unique knots and imperfections and vary considerably in strength, utility and value – which is why timber comes in different grades suitable for distinct purposes.

Just as trees are different the world over, so too do the regulations that pertain to the use of timber vary greatly from place to place. The United States, for example, has developed inspection programs to determine grades of timber. The United States grades timber by the following design values, which are recognised by the model building codes. The six design values include FB (Bending), FV (Shear parallel to grain), Fc-perp (compression perpendicular to grain), Fc (Compression parallel to grain), Ft (Tension parallel to grain), and E (Modulus of elasticity).

Grades can include appearance as well as elasticity, so a contractor can purchase wood that reflects the ideal combination of strength and aesthetics. Wood can also be factory treated against borers, moisture and other natural agents that cause decay.

Timber can be used in any sort of construction, but today it is largely used for framing houses; structures with visible wood construction often have a ‘homier’ feel than a metal or concrete structure. Built correctly with proper vapour barrier, a wooden house with a brick exterior can last a hundred years or more. An old fashioned wooden bridge may need a lot of maintenance over its life, but it can still last well over 100 years.

These days, many timber-framed houses are constructed quite quickly by developers, often as part of a group of structures all being built at once, but in the past, families would often build their own homes, meant to last through generations. Indeed, a house from the late 1800s, built with solid posts and beams and a great deal of care, may just outlast a prefab metal building of today, standing up to the elements and winning the test of time. Certainly timber, though its forms may evolve and change over the years, isn’t going away as a building material any time soon.

Home Automation

Call it ‘domotics,’ and you are likely to receive a blank stare, but refer to it as ‘smart home’ or ‘home automation,’ and you will get a nod of acknowledgement. For the past few years, consumers have heard the word ‘smart’ attached to countless products and services, from food and drink to snacks like popcorn and mobile phones, which no one seems to refer to as a ‘cellphone’ anymore. Yet what, exactly, constitutes ‘smart’?

December 12, 2018, 6:29 PM AEDT