Did You Know? Cross Laminated Timber is Over 100 Years Old!

Far from being a novel construction system, cross laminated timber, otherwise known as CLT, has been around for more than a century—and it was invented in the USA!

Tue 02 Jul 24


Mass timber is poised to become the fastest-growing building material over the next century, with demand for timber buildings expected to grow exponentially over the next 50 years.

As it stands, mass timber makes up just 1% of the North American building materials market, but that will soon change according to Michael Barnard, climate futurist, strategist, and author, who projects that cross laminated timber systems will rise at the same time that global cement will decline.

“We harvest roughly 3.5 billion cubic meters of wood every year,” Me Barnard said, who said that “we can displace an enormous amount of cement by simply diverting just a subset of single-use wood and paper products to engineered timber,” including cross laminated timber.

However, while we are accustomed to thinking that cross-laminated timber is a modern technology—an antithesis of carbon-heavy materials like Portland cement—the patent dates back more than 100 years, according to Andrew Dunn, organiser of Australia’s TimberConstruct conference.

“Cross laminated timber is often thought to be a modern technology,” Mr Dunn said, “but the patent describing the technology dates back to 1923, in Washington State, in the Pacific Northwest.”

Cross-laminated timber, or CLT, is a mass timber product that uses layers of kiln-dried dimension wood oriented at right angles to one another and then glued to form structural panels. By gluing layers of wood at right angles, the panel delivers excellent structural rigidity in both directions.

Footage courtesy of @WoodSolutionsAustralia.
The patent, from August 21, 1923, calls for the following:

“The strips or boards thus formed are then out into suitable lengths, and such lengths are then superimposed one above the other to form a plurality of layers, with the grain of the wood in one layer running at an angle to the grain of the wood in the adjacent layer.”

Also, contrary to popular belief, CLT was invented in the USA, not Europe!

Frank J Wars and Robert Watts were behind the patent, both citizens from Tacoma, Piece in Washington State:

According to the archive, “they (had) invented a (certain) new and useful Improvement in Composite Lumber, of which the following is a specification.”

Last year, Wood Central reported that the global CLT could triple over the next seven years, reaching US $4.24 billion by 2030 from US $1.66 billion, fueled by accelerated global demand in North America and Europe (the engine room for CLT), along with growing demand in the Asia Pacific region fuelled by Australia, Japan, China, and India.

However, the demand for cross-laminated timber could far outstrip estimates if manufacturers and developers can convince asset managers and money markets of the benefits of timber systems.

To scale up, cross laminated timber must appeal to money markets

That is according to Noel Johnson, a US real estate developer who is now using mass timber construction systems on commercial, residential, and mixed-use projects, ranging from small to $100m-plus high-rises.

Real estate giants like Hines Real Estate are now working with pension funds like Ivanhoé Cambridge and McCaffery to build mid-rise and high-rise timber towers. (Photo Credit: FILE #: 58530272 via Adobe Stock Images)
Real estate giants like Hines Real Estate are now working with pension funds like Ivanhoé Cambridge and McCaffery to build mid-rise and high-rise towers out of cross laminated timbers. (Photo Credit: FILE #: 58530272 via Adobe Stock Images)

Mr Johnson is flying from Portland, Oregan, close to the birthplace of cross-laminated timber, to Melbourne, Australia, to present at TimberConstruct in August.

“The core of every fund manager is to acquire differentiated assets – because we all know that will be a better asset,” Mr Johnson said.

“Mass timber-based developments have the potential to build a 200-unit development right here; you can build another and turn around for the next one before the mega-development is even out of the ground.”

“It also has a very distinct look and feel – which is very different,” he said, adding that the intangibles, “like guy or gal that wakes up in the morning and likes the space and therefore doesn’t want to move”, help to drive the net income or numerator, that can help drive future developments.

Last week, Wood Central Publisher interviewed Noel Johnson, one of the US’s most high profile and vocal mass timber developers ahead of his visit to Australia. Footage courtesy of @woodcentralau.
Early bird registrations close Sunday, July 15, so book quickly!

Mr Johnson will present during the opening panel discussion along with Robert Jackson, a partner at the global engineering firm Fast-Epp, who is at the forefront of mass timber construction, and Liam Wallis, from Hipvhyp, who is building timber projects in Australia.

“So far, we have 39 presenters already lined up,” according to Andrew Dunn, the Timber Construct organiser, who has already lined up nine international speakers for the conference.

“The primary focus is on commercial-ready applications of timber technology,” Mr Dunn said, with the “focus on materials and design, prefabrication, and building techniques.”


  • Jason Ross

    Jason Ross, publisher, is a 15-year professional in building and construction, connecting with more than 400 specifiers. A Gottstein Fellowship recipient, he is passionate about growing the market for wood-based information. Jason is Wood Central's in-house emcee and is available for corporate host and MC services.


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