This page contains news and outline plan for the SIRT project.

Updated 7 September 2017

Executive summary

This three year work plan outlines the work that Edinburgh Napier University provides for industry in two, separately funded, areas:

  • “Work package 1”: Applied research and knowledge transfer addressing industry needs – as set out by the SIRT management board. This includes providing information and advice to industry sponsors
    “Work Package 2”: Timber grading standards support ensuring standards are good for the domestic timber industries, and supporting industry in using them
  • This work has been ongoing for some years, enabling more value to be gained from the forest resource in the British Isles (the defined ‘growth area’ of ‘British spruce’) and avoiding costly problems with mandatory standards under revision. It is also vital for maintaining a national university-based capacity for timber research, consultancy and higher education courses.


The work is funded by Forestry Commission Scotland and a number of industry partners: Balcas, BSW Timber, Confor, Euroforest, Glennon Brothers, James Callanders and son, James Jones and son, John Gordon and son, Pontrilas Timber, Scottish Woodlands, TTF and Tilhill.  As well as vital financial support, our industry partners provide direction to the project and actively participate in some aspects of the research.

Sponsors receive priority support, receive information first and in more detail, get direct access to expertise and advice, and are able to jointly direct the work programme through the SIRT management board, and annual research conference.


The work we engage in with SIRT is done in close collaboration with Forest Research who provide the linkage with forestry to our expertise in materials and engineering. The SIRT network also has research connections with the University of Glasgow, Inverness College UHI, and Aberdeen University. Additionally, the Centre for Wood Science and Technology has informal connections with researchers working in timber research throughout Europe – particularly NUI Galway.

We work closely with The Centre for Offsite Construction + Innovative Structures (COCIS) at Edinburgh Napier University to achieve our objectives and support the sustainable use of wood in construction (in both research and knowledge transfer).

Overall aims

Our activities are focused on understanding the physical and mechanical properties of wood and how these affect its performance in different applications. Our main aim is to better understand how the management site, and climate, of forests influence the properties of the timber produced from them. Through this work we support the domestic forest and timber industries to gain best value from the forest resource, avoid wastage, and improve the resilience of forestry to commercial pressures, climate change, pests and diseases. This helps ensure the future of economically, environmentally and socially sustainable forestry in the British Isles.

Connected to this, is work related to the British and European Codes and Standards that govern the production and grading of construction timber, ensuring that these Codes and Standards are good for the UK industry, that the UK industry’s position is represented internationally, and that UK industry is supported in understanding and implementing the Standards. We also help to ensure that news of important changes, and proposed changes, is communicated to growers, processors, manufacturers, engineers and architects.

We also work to improve the knowledge and perception of home-grown timber within the forest and construction industries, with students, and with the general public.

The overall aims of the SIRT project are:

  1. To provide relevant, objective and trustworthy, applied research to the forest, timber and construction industries in order to enhance value from the forest resource of the British Isles, and business profitability for the domestic forest and timber industries.
  2. To represent the UK’s interests internationally, especially in relation to the European Standards relating to production of timber construction products.
  3. To engage with and provide technical support to Irish delegations to standards committees where there is mutual benefit for the UK (the national interests overlap in many regards due to the common growth area for “British spruce” and industry trading across the border)
  4. To provide a source of information, advice and expertise for the forest, timber and construction industries, and to work to ensure that other information providers are correct and up-to-date
  5. To continue to train new researchers in forestry, wood science and timber engineering and to improve the knowledge and perception of timber for students, industry and the general public.
  6. By doing the above, maintain a capacity for testing, research and consultancy for the industry so that it may be called on when needed for contract research and consultancy.

Priority sub-projects

There are a number of activities within the SIRT project.  These are the main ones.

Mechanical properties of ‘alternative’ species (WP1)

Obtain key structural data for species identified as candidates for increased planting, and compare with Sitka spruce making allowances for rotation length and site characteristics (as far as possible). Report on likely grading potential and other possible markets. (These are regarded as complementary species to Sitka spruce, rather than replacements)

The collection of these species is being done by Forest Research, with Edinburgh Napier University taking over from the point of conversion of logs into structural sized battens.

Species are:

  • European silver fir (Abies alba)
  • Grand fir (Abies grandis)
  • Japanese cedar (Cryptomeria japonica)
  • Noble fir (Abies procera)
  • Pacific silver fir (Abies amabillis)
  • Serbian spruce (Picea omorika)
  • Western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla)
  • Birch (Betula pendula and B.pubescens)
  • Sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus)

This work is complemented by the ongoing (separately funded) PhD project of David Gil-Moreno studying:

  • Norway spruce (Picea abies)
  • Western red cedar (Thuja plicata)
  • Noble fir (Abies procera)
  • Western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla)

This data is necessary to inform planting decisions. Very little data currently exists for most of these species, and what does exist is based on a small number of (usually) small clear specimen tests. The aim is to collect data at structural size that can provide more certainty of properties data and to begin to collect data that may be used in future for strength grading. Other species may be added to this list if requested by sponsors.

