30 Wonderful and wacky facts you probably didn’t know about wood

There is nothing more appealing than a grove of stately oak trees lining a long driveway or the seemingly somber state of a weeping willow as it stands by itself, looking forlorn and unloved. And let’s not forget the utter majesty of a grove of giant sequoias, the world’s largest trees, with the General Sherman sequoia holding the lofty title of “world’s most massive tree”. At a staggering height of 83.8 metres (274.9 feet) and a circumference of 31.3 metres (102.6 feet), it holds court in Sequoia National Park in the state of California. The irony is that trees never die of old age. They are typically eradicated by humans, insects and disease. Some trees bear fruit, like apple and orange trees; some produce raw material that can be tapped and turned into food, like the sap from a maple tree which, once boiled down, makes some pretty heavenly maple syrup.

From trees, also comes wood. Wood is one of those materials that most humans simply take for granted because it’s such a huge part of our everyday lives. We build with it, we cook with it, we use it to keep warm and we smoke with it – no, not like that! – it’s used to produce some of the best tasting barbecue ever. Yum! Around World War II, metal was in short supply and the Royal Air Force was given a plan for producing an aircraft made from wood. However, this wasn’t the only unusual use for wood back then. Wood was also used to create practice torpedoes during the war. And let’s not forget wood’s most unusual use, long before the outbreak of either world war. Ever heard about George Washington, the first president of the United States of America and his wooden dentures? Well, he didn’t actually wear wooden dentures. However, wooden dentures were the real deal for those unfortunate enough not to be able to afford bone dentures or those made from ivory. Wooden dentures weren’t that great an idea since they would decay in the mouth, leading to horrible mouth odours and rotting gums.

Wood has always been there for the taking and taking we have as humans, sometimes forgetting that wood is a natural resource that can be exhausted if we’re not careful. So, for those of you who’ve actually picked up a piece of wood and wondered about its makeup or thrown it in the water and watched it float downstream, the following are 30 wonderful and wacky facts about wood you probably never knew – or much less wanted to know. Well, it’s too late to back out now because you’re about to be enlightened, so here goes:

1. Wood is a natural resource. Building with it makes sense since it’s readily available and feasible from an economic perspective.

2. Wood is the perfect product from an environmental standpoint. It’s biodegradable and it’s renewable.

3. In terms of a carbon footprint, wood has the lowest one in comparison to other comparable building materials and unlike other building materials such as plastics and steel, no “high-energy fossil fuels” are required to “make” wood.

4. Hope may float but not all woods do. Wood will float if it has less density than water and while most are less dense, some wood, like the wood from the knob-thorn tree, the ebony tree or the African Blackwood tree will sink faster than the Titanic. And for those of you with enquiring minds who want to know what the expression, “hope floats” actually means…it means that hope will overcome, or rise above, any and all hardships. In other words, hope will prevail, as will wood. Nothing like a little inspiration mixed in with your fun facts!

5. Houses built from wood are warmer than those built of cinder block or metal. This is due to the natural insulating properties that wood has which cause it to retain or release heat. Craftsman-style homes or homes with hardwood floors and wooden trim are often characterized as “warm” and “homey”.

6. The terms “hardwood” and “softwood” do not refer to a specific type of wood per se. Rather, these terms refer to the structure of the trees, their seeds and the types of leaves they produce. Generally, hardwood trees bear leaves and softwood trees bear cones. Hardwoods are typically also considered to be denser than softwoods.

7. Balsa wood is considered to be the softest and the lightest wood in the world. It thrives in the humid rainforests of South and Central America and is commonly used to make model airplanes.

8. Snakewood is considered to be the heaviest and the hardest wood in the world. It’s a more exotic wood that’s also found in South and Central America and is often used to make knife handles, bowls and vases.

9. To some, “Holly” is a cute girl’s name but it also has bragging rights as the whitest wood in the world. The Holly tree grows along the western coast of North America and the wood from the Holly tree is typically used for ornamental and decorative purposes.

10. The blackest wood, on the other hand, is the Gabon Ebony. (For some reason, Gabon Ebony just has the makings of a perfect name for a huge anaconda living in the wilds of the Amazon or a deadly viper hiding in the wilds of India!).

11. The Bible mentions 21 wood names, among them acacia wood and cedar wood.

12. It’s been said that Pink Ivorywood is more rare than a girl’s best friend. In case you’re wondering what that is, think big and sparkly and characterized by the number of carats it has.

13. Wood fibres are used to make paper. Most paper is made from spruce, eucalyptus and pine. Raw wood has to be transformed into wood pulp, a mixture comprising in parts, water and wood fibres which undergoes a further manufacturing process.

14. Wood is a sculpture medium for artists. Some of the more famous renderings in wood are the Caricature Carvings by an American carver, Wood Chip Sculptures by a Russian sculptor and Skateboard Art by a self-taught Japanese sculptor. Who can guess their names? Anyone?

15. Wood is important in wine production since seasoned wooden barrels promote fermentation of the wine. Many wineries have traditionally used oak barrels but many also use oak wood chips to speed up the aging process and for adding woody aromas to the wine.

16. Despite the complex chemical properties of wood, wood is really versatile and is used not only to build houses and other structures, but also to build furniture and items of home décor.

17. Given their strength, hardwoods such as oak, maple, teak and cherry, are typically used to make floors, walls and ceilings while softwoods such as pine, cedar and birch are typically used to make furniture, window frames and doors.

18. The terms “lumber” and “timber” are both used in the construction trade. Wood that has been sawn and machine-planed to a certain dimension is typically referred to as “lumber” and is used in residential construction. Larger pieces of wood are referred to as “timber” and are used in the construction of bridges, buildings, mine shaft supports and railroad ties.

19. Engineered wood is a fabricated product such as plywood, fiberboard and particleboard that is used in residential, industrial and commercial projects.

20. The heat conductivity in wood is quite low compared to other materials such as glass or steel, making it the perfect material for wall coverings and ceilings and matches.

21. Wood has wonderful acoustic properties in that it can absorb echoes and sounds and is perfect for building structures such as concert halls.

22. Wood has the ability to bend without breaking and can withstand a great deal of pressure, making it the perfect material to build bowling alleys and basketball courts.

23. The term “seasoned food” means food to which salt, pepper and other spices have been added. The term “seasoned firewood” means firewood in which the moisture content has been dried out, making it the ideal heat source.

24. Hate the smell of rotten cabbage? That’s the nasty odour emitted by worked Essia wood.

25. Breathe in the fumes from a burning Ceylon Satinwood and it’ll put you to sleep – not to mention actually kill the family canary!

26. White Oak is the only wood species that can hold liquid, thanks to tyloses, a substance in its pores that won’t allow liquids to penetrate.

27. Most people think it’s the rub that makes great barbeque. That’s only one part of the equation. The other part is the wood with which it’s cooked and/or smoked. Apple wood gives meat sweetness and a mild flavour, perfect for ham and poultry. Cherrywood is perfect for pork and beef, giving them a rich, mahogany colour.

28. Prehistoric man used wood to build fires which provided protection, heat and a cooking source.

29. Probably the most unusual use of wood was to build the “Splinter”, a wooden supercar, designed by Joe Harmon, an American engineer. The entire chassis, suspension and shell were made from plywood, maple and MDF.

30. Reclaimed barn boards and wooden planks are a popular design element today, used to clad a focal wall in a home. Due to their uneven texture, colouring and distressed nature, they add interest to an otherwise uninteresting space.