Building with Wood

This natural material has endless design possibilities


Warm to the touch, pleasing to the eye and structurally sound, wood has always been widely used in construction. Its relative cheapness and good thermal and acoustic properties make it a popular choice for the twenty-first century self-builder. Wood is the world’s only true renewable source, and with only around 15 per cent of timber traded internationally, it’s predominantly a local material.

With the advent of engineered wood, it means you can now improve on its natural qualities with products that provide longer spans, reduced weight, improved dimensional stability and endless design possibilities.

If you do stick with natural wood, make sure you select the right one for the job: the strength, durability and appearance of wood varies hugely. Sturdy and durable oak is the most popular choice for timber frames, but Douglas fir is cheaper and equally as strong. Like oak, cedar is durable, and its oily properties make it a good cladding material: but be warned, over time its lovely golden-syrup hue will fade to a light grey, although many people prefer this softer look. Pine and spruce are not as durable and will require preservative treatment every few years for outside use.

In addition to standard timber frame construction, consider post-and-beam (a more traditional approach), and if you like the authentic barn look, an oak frame will be more your style. For the less traditional, arches and beams can also be fashioned from glulam – glued and laminated timber. Other recent innovations include heat-treated wood such as Thermowood that increases the durability of softwoods.

The most important point to remember when working with wood is moisture. Timber is hygroscopic – it gains or loses moisture in response to the humidity of surrounding air. This means it will shrink or swell, so make sure this has been factored in at the specification stage. Otherwise, you won’t be able to open your lovely new larch windows.

Useful Contacts

Wood for Good:
Timber Trade Federation:
The Timber and Development Association:
The Glued Laminated Timber Association:
Real Cedar:
Friends of the Earth:
Forest Stewardship Council:
British Woodworking Federation (BWF):

Words: Karen Glaser


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