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Wood and timber properties

Stem form is a key measure of timber quality

Measuring log straightness prior to processing

Marking battens in the sawmill as part of a 'forest to end-product' programme


The aim of this programme is to assess, quantify, model, and predict the effects of silvicultural practice, genetic choice, site factors and climate upon the wood properties  of the key timber species grown in Britain (and the performance of their associated wood products) in order to increase the competitiveness of the growing and processing sectors of the British forest industry.

This enables the Forestry Commission to:

  • Provide forest managers with the information required to evaluate alternative management and species selection options in terms of timber quality and value.
  • Provide improved information to the wood using industries about the quality characteristics of future timber supplies, thus enabling them to make strategic processing and investment decisions.
  • Provide advice to policy makers and growers on strategies which will maximise the quality and hence value of the homegrown timber resource.

Research objectives

The primary focus of our work is on the stem form, strength properties and dimensional stability of sawn timber with particular emphasis on Sitka spruce, Scots pine, Douglas fir, larch and oak.

Our research is delivered via four key, closely inter-related and sequential stages:

  • Resource Assessment: Develop methodologies for assessing standing trees and forests in terms of their wood properties and potential timber products.
  • Resource Characterisation: Further understanding of the factors controlling wood properties and timber quality through detailed measurements according to our developed methodologies.
  • Modelling: use the known site, stand and silvicultural factors along with the data generated through our survey and testing methodologies to develop statistical and economic models to describe wood and timber properties plus their associated costs and benefits.
  • Prediction: use simulation software to combine our developed predictive models and existing climate / site quality models with site-specific survey data in order to forecast the quality, product suitability, costs and value of the future forest resource.

This will enable future forest survey and production forecasting procedures to be improved, and will provide timber growers and processors with a comprehensive assessment of the current and future resource in order to inform future decisions on forest management, species selection, tree breeding and improvement, wood processing, investment, and policy.

Funders and partners

Forestry Commission logo
This research is funded by the Forestry Commission's Wood and timber properties programme and receives guidance from the Improving Conifer Timber Quality Steering Group.

BRE logo Napier University logo Centre for Timber Engineering SIRT logo Glasgow University logo STFI logo INRA logo
The programme operates through extensive partnership working with other FR programmes, universities and other research groups including:

This programme is a partner in the EU Compression Wood Project.

Forestry Commission policy

The sustainable production of timber that is “fit for purpose” is a key component of the forest strategies of the Forestry Commission in England, Scotland and Wales. For example:

The Strategy for England’s Trees, Woods and Forests aims to increase the competitiveness of the timber industry in England through research and dissemination of advice regarding “new and innovative presentation of timber”,  “technologically improved products” and the “evolving of markets for high quality timber”.

Woodlands for Wales recognises the importance of the “role that woodlands and timber use can play in sustainable development, and also the economic activity generated by timber processing in Wales”.

The Scottish Forestry Strategy seeks to “Maximise the economic potential of Scotland’s timber resources”.

Publications and seminar presentations

Publications on timber quality

Presentations from conferences and seminars:


The programme was established in 1997 and is ongoing.

Current activities

  • Timber resource assessment: developing methods for measuring, modelling and predicting timber properties from standing trees and site factors.
  • Impacts of climate change on tree growth and wood properties: developing yield models accounting for predicted changes to moisture and temperature regimes. 
  • Impacts of silviculture and alternative silvicultural systems on timber properties: determine the effects of non-standard thinning regimes on log and wood properties.
  • Moisture in wood and its impact on drying and distortion: measurement of water movement and associated distortion during timber drying, plus variation in moisture content between individuals, stands and times of year.
  • Economics of management for timber quality: determine the ages of maximum value increment as opposed to volume increment, and detailed analysis of the costs and benefits associated with alternative silviculture.
  • Mechanical properties as an aid to selection: identify characteristics that indicate wood stiffness in order that these can be used in improved tree breeding selection.
  • Assessing quality of broadleaves: identification of trees prone to shake defects from factors including form, site, and use of acoustic tools.
  • Sustainability impact assessment: quantification of the key factors (financial, environmental, and social) at all stages in the life of forests to inform consideration of all management alternatives (NorTOSIA).


Elspeth Macdonald


What's of interest

Furthering the use of English wood products in a range of markets
Defra-funded contract aimed at developing an evidence base for understanding the behavioural, cultural, physical and economic barriers which may be limiting the use of wood products.

Unlocking the potential of home-grown softwoods: Timber research workshop
Workshop held on 26th February 2013

Improved conifer timber quality through plant selection and silviculture
Presentations given at the seminar are now available online.

Wood For Good
Includes building with wood: information for architects, engineers, builders etc.

Scots pine market development report (PDF-823K)

Evaluating potential new market opportunities for Scots pine timber.

Benefits of improved Sitka spruce: volume and quality of timber (PDF-534K)

Forestry Commission Research Note 3.

Related pages

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