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Timber Pilings


The use of timber pilings dates back thousands of years and is still used for many structures today. Timber pilings are used to support buildings and structures in wet or unstable soil conditions, but can deteriorate due to organisms and decay.

In this blog post we will explore the history of timber piling, advantages & disadvantages, common issues & treatments, and comprehensive services available today. Are you interested in learning more about how to maintain your timbers pilings? Read on!

Historic Use and Treatment of Timber Pilings

In the past, Swiss lake dwellers relied on timber pilings to construct dwellings that could withstand the fluctuating water levels found in their environment. Furthermore, pile foundations built of wood were used for centuries to create structures in Venice, Italy before techniques and treatments to resist deterioration were developed.

Swiss lake dwellers

The Swiss Lake Dwellers were a Neolithic tribe believed to have lived in what is now Switzerland some 6,000 years ago. They are credited with the concept of using timber pilings for construction and excavations reveal hundreds of well-preserved wooden piles that they drove into the ground.

These unique placements allowed them to build platforms on which they then created their dwellings. The techniques used by this ancient tribe wasn’t limited only to Switzerland as it found its way to many other regions and was utilized not only during historic times, but up until recent centuries when modern advancements made more traditional methods obsolete.

Timber pilings remain an integral part of building foundations even today, demonstrating the remarkable foresight of this early civilization that laid down the groundwork so much later civilizations would learn from and build upon.

Early building piling foundations in Venice, Italy

The city of Venice has been built on water since the 5th century, requiring a unique construction method to provide the required stability for its structures. Timber was essential for this purpose and long wooden piles were driven deep into the ground to provide support for buildings in Venice.

Over time, as more timber was transported to the island, an increase in building construction followed. The Romans also used wood pilings in their engineering projects which increased further and served as a foundation element through history until present day.

Timber pilings played an important role during Renaissance times when Oak and Pine were popularly used materials in boatbuilding, carpentry and housebuilding activities. As these manmade islands gradually became thousands of small isles by 18th century, timber pilings finally rose out forming high elevation landmasses which are considered one of the major tourist attractions today.

Treatment methods used prior to 18th century

Prior to the 18th century, timber pilings were commonly used in construction projects. In order to increase their longevity and durability, a variety of treatment methods was applied including pressure treatment which involved impregnating the timber with preservatives that would prevent decay and protect it from biological attacks such as borer attack.

Manual records indicate that early piling techniques used by historical inhabitants employed trimming down of outer-tree branches, before driving them deep into soil to form foundations.

Swiss lake dwellers are renowned for using this technique during timber pile building in lakeside constructions while Venetian builders largely adopted this technology when establishing foundation piles for buildings in downtown Venice – evinced through carbon dating research conducted on log samples recovered from archaeological objects there.

Treatment methods revived in 18th & 19th centuries

By the 18th and 19th centuries, numerous treatments had been utilised to preserve timber from deterioration. One of these was immersion in a hot solution of sulphate or acetate of copper, which was carried out by professional contractors for wooden pile dikes across Switzerland at this time.

This method involves soaking the wood in tanks containing solutions of either calcium carbonates or alkaline salts followed by heating them above 50-60°C. The method allowed for better protection against corrosion but it also contained materials that were corrosive towards ferrous metals – leading to its discontinuation after 1950s.

Despite this hazardous side effect, these treatments were continued across Europe on infrastructure projects such as bridges owing to their effective preservation properties with results being seen even today in Venice, Italy where ancient building foundation pilings are still present due to Historical preservation efforts made since 1800s.

Understanding Timber Pilings: Advantages and Disadvantages

When it comes to piling for construction projects, timber piles offer a set of unique advantages and disadvantages. The decision to use them is often based on factors such as the load capacity requirement, soil conditions, environmental impact, and budget constraints.


