10 facts you probably didn’t know about wood!

Posted: 1 Apr, 2015.

As a supplier of wooden doors, we have a keen interest in the origins of timber and how wood has been used over the years.

The amount of wood we use in our day to day lives is quite mind-boggling. Aside from doors, most of the furniture we use in our home and businesses have at least some wood in them – for example IKEA alone uses 1% of the total world wood production ever year!

Source: Daily Mail

Below are 10 interesting facts about trees and wood:

Wood was the first drawing material

Wood, in the form of charcoal, was the first artistic medium. An example of cave art, using charred wood, at Rouffignac in France dates dates back 13,000 years. Kiln produced charcoal has continued to be used by artists down the ages, and modern artists continue to exploit its qualities in their creative endeavours.

Source: Bradshaw Foundation

Where is the world’s largest tree?

The largest tree is, unsurprisingly, in the USA. The tree is a giant sequoia (known as the General Sherman) with a height of over 80 metres and at its widest, the circumference is over 30 metres. These measurements mean it has the largest trunk volume of any tree in the world.

The largest horse chestnut tree in the UK has a much more modest girth of 7.33 metres, but is also of note because it is 300 years old and stands in the grounds of Disraeli’s former home on the Hughenden Estate in Buckinghamshire.

Sources: Monumental Trees and National Trust

The tallest tree is also in the USA

The tallest tree in the world is over 115 metres tall and is called Hyperion (appropriately one of the Titans in Greek mythology). It is a redwood, located in The Redwood National Park in California.

In 2014, the tallest tree in the UK was declared to be a Douglas Fir in Reelig Glen, near Inverness. At 66.4m it’s quite tiny compared to Hyperion, but still an amazing sight to see.

Sources: Monumental Trees and BBC News

The oldest tree in the word – could be in the UK!

The oldest tree is claimed to be an ancient pine tree called Methuselah, which is located in the White Mountains of California and is believed to be over 4,800 years old. We do also have some UK contenders for oldest tree though, including a yew tree, in a churchyard in the village of Llangernyw, North Wales. There’s also a yew tree in Scotland which is thought to be between 3,000 and 9,000 years old.

Sources: MNN, (Llangernyw), Visit Scotland

Wood is possibly 400 million years old

Scientists in New Brunswick British Columbia have discovered that plants first developed a structure that could be identified as wood 395-400 million years ago! We don’t think they made any doors at that time though! According to the research, carried out on ancient fossils, woody structures were originally found in small plants which evolved into conifers and much later into the broad leaf trees which are an essential part of life today.

Source: CBC

The origin of doors in the UK

The oldest door is made of oak and is located in Westminster Abbey. It is over 900 years old and was put in place during the reign of Edward the Confessor (1042-1066). Made from one tree, it is six and a half feet high and four feet wide. There is a rather unpleasant legend about this door too, which said that it was once covered in the skin of a punished man. Tests have now shown the skin to be cow-hide though.

Source: BBC News

The hardest wood

We’re all familiar with the terms “hardwood” and “softwood” but have you ever wondered how the hardness of wood is measured? The Janka test calculates the hardness of wood by measuring the force needed to embed a steel ball halfway into a piece of wood. The hardest wood is the Australian Buloke which requires a force of 5,060 lbs to embed the ball and the softest is the Cuipo which requires only 22lbs of force, with the familiar balsa wood being the second softest.

Source: Wikipedia

What is the most versatile wood?

This is subjective, although a case could be made for Lignum Vitae (also known as the Wood of Life) which originates in Jamaica. Wood from this tree is extremely dense and heavy and contains an abundance of natural oils. The qualities of hardness and lubrication meant this wood was used as part of the works in early clocks as well as on fittings on sailing ships due to its resistance to the corrosive qualities of the marine environment. It has been used for butchers blocks, mortar and pestles as well as truncheons, and on a windy day at a cricket match you may see the bails replaced by ones made of lignum vitae to prevent them being dislodged from the stumps.

The resin of this wood has been used as a medical remedy for such diverse ailments as arthritis and syphilis and the bark can be infused to make tea. Overall, a very useful tree!

Sources: Jamaica Travel & Culture and Wikipedia

The most expensive wood

The most expensive wood in the world comes from one of the rarest trees – the African Blackwood. The wood is used primarily to make woodwind instruments like clarinets and oboes and its value is around $25,000 per cubic metre. Needless to say, the African Blackwood is an endangered species and only found in Tanzania and northern Mozambique, having been harvested to extinction in Ethiopia and Kenya. You’re very unlikely to come across a door made of this, it’s far too precious.

Source: IPS News

The tree – a universal symbol

The tree has been a symbol of rebirth across many civilisations and the image of a “Tree of Life” had a resonance for many cultures. In pre Christian Britain, the yew was the symbol of cycle of life, probably because of its longevity and because it is an evergreen. It is possible that yew trees were located in sites of pagan worship which were later taken over by the Christian faith and where a church would be built. Today it is traditional to find a yew tree in close proximity to a church, like the one in Llangernyw, mentioned above.

Source: Ancient Yew Organistion

Trees have fulfilled many functions during the development of mankind including such diverse practical applications as fuel, in construction and shipbuilding, furniture making, as a drawing material and even for use in doors! They also add to the aesthetics of our landscape, and knowing that species like the oak and yew were there long before we were and will be there after we have gone, they add to the timeline of our lives and generations before and after.

All in all, trees and the impact they have had on people’s lives over the years are quite fascinating things. Do you know of any interesting tree facts you can share?

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