What Is the Difference Between Timber and Wood? (The BEST Answer!)

Wood is an important ingredient in many applications around us. However, when it comes to the types of wood, there’s some confusion. 

Some people don’t know the difference between timber and wood. Although both come from the same source, there still are some differences. 

This article outlines these differences as well as the basic applications of timber. 

What Is Wood?

Wood is the crude substance from which trees are made. It’s the hard fibrous tissue commonly found in the stems, branches, and roots of trees.

Wood is considered a composite material that’s porous or permeable. It’s generally made up of lignin, fibers, hemicellulose, cellulose, and stringy organic tissues.

The main function of wood in its natural form is to support the tree. It gives trees the straight tall structure that enables them to absorb sunlight necessary for photosynthesis. 

Additionally, wood helps trees by absorbing and transferring water and nutrients to the growing parts and leaves.

There are engineered woods such as MDF that are just compressed leftovers of wood. They are cheaper but less strong. You can find them in a lot of cheaper furniture.

What Is Timber?

Now that we know what wood is, what exactly is timber? 

In the USA and Canada, there are different meanings for the word “timber.” First and foremost, it’s used to refer to living trees collectively or wooded areas in general. 

Further, the term “timber” is used to refer to unharvested or recently felled trees that are still in their bark.

Timber also refers to the trees intended to be cut for wood whether still standing or recently cut. The bottom line is that timber is basically unprocessed wood that you obtain from felled or cut trees. Therefore it is a type of wood.

The Characteristics of Timber

Good timber is known for its durability, strength, and appearance. It’s usually a little dark in color with a uniform texture. 

One of the most important characteristics of timber is its remarkable durability, which is why it’s used for construction. The strength of timber is marked by its narrow annual rings. The narrower the distance between the rings, the stronger the timber is.

Timber is also known for its permeability. Although it can absorb water, quality timber doesn’t typically absorb much water. Good timber can absorb 8-12% of its weight. Keep in mind that permeability depends on the timber’s type, age, cut, and amount of moisture in it. 

Timber is hard and resists penetration. This hardness depends on its density and the properties of its heartwood. It also boasts high workability. It should be easy to cut into different sizes and shapes. 

Timber is tough, meaning that it resists sudden shocks and vibrations. That’s why it is used for construction in areas prone to earthquakes. Further, good timber is elastic in nature. Elasticity means the ability to regain an original shape after removing any load.

Timber can be a good heat conductor. However, its thermal conductivity depends on several factors such as the porosity, density, and moisture content. Some types of timber are even fire-resistant!

Timber has compact medullary rays that appear on its shiny fresh cut surface. Moreover, it has a distinctive sweet aroma that captures your senses.

The Structure of Timber

Trees, or timber, can be divided into three portions: the crown, trunk, and roots. The trunk is the biggest part, which is about 80% of the total amount of wood.

The structure of timber can be studied by cutting a section of the trunk in three directions. This will show the main parts such as the bark, sapwood, heartwood, cambium, and pith.

Each of these parts has a specific function. The bark is the protective shell that surrounds the wood against mechanical damage. The inner part of the bark is called the bast. It transfers and stores the nutrients from the crown.

The cambium enables the growth of wood cells internally and small bast cells externally. On the other hand, the sapwood helps in the life process of a tree by storing starch and conducting sap.

The main function of the heartwood is to support the tree firmly and strongly. It’s made of the cells in the inner part of the trunk that gradually becomes lifeless and inactive.

The pith is made of a thin wall of loosely connected cells in a small area at the center of the cross-section. 

What Is Timber Used For?

Timber (the unprocessed tree) often gets cut into pieces to create lumber (a piece of wood used in construction). Timber often gets processed before it is used. It is often treated as well to avoid insects and other issues.

Timber can have many different applications. It’s usually used as:

  1. Fuel

Timber can be a good replacement for coal, which makes it ideally used as fuel. This can be achieved through a process called gasification

In this process, timber is turned into wood chips and heated in a gasifier. This produces a gas that passes through iron-cobalt as a catalyst to restructure the molecules into hydrocarbons. 

At this stage, hydrocarbons can be used to extract a variety of products, such as wax and jet fuel.

  1. Construction

Timber can be used for construction purposes instead of concrete. It’s easily obtained, handled, and transported. 

Timber has many advantages that make it ideal for construction purposes. For instance, it has great thermal insulation, electrical resistance, and sound absorption. 

In addition, timber can be used in construction over hills and areas of frequent earthquakes due to its ability to absorb shocks.

  1. Furniture

Timber can be turned into fiberboards and particleboards that can be used in making furniture and internal decorations. There are different ways to finish this.

  1. Paper 

Timber has lignin and cellulose, which makes it useful in the paper industry. 

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization in the United Nations, around 50% of the timber harvest in the United States is used to make pulp and paper.

  1. Synthetic Textiles

The cellulose in timber is also called rayon, which is a synthetic textile by itself. Rayon is used for the production of artificial silk.

In Conclusion

Timber and wood are usually uttered interchangeably, but there are some differences between the two. 

While wood is the core substance that makes up the trees, timber has some different meanings in the USA and Canada. It’s used to refer to living trees or wooded areas, felled trees, and trees that are intended to be cut for wood. 

Timber is used in quite a few applications. It can be used as fuel and in construction, as well as in manufacturing paper, synthetic textile, and furniture.

With all this information, we can wonder why a lot of houses in America are mainly made out of wood.