History of Wood Protection



The history of wood protection dates back some four thousand years to the eastern Mediterranean region for the protection of terrestrial structures. As the use of boats grew in importance, so too did the desire to protect them from wood deterioration in marine environments. This focus on marine protection continued for thousands of years until the advent of steel hulled ships in during the 19th century.

The industrial revolution brought with it the use of railways for transportation, and the subsequent discovery that naturally durable tree species providing naturally durable wood for railway sleepers was a finite resource, and that substitute materials were subject to rapid biodeterioration. Around the same era the increase in global shipping and the development of marine wharf structures led to the realization that marine piling for wharf structures etc, was also subject to rapid biodeterioration and that replacement wood species required protection to be viable. The previously developed treatment methods of brushing or immersion processes were found to be inadequate as viable processes, and in the 1830s the modern pressure treatment plant was developed and patented. This method remains central to modern wood protection to this day.

Over the many centuries a very wide variety of materials and chemicals has been utilized for wood protection, and these have long been grouped as either oil based or water based. Creosote, an oil byproduct of the coking process to make steel, has been used for the last two hundred years in industrial applications such as marine piling, utility poles and railway sleepers, while water borne treatments have slowly found favor in applications with greater human contact. Over the last century wood protection chemicals have trended towards lower human toxicity and lower environmental impacts. However, wood protection is fundamentally aimed at long term serviceability against a wide spectrum of deteriogens, while more recent biocidal developments in agricultural and human contact applications target short term performance against highly specific organisms with very short residual impact on the environment.

Over the last century much research has targeted the modification of wood by chemical or other means to provide wood protection by making the wood structure inert to biodeterioration. This trend of providing non-biocidal protection continues to this day.


1. Graham, R.D. History of Wood Preservation. In Wood Deterioration and Its Prevention by Preservative Treatments, Vol. I Degradation and Protection of Wood, 1st Ed.; Nicholas, D.D., Ed.; Syracuse University Press: Syracuse, NY, 1973, 1-30.

2. Wilkinson, J.G. Industrial Timber Preservation; Associated Business Press: London, 1979, 1-532.

3. Eaton, R.A.; Hale, M.D.C. Wood: Decay, Pests, and Protection; Chapman & Hall: London, 1993, 1-–546.

4. Barnes, H.M.; Murphy, R.J. Wood preservation: the classics and the new age. Forest Prod. J. 1995, 45 (9), 16-26.