Some Thoughts on Timber

By Rupert Goodall
Article in Australian Amateur Boat Builder, Issue 37, March/April 2002

We run a relatively small timber company on the Gold Coast in Queensland. We pride ourselves in keeping stocks of globally sourced seasoned timbers with a state-of-the-art workshop that makes most visitors drool … people often comment on the wonderful aroma associated with such a diverse range of bulk timber and enjoy the opportunity to poke around the accessible racks of timbers … musical instrument makers, cabinet makers, boat builder architects and designers, it certainly makes for a fascinating day at the office for our team as we all have a common interest in applying timber to modern and traditional applications. The seemingly endless range of products and ideas where timber plays a role in the finished article is astonishing.

I have a composites background and a lifelong affiliation to all things timber, my composites exposure was a wonderful stepping stone towards realising a lifelong ambition of owning a timber company and more fully understanding modern uses of timber in composite structures. Destiny and birth sign pushed me towards water and as a young boy … wooden pallets, 44 gallon drums and wire were my composite products having been inspired by Thor Heyerdahl’s amazing craft and voyages of discovery … I graduated to Billy carts and dovetails as my schooling progressed and could not believe my luck as a senior boy when I was allowed to use the school workshop during lunch hours. I remember laminating Iroko as a 16-year-old and not understanding why it fell to pieces as it came out of the mould, I later learned that many timbers have such an abundance of natural oils that appropriate glues and surface preparation is necessary for guaranteed results.

These days I find myself part of a small team of talented tradesmen, all of whom have been handling timber and machinery on a daily basis for longer than they care to say, needless to say there is nothing better than a bunch of experience in a good workshop surrounded by timber stacked to the roof and an ever changing array of orders from timbers users from all Australian states and many countries.

We certainly deal with more than our fair share of marine applications for timber and notice more and more that people have a basic knowledge of timber but certainly appreciate a few moments bringing them up to speed on timber species that are available and whether their characteristics suit the application. We are living in times where we must realise that what was once common may now be virtually unavailable. In the 10 years I have been associated with timber I have noticed the decline in availability of good quality Oregon and Spruce and significant price increases in a lesser grade that may be available. Brazilian Mahogany, traditionally called Honduras, has seen a significant fall off in good quality stock and current rumours suggest this wonderful species may very soon be a thing of the past. I’m sure many of the readers have experienced this sort of situation and common sense decrees that this trend will rapidly sweep across more species. I don’t want to become involved in politics but we all need to take on a level of responsibility.

The ability to glue and coat timber with a huge range of ever improving products continues to push the boundaries of timber applications, understanding mechanical properties within grades and species of timber has taken much of the folklore out of local knowledge built up within the timber trade. The global availability of timber provides us a broader band of species to consider for any one application, whether this is colour, grain, durability, weight, price or simply availability. We live in a rapidly changing world requiring a flexible attitude. The construction and maintenance of timber or composite marine structures is certainly a great testing ground for both our ingenuity and application of available timbers whether for core material, structural or cosmetic applications. Traditional timber construction relied on the intrinsic qualities of locally available timber and a basic range of coatings and caulking, ongoing maintenance was expected, such methods of construction continue to find their place amongst the purists. I find it amusing when visiting boat shows to compare the noises emanating from mums, dads and kids when looking at super yachts opposed to a timber kayak, there is definitely something about our affinity to a product that is so much part of our ancestry.

The role of timber in composite construction is somewhat different, aiming for a lightweight engineered product in conjunction with resins, reinforcing cloths and coatings and low maintenance. The natural qualities of the timber are composited to create ‘I’ beams of known strengths and durability, as core material and for cosmetic finish. We are more and more involved in this area of work and enjoy the challenges of producing timbers that provide such performance from our stocks. We try to stay close to the veneer producers so we can colour and grain match our solid stock to the veneer, we can produce an unlimited range of mouldings, panelling, flooring, decking for outdoor and indoor applications. We are happy to talk to you in feet and inches or metric, in fact we are often asked to produce kits of material in imperial measurements, this can be achieved but is often not as economic as metric sizing as timber mills now cut timber to be machined to metric finished sizes, for example years ago you could purchase a piece of 4 by 2 dressed timber, that is the timber was dressed and finished to a full 4 inches by 2 inches, if we convert this to metric we would say 102mm by 51mm, in these metric days as a timber merchant I would purchase a pack of timber rough sawn at 100mm by 50mm and would dress this to say 95mm by 45mm. So you can see that the old 4 by 2 becomes 95/45mm or 33/4 by 13/4 inches. We notice that many designers think timber can be finished at a size of 50mm by 50mm, in fact this is a rough sawn size and in reality we can provide a finished size of say 45/45mm. This can be confusing for the builders as on one hand the designer calls for a particular size, and then the timber supplier promptly changes all the sizes. We have found that designers realise their oversight and the few millimetres difference is quite acceptable.