Wood Science and Technology Workers

Some workers in wood science and technology are involved in research. They work for large wood product firms, universities, or the government on various research projects, ranging from the development of new wood plastics to the designing of methods to cut wood without producing sawdust.

Another area of work in wood and science technology is manufacturing. This is the most diverse area of the field, with jobs encompassing product and process development, quality control, production control, engineering, personnel relations, and general management.

Some wood and science technology careers are in the area of technical service. Technical service representatives for wood industry suppliers use their knowledge of wood to enhance the efficiency of their clients' operations. They may work for a chemical company, a machinery manufacturer, or another service-oriented businesses. State and federal governments also hire workers in this capacity.

Specialists who work in these areas typically fall into one of three categories of workers: wood scientists, wood technologists or wood products engineers, and wood products technicians.

Wood scientists explore the chemical, biological, and physical properties of different woods. They try to find ways to make wood last longer and work better. They also look for faster, more efficient ways to turn wood into lumber, plywood, chemicals, paper, and other products. For example, they develop and improve ways to season or chemically treat wood to increase its resistance to wear, fire, fungi, decay, insects, or marine borers.

All wood must be dried before it can be put to any permanent use in construction or furniture. Wood scientists experiment with methods of drying or curing wood, firing it in kilns at different temperatures and for varying lengths of time, to find ways that will save energy and toughen the wood against warping and other defects.

Because of their thorough knowledge of the properties of different types of wood—pliability, strength, and resistance to wear—wood scientists are able to recommend which woods are most appropriate for certain uses. They can tell what hard and soft woods will make useful lumber and what fast-growing trees can be harvested for plywood and particleboard.

While wood scientists often work in the research area of the industry, wood technologists work primarily for industry. Like scientists, they are also knowledgeable about the scientific properties of wood, but they look at the subject from a business perspective. These specialists work toward finding new ways to make wood products, with a minimum waste of wood, time, and money. Their jobs may combine responsibilities in areas that are usually considered the exclusive domain of either business or science, including materials engineering, research, quality control, production, management, marketing, or sales.

In many ways, wood technologists carry on the work of the wood scientists, by investigating the differing qualities of woods. As employees of paper mills, sawmills, or plywood mills, they may test woods as well as new kilns and new sawmill machines. They may cooperate with foresters who grow and harvest wood. If working for a wood products manufacturer, technologists may experiment with new methods of drying, joining, gluing, machining, and finishing lumber. In many cases, they also direct and oversee the activity of other workers, accumulate and analyze data, and write reports.

Wood technologists also work closely with their clients, who may be wood manufacturers or the buyers and distributors of wood products. If a sporting goods manufacturer is looking for light, resilient woods for making skis, for example, the wood technologist machines, treats, and supplies this wood. The technologist may even direct scientific research into new methods of improving the quality of wood for making skis. The wood technologist also knows how to test the wood for the qualities the buyer needs. New tooling machines may need to be designed, new processing techniques might need to be perfected, and workers may need to be hired or specially trained to accomplish the end goal. The wood technologist often coordinates all of these activities for both the company's purposes and the advancement of wood science.

Wood technologists often oversee the work of wood products technicians, who also add to the efficiency and profitability of their companies through their knowledge of wood and its properties. Wood products technicians operate kilns, plywood presses, and other machines used in the processing and treating of wood. They may also work in product testing and quality control, helping technologists and engineers overcome problems and expand the horizons of wood science.

Almost all careers in wood science and technology involve a substantial amount of paperwork. Project documentation, as with any scientific study, is extensive and constant. Typically, scientists and technologists spend about half of their time working in the lab and the rest of their time writing proposals, designing layouts, studying processes, and communicating with clients and other project members.

Next Section: Earnings

Career Update Newsletter

Tips and tools to help you manage your ideal career.