Wood Scientist

Wood science is a material science in which the physical, chemical and biological properties of wood are studied.

Wood scientists apply the knowledge gained from their studies to develop and improve technologies for processing wood into pulp, paper, building and construction timber, chipboard and fibreboard and laminated beams. Wood scientists may work in a wood processing plant (pulp and paper), sawmill or furniture and board factories. They often end up working in research, management, administration, process development, materials engineering, quality control, manufacturing, production, marketing or sales.

Some areas of specialisation for wood scientists include:

  • New fibre sources: research focuses on using sisal as a cheaper alternative to glass fibre in reinforced plastics. TMP/CTMP pulping propertiesof new Pine species are determined.
  • Biopulping studies: pulp evaluation of different Pine and Eucalyptus species. Chipping, chip screening, Kraft cooking and testing of pulp strength properties according to Tappi standards.
  • Utilisation of various industrial byproducts: a number of industrial byproducts are used to develop new types of mineral bonded fibre and plastics / plastics composite materials to be used for building components.
  • Kaolin: research to upgrade locally beneficiated kaolin for coating applications. Print quality evaluations of coated paper by image analytical techniques.
  • Handmade paper: expertise on all aspects of handmade paper production.
  • On-line control of chemical additives in papermaking: development of process control loops to monitor wet end chemistry during stock preparation and sheet formation. Control over added chemicals will minimise process variability and improve product uniformity.
  • Durability testing of exterior surface finishes on wood: the performance of various coating systems is tested under natural exposure and artificial weathering conditions in the laboratory.
  • Wood Drying: development of new kiln designs and construction materials; optimal drying control using discrete on-line mathematical models of moisture movement; development of new methods of wood moisture measurement above fibre saturation point.
  • Solar drying: non-conventional kiln design.
  • Drying schedule development, includes chemical analysis of wood: quantitative chemical wood analysis; and wood preservation: study of factors degrading wood, methods of treatment and test methods.

Personal Requirements

  • aptitude for Mathematics and Physical Science
  • interest in technology
  • able to think creatively
  • organisational abilities
  • good interpersonal and communication skills

How to Enter

Schooling & School Subjects

Compulsory Subjects: Mathematics, Physical Science
Recommended subjects: Geography

What to Study

Degree: BSc Wood Science - US or one can follow a BEng (Chemical Engineering) with special emphasis on pulp and paper subjects from the third year.
Wood Technology - NMMU


Wood scientists, in mechanical processing, are employed by:

  • saw mills
  • factories (plywood, chipboard, fibreboard, laminated beams)
  • furniture factories
Wood scientists, specialised in chemical processing, are employed by:
  • pulp and paper industries
There are also good career opportunities for wood scientists in the research field and in their own enterprises. As wood scientists’ skills are highly specialised they can work as consultants to large corporations. They can also set up companies that process wood for the purpose of timber construction.

Further Information

Department of Wood Science
Faculty of Forestry
University of Stellenbosch
Private Bag X1
Stellenbosch Matieland, 7602
Tel: (021) 808-9111

SA Saw Millers Association
Private Bag X686
Isando, 1600
Tel: (011) 974-1061

Getting Started

  • try to obtain vacation or part-time work in a wood processing plant
  • arrange to speak to wood scientists about this type of career and ask permission to observe them at work

Programmes by Study Institutions

Related Occupations

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