Skip to Main Content
U.S. Forest Service
Caring for the land and serving people

United States Department of Agriculture

Home > Search > Publication Information

  1. Share via EmailShare on FacebookShare on LinkedInShare on Twitter
    Dislike this pubLike this pub
    Author(s): Regis B. Miller
    Date: 1999
    Source: Wood handbook : wood as an engineering material. Madison, WI : USDA Forest Service, Forest Products Laboratory, 1999. General technical report FPL ; GTR-113: Pages 1.1-1.34
    Publication Series: General Technical Report (GTR)
    Station: Forest Products Laboratory
    PDF: Download Publication  (916 KB)


    Throughout history, the unique characteristics and comparative abundance of wood have made it a natural material for homes and other structures, furniture, tools, vehicles, and decorative objects. Today, for the same reasons, wood is prized for a multitude of uses. All wood is composed of cellulose, lignin, hemicelluloses, and minor amounts (5% to 10%) of extraneous materials contained in a cellular structure. Variations in the characteristics and volume of these components and differences in cellular structure make woods heavy or light, stiff or flexible, and hard or soft. The properties of a single species are relatively constant within limits; therefore, selection of wood by species alone may sometimes be adequate. However, to use wood to its best advantage and most effectively in engineering applications, specific characteristics or physical properties must be considered. Historically, some species filled many purposes, while other less available or less desirable species served only one or two needs. For example, because white oak is tough, strong, and durable, it was highly prized for shipbuilding, bridges, cooperage, barn timbers, farm implements, railroad crossties, fence posts, and flooring. Woods such as black walnut and cherry were used primarily for furniture and cabinets. Hickory was manufactured into tough, hard, and resilient striking-tool handles, and black locust was prized for barn timbers. What the early builder or craftsman learned by trial and error became the basis for deciding which species were appropriate for a given use in terms of their characteristics. It was commonly accepted that wood from trees grown in certain locations under certain conditions was stronger, more durable, more easily worked with tools, or finer grained than wood from trees in other locations. Modern research on wood has substantiated that location and growth conditions do significantly affect wood properties. The gradual reductions in use of old-growth forests in the United States has reduced the supply of large clear logs for lumber and veneer. However, the importance of high-quality logs has diminished as new concepts of wood use have been introduced. Second-growth wood, the remaining old-growth forests, and imports continue to fill the needs for wood in the quality required. Wood is as valuable an engineering material as ever, and in many cases, technological advances have made it even more useful. The inherent factors that keep wood in the forefront of raw materials are many and varied, but a chief attribute is its availability in many species, sizes, shapes, and conditions to suit almost every demand. Wood has a high ratio of strength to weight and a remarkable record for durability and performance as a structural material. Dry wood has good insulating properties against heat, sound, and electricity. It tends to absorb and dissipate vibrations under some conditions of use, and yet it is an incomparable material for such musical instruments as the violin. The grain patterns and colors of wood make it an esthetically pleasing material, and its appearance may be easily enhanced by stains, varnishes, lacquers, and other finishes. It is easily shaped with tools and fastened with adhesives, nails, screws, bolts, and dowels. Damaged wood is easily repaired, and wood structures are easily remodeled or altered. In addition, wood resists oxidation, acid, saltwater, and other corrosive agents, has high salvage value, has good shock resistance, can be treated with preservatives and fire retardants, and can be combined with almost any other material for both functional and esthetic uses.

    Publication Notes

    • We recommend that you also print this page and attach it to the printout of the article, to retain the full citation information.
    • This article was written and prepared by U.S. Government employees on official time, and is therefore in the public domain.


    Miller, Regis B. 1999. Characteristics and availability of commercially important woods. Wood handbook : wood as an engineering material. Madison, WI : USDA Forest Service, Forest Products Laboratory, 1999. General technical report FPL ; GTR-113: Pages 1.1-1.34


    Forest trees, wood utilization, wood properties, wood products, species

    Related Search

    XML: View XML
Show More
Show Fewer
Jump to Top of Page