What Is Natural Wood?

Neal Litherland

With the emphasis on natural and green products, using natural wood is becoming more popular for lumber and fuel needs. Wood that's been treated or dried with chemicals may be more resistant to bending and damage from insects, but the downsides of chemical treatments are numerous.

These chemicals can leach into the ground to damage plant life and vegetation, or they may present other health hazards, which makes natural wood a safer, if not longer lasting, choice.


When most people think of wood, they think of trees. However, wood also comes from a variety of shrubs. Wood as people know it is the stem of these plants, and, like any stem, it raises the plant higher and acts as a support. These stems, what we think of as trunks, are composed of cellulose and lignin-based materials.


When trees are cut down for their wood, they have to be dried. The cellulose (the fibers that make up the wood) and the lignin (the glue that holds those fibers together) are saturated with water. Trees may be dried in an oven, or they may be left to dry in the open air, but either way they will still retain some water. The only way to completely dry out wood is to chemically dry it, but once that happens, it may no longer be considered truly "natural" wood.


When people refer to "natural" wood, the definition may not be the same. Generally speaking, natural wood is wood which was produced naturally (ie. grown as a tree), and which has not been chemically treated. This can include chemical drying, painting, pressure treating, or any other form of artificial modification to the wood beyond simply drying and cutting it. Depending on an individual or company's perspective, the definition of just what is natural wood may vary, so if a person is interested in using natural wood it is best to ask exactly what the provider of the wood means by that designation.


Purely natural wood, while environmentally safe, has a great deal of risks associated with its use. Natural wood is more vulnerable to rot, warping, swelling, and even insect infestation. However, natural wood can be used without worry in compost, or as a fuel source. Chemically treated woods could react negatively with fire, or the chemicals might not break down properly if left to the elements.


Natural wood has a great deal of uses other than in simply making boards and beams for construction. For example, natural wood is used for compost, paper, furniture, and fibreboard. Natural wood is also used for landscaping, cooking, and heat and energy production.