Sources and origins

If a designer understands where raw materials come from, they can understand the environmental concerns associated with that material.

In the context of timber and man-made boards, the original source is a tree. Trees are grown all over the world - some are for timber produce, and others could be for paper. They can be categorised as hardwood and softwood.

Hardwood trees take a long time to grow, around 60 years (sometimes up to 100). Hardwoods include ash, balsa, beech, mahogany and oak. Softwood trees take around half the time, 25 to 30 years and include larch, pine and spruce. As trees are felled, it is important to plant new ones so that the timber source is sustainable.

A table showing the appearance of different hardwoods (ash, balsa, beech, mahogany and oak) and softwoods (larch, pine and spruce).

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is an international organisation that promotes responsible forest management.

A food packaging label with the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) logo and recycle logos for paper and plastic.

Once a tree has been chopped down, the branches are removed, so only the trunk of the tree remains. The full length of a tree might be too long to transport and work with, so the tree may be cut to a more manageable length. The tree trunks are transported to a sawmill, where the trees are cut to usable planks. This process is known as conversion.

Large stack of rough cut timber, with a focus on the wood towards the centre.

At this point the timber can be sold. If the timber has been freshly cut, it is sold as ‘green’ timber due to the high water content. If the timber has been dried out before being sold, then it has been ‘seasoned’. Some seasoning can be done by leaving it to ‘air season’, and sometimes the timber is ‘kiln seasoned’.

Manufactured boards such as plywood, medium-density fibreboard (MDF) and chipboard are made by gluing small chips or fibres together using an adhesive.