Natural and Manufactured Timber

Natural and Manufactured Timber

Wood is split into two kinds, soft wood and hardwood. A tree has a ring for every year it grows, the darker part of the ring is strong. Softwoods have big growth gaps between the rings making them softer. Hardwoods have closely packed rings because they grow slower. This makes them hard.

Softwoods grow much quicker which makes them cheaper to produce and quicker to replace. They are trees which have needles and cones and don’t lose hem in autumn (evergreen) such as pine trees. Hardwoods are much more expensive and the trees are deciduous (lose their leaves in autumn).

Examples of softwood:

  • Larch: A darker honey colour, resident to rot, perfect for decking and outdoor furniture.

  • Spruce: Darker red in colour, it’s quite knotty and rough. Used for packing boxes, sheds and masts.

  • Pine: Cheap and pale coloured. Often used for furniture, fence posts and cladding.

Examples of hardwood:

  • Beech: Lighter brown coloured. It’s dense but when cut thinly can be bent without splitting. Often steam bent to make curved furniture.

  • Ash: Pale coloured, absorbs shock well so often used for tool handles and sports bats. Polishes well to make furniture.

  • Oak: Pale in colour it is very dense and hard. Perfect for expensive furniture as it polishes well.

  • Mahogany: Dark in colour, polishes well and is very strong. It’s very slow growing so is very expensive. Used for high quality furniture.

Natural timber is available as planks (long lengths), boards (flat sheets), strips (thin lengths), square (long square lengths) and dowel (long circular lengths).

Manufactured board:

To save money, use wood by-products (like sawdust) or produce board for a specific need manufactured boards have been developed.


  • Chips or shavings of wood are compressed together with glue to form board.

  • It is generally covered in a smooth veneer top (like kitchen worktop).

  • It’s very cheap to produce and not very strong.

  • Often used in cheap flat pack furniture.

Medium Density Fibreboard (MDF):

  • Tiny fibres for wood are packed together with glue and set into sheets.

  • It has a smooth finish so can be cut and painted.

  • It is not suitable for outdoor use as it absorbs water.

  • Perfect for cheap painted furniture and shelving.

Block board:

  • Blocks of wood are glued together to form a sheet.

  • Can be quite strong, especially if it is veneered to give a polished surface.

  • More resistant to moisture than other manufactured board.

  • Used for work tops as it can resist moisture and stay flat (it doesn’t warp).


  • Layers of hard and softwood are glued together at right angles (to improve strength).

  • Cheap to produce.

  • The layers make it stronger than some solid woods.

  • Used for building and furniture.

Natural and Manufactured Timber, figure 1

Learning the difference between these woods and board will help give examples in your exam and label materials and their properties in your course work.

Timber and board can be laminated to improve its strength and held together in a frame as a base for buildings and furniture. Braces and ties are bespoke metal work which can be bolted together to increase rigidity. Timber can also be reinforced by embedding composite materials to increase its strength.