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Wood is a great material to work with, for the structure of houses as well as interiors and fittings.

Wood comes in many types for the builder, mainly:


MDF is very useful but dangerous to work as the dust is toxic due to the manufactured bonding agents and resins used to create it at low temperature. This is usually urea formaldehyde, but some fibreboards, including exterior or marine board, uses stronger glues such as phenol formaldehyde.

Formaldehyde is a carcinogen even at very low levels, and MDF and similar should not be worked on indoors, unless extraction systems are used (any professional carpenter will have these).

Always wear a mask when drilling, cutting etc, for all woods.


Avoid hardwoods, especially as any tropical wood, including plys. Try and buy from a sustainable source marked as FSC, but even these labels are prone to corruption as the profits are so great from illegal logging.

Use European softwoods such as pine and birch ply. Again try and use woods from sustainable forests.

Use sustainable engineered woods such as bamboo - made from a grass!

Reuse your existing wooden floors before ripping them up, even if you are replacing them with FSC timber.

Sanding and varnishing is very easy and also cheaper. Be careful of dust and fumes.

Try and find reclaimed or recycled floorboards.

MDF is good for cupboards and fitted wardrobes as it is rigid and easy to paint. It is safe once finished.

Unfinished wood can be treated with natural oil and waxes. This allows the pores of the wood to stay open and lets it breathe, which helps stabilise relative humidity in a building. We have used oak worksurfaces which are waxed regularly.

There is a huge demand for all types of wood from emerging nations like China and India and so world stocks will be rapidly depleted, which makes using sustainable timber even more important.

There is an excellent guide to woods, very comprehensive, and updated, complete with vulnerability, available at:

Friends of the Earth - Different types of wood timber by A to Z

Building DIY Book cover