Survey of sawmillers’s knowledge of ‘alternative species (WP1)

Undertake a survey of sawmillers to gather information about the other species (mentioned above, plus some others) covering experience of processing and the issues involved, perception of quality, and possible markets.

The survey, which was carried out in both online and hard copy format, will provide a valuable industry perspective, and, through SIRT, inform future planting decisions. The findings will be reported to SIRT sponsors in the first instance.  The survey will compare a number of species, using Sitka spruce as the benchmark. The questions cover: log issues, sawing issues, drying issues, preservative treatment, perception of general quality, and markets.

Investigating degrade issues in spruce trees (WP1)

There are concerns around degrade issues in the sawnwood industries that are the related to issues in the standing tree manifesting as cracks, malformed wood, discolouration and increased susceptibility to rot. This is sometimes referred to as drought crack but these symptoms may not be drought related and may cover more than one underlying issue.

Perceptions of the scale and cause of these issues may not match the reality and there is little documented information on the nature of these degrade issues, prevalence, causes and impact on timber. This research is best be done as a collaboration between research partners, growers, harvesters and processors.

There are three aspects to the problem:

  1. What is are these degrade issues? And what causes them?
  2. Where do these degrade issues occur?
  3. What is its impact?

Exploring the potential for C24 grading in British spruce (WP1)

Our work at CEN TC124 WG2 has resulted in changes in the standard EN 384 which allow calculation of characteristic properties in way that is better for UK timber.  There are also other ways that grading can be approached (within the current framework of standards) that allow better grades.  They are not always better commercial prospects than C16 on the general market – but in some circumstances they are (see this WCTE 2016 paper for more).

Four ‘user defined’ strength classes for UK spruce (called NapierSA, SB, SC, SD) have been created for optimised grading.

The detailed report on this work – which covers ranges of C24 yields possible for common grading machines, and ways of optimising overall yield – is for project sponsors only.

Performance and grading of tiling battens (WP1)

The current visual grading rules for tiling battens (which are outside of the EN14081 system as they are not classed as structural timber) practically prevent home-grown timber being used. This work will investigate the performance requirements of tiling battens and investigate whether the current grading rules are appropriate, and whether they could be reformulated to allow grading of home grown timber, whilst still maintaining the required performance requirements for the graded product. The work will include testing of tiling battens to establish a firm, experimental basis for changes in the standard.

Dissemination and knowledge transfer (WP1)

The communication between the SIRT project, its sponsors and the forest and timber industries in general will be achieved via the following routes.

This blog – containing continually updated news on work (to a general audience), as well as key information such as staff contact details, description of research undertaken, facilities and equipment, links to publications, links to sponsors etc. Key blog updates are communicated also through twitter.

Concise information sheets on key topics (e.g. strength grading, strength classes, properties of home-grown species, executive summaries of PhD thesis and academic journal papers) available online and printable for hard copy.

More detailed information sheets for use in Higher and Further Education courses, and for reference by architects and engineers (complementing, rather than duplicating) what is already provided by organisations such as TRADA, the Wood Technology Society and Wood Campus).

Online learning elements, complementary to the information sheets, that can be used for training and CPD (e.g. provision of videos, spreadsheets, self-assessment quizzes, links to more detailed information). This could be content provided for Wood Campus, or hosted by Edinburgh Napier University (or both).

Articles for industry publications

Articles on “The Conversation” for mainstream media

Face to face CPD, seminars, presentations, guest lectures etc.

Timber grading standards support (WP2)

The work within this area is largely dictated by what is happening at international level for the various standards relating to timber grading, and European regulations for construction products. The most important element of this is committee work for the European and British Standards, but there is also a large amount of preparatory work, and supporting research in order to provide information, formulate responses, decide strategy, and evidence the case for changes where required.

The work also includes engagement with industry to gather comments on standards out for Enquiry (public comment) to ensure future standards are good for the UK. (Much of this coincides with the interests of the Irish industry, and we continue to liaise with the Irish delegation)

The work also provides an independent information, advice and troubleshooting service for SIRT sponsors on timber grading, the associated standards, and technology.
While there are common interests in Europe to get good standards for the industry there are also differences in industrial practice, timber resource, technology, approach and, of course, vested commercial interests. Active representation in standardisation work is vital, and several extremely costly changes have been avoided through our diligence and expertise.

The work we carry out in this area complements the standardisation work done by producers, notified bodies, and industry organisations. Our special expertise lies in knowledge of the timber resource, machine grading, testing, and statistical procedures, and our international academic reputation helps to support our arguments in committee.

We provide the primary ‘academic expertise’ to the UK Timber Grading Committee and British Standards Committee B/518 and our work is done through these committees to form part of the official UK position.