The fear of the unknown, a financial commentator recently said, could be one of the few positives left for poor old Marks & Spencer. In her view it was the only factor stopping a lot more British men breaking the habit of a lifetime and venturing out to other shops to buy their smalls.

But when it comes to architects and timber the fear of the unknown can only be negative. It’s a powerful deterrent to using a product in a building if you’re not entirely sure how it performs or how to apply it.

It’s been said that if UK architectural students blink at university, they’ll miss the timber training. This may be an exaggeration, but it is clear that they still emerge from college far happier and more confident about using bricks, steel and concrete than they do about timber and wood products.

As our feature this week underlines, developments in engineered wood products create even greater potential for timber in construction. Building on wood’s inherent strengths, they open up new applications and give the material an air of hi-tech that appeals to specifiers more comfortable with ‘man-made’ products.

The added good news about engineered timber products, is that manufacturers are putting considerable energy into educating the market about their applications and performance.

Hopefully, as specifiers become more comfortable with using engineered material it will help boost their confidence in timber and wood products generally. But, if the process is to be accelerated, pending an upheaval in architects’ timber training, industry will have to step up the information/education effort. Wood. for good and TRADA, with its askTRADA website, are both doing excellent work in this field, but it is felt by many that more still needs to be done at the grass roots to improve the technical image of timber in the market place.

This forms the backdrop to the launch this week of the “Best Technical Information” category in the TTJ Awards. Sponsored by TRADA, the special award will recognise companies that provide the most effective technical support for their products and do most to dispel the fear of the timber unknown.