Timber is a widely-used building material, prized for its strength, durability, and versatility. However, like any material, it is subject to natural physical changes over time. One such change that occurs is "checking." In this article, we will explore what timber checking is, discuss whether it affects the strength of the material, and examine relevant case studies and research to provide a comprehensive understanding of the issue at hand.

What is Timber Checking?

Timber checking is a naturally occurring phenomenon that involves the appearance of small cracks or splits on the surface of wooden beams or logs. These checks typically form as a result of fluctuations in moisture content, as when wood is exposed to variations in temperature and humidity, it expands or contracts resulting in stress. When the stress becomes great enough, the wood fibres separate, causing the visible checks to appear.

Moisture content is a key factor in understanding the formation and impact of checks, as well as the performance of wood over time. The moisture content of wood is the ratio of the mass of water present in the material to its mass when it is completely dry, typically expressed as a percentage. As a natural material, wood continually seeks to balance its moisture content with the surrounding environment, hence the ongoing concern with moisture-related issues such as checking.

Does Checking Impact Timber Strength?

Despite the appearance of checks, studies have shown that they do not necessarily compromise the structural integrity of the timber. In fact, the impact of checks tends to be more aesthetic, with only a slight reduction in strength due to the limited penetration depth of most checks. Timber checks are generally regarded as a visual issue rather than a structural one, and are often considered natural characteristics that contribute to the overall aesthetics of the wood.

However, timber checking may lead to some functional concerns on a case-by-case basis. If a check develops in a critical area, such as within a joint, it may cause a weakness that could become exacerbated by changes in temperature, humidity, and loading conditions. Such instances are rare, but it is essential to maintain a level of vigilance in these cases to prevent possible structural damage.

Case Studies and Research

Several studies and real-life applications support the assertion that timber checking does not significantly affect the material's structural integrity:

  1. Glulam Beams: Glued laminated timber (glulam) is an engineered wood product composed of layers of wood that are bonded together with durable, moisture-resistant adhesives. Although glulam beams are subject to checking, studies have shown that the resultant checks rarely penetrate below the depth of the outermost lamination. As a result, they do not significantly affect the overall strength or performance of the glued laminated timber.
  1. Timber Bridge Project: A study of 41 timber bridges in the southeastern United States revealed that the majority of checks were superficial, and did not contribute to structural deterioration. Researchers involved in the project concluded that the presence of checks in structural components might indicate the need for further investigation and maintenance, but they did not demonstrate the need for immediate repair or replacement.


In conclusion, timber checking is a common and natural occurrence that does not typically compromise the strength and integrity of wooden structures. While the presence of checks may not immediately indicate a concern, they should be monitored as part of ongoing maintenance and inspection protocols to ensure that they do not evolve into more significant issues.

By understanding the underlying causes of checking