Outreach and the Wood Technology Society

Wood Focus magazine
20 May 2012
children's wooden blocks

Ask any teacher or his/her pupils what they know about the wood industry in the UK and the reply might be limited to knowing that wood comes from trees. We are the invisible industry, but it is difficult to see why: we are in the top six economic activities in the UK, on a par with iron and steel, employ more than 120,000 people and use some very advanced technology in production and manufacture.

After discovering this fact, we started to try outreach to the general public and, in particular, school children. Some of this is done at Wood Fairs, but mainly at school careers events and science fairs. To engage with young people, we use activities they can get involved with, for example, at our stand we first investigate the range of timbers and wood products that we use. Then we investigate the strength properties of wood, beginning with tensile strength. To do this we have a platform suspended from a 3mm x 3mm piece of pine, and then stack concrete blocks onto the platform. The children can then bet with chocolate money when it will break. (Because of the tedium of picking up the blocks, the piece of wood will safely support 100kg.)

After investigating the strength properties, we see how we can use these to best advantage by building structures. Assembling a Wallis grid platform has the appeal of LEGO (every child loves his or her LEGO) and yet they learn how a large span can be achieved with very small pieces of wood. Finally, we move on to building a portable wooden bridge – an inverted tension beam – four metres long weighing just 12 kilogrammes that will support at least five children (and it all packs into a shoulder bag).

There are many opportunities for this work through science fairs and Business Technology Partnerships. The Wood Technology Society was recently given an award in recognition of its work with TEENTECH, an organisation fronted by the charismatic Maggie Philbin of Tomorrow’s World fame.

The next big event is at Harrogate, where we will see 5,000 primary school children over two days.