Economical: Timber piles are cost-effective because of their easy availability. They also reduce the overall cost of foundation construction, as highlighted in the [IMPORTANT FACTS].Installation Challenges: Uninstalling a timber pile once it’s installed can be a complex task, requiring considerable effort and expertise.
Load Capacity: They can carry a significant load of 15 to 25 tons per pile, making them suitable for light to medium-weight structures.Durability: According to the [IMPORTANT FACTS], timber piles typically have a lifespan of about 30 years. Although this is a substantial period, it is less than some alternative materials.
Soil Compatibility: Timber piles are especially advantageous in wet and compressive soils. They are commonly used in maritime construction projects across the UK.Design & Construction: Timber pile design and construction require careful consideration of various factors. This means having adequate skills and knowledge is essential for their effective use.
Shape Flexibility: They can be fashioned into different shapes, either rectangular or cylindrical, based on the construction requirements.Environmental Impact: While timber is a natural and renewable resource, using it for construction can contribute to deforestation if not sourced responsibly.


Understanding these factors is crucial for construction professionals and enthusiasts when deciding on whether to use timber piles for a project.

Issues and Treatment Options for Timber Pilings

Studies have shown that timber pilings can be affected by a range of deterioration issues such as biological agents, decay, and borer attack which can reduce their lifespan. Various treatments are available to address these problems including capping the piles using concrete and various chemical solutions to prevent decay or insect infestations.

Piling deterioration problems

Piling deterioration is a common problem and can be caused by decayorganisms, and aging. Decay is the breakdown of organic matter due to the presence of fungi, bacteria, or moisture that leads to reduced structural strength.

Marine borers also cause degradation in timber pilings as they feed on wood material creating holes that weaken its structure. Other factors like corrosion resulting from chemical deposits along with ultraviolet radiation or extreme weather conditions can contribute to timber piling problems too.

This presents challenging problems when planning restoration projects since extensive damage may have already occurred from these sources before any construction work begins or during it.

Decay treatment options

• Physical treatments like high-pressure steam or boiling can be used for treating timber. This is suitable for making timber suitable for outdoor use, as it helps remove moisture and bacteria from the wood which would otherwise lead to decay.

Borer attack treatment options

Treating wood against beetle attack is essential if marine borers are present in the area. Barrier wrapping, encasement and splicing are some of the common treatment options used to protect timber piles from borer attacks. Additionally, chemical treatments can also be effective for preventing beetle entry into uninfested logs as well as controlling flatheaded borers. For optimal protection, it is important to ensure that the appropriate insecticides are selected for a given species and method of application is carefully timed. In order to prevent microbial decay which might attract more beetles, use of pressure treated wood or coating with diluted fire detergent may be beneficial solutions when possible.

Required maintenance & inspection

Regular inspection is an important part of caring for timber pilings. This should be done to ensure that the piling is in good condition and properly maintained, and to detect any deterioration or damage before it becomes a structural issue.The recommended inspection interval depends on factors such as installation depth, application type, environmental conditions, rot potential etc. A standing program of maintenance inspections are important for timber piles installed above the water table to prevent fungal decay from taking hold.


  • Guidelines for timber piling pole maintenance
  • Timber Pile Design & Construction Manuals


Comprehensive Timber Piling Services

Comprehensive timber piling services provide a range of benefits for those involved in the building, engineering and maintenance of structures with timber pilings. These services go beyond just driving piles into the ground – they offer everything from pile straightening and reinforcement to decay treatment and borer attack prevention.

With this comprehensive approach, engineers can ensure that their structure is built on a solid footing for years to come.

Piling services use specialized techniques such as helical pile installation or dynamic compaction to counter all possible problems associated with the soil conditions or the age of any old existing piles.

Reinforcement methods like doweling are also frequently employed so that each pile’s lateral stability will be increased beyond what may be considered normal design tolerances. Additionally termite control treatments as well as concrete block cappings are also often provided when necessary in order to protect against borers and other wood damaging organisms.

All these measures help prolong the life-span of piles significantly compared to traditional treatment methods such as simple red iron oxide staining applications only used in previous times.


Timber pilings have long been used to provide reliable support for structures and other applications. Treating timber piling with the proper preservative levels is essential for extended durability as this will prevent decay, borer attack, and other hazards due to aging.

Developments in technology today make it easier to use timber pilings safely and efficiency while retaining their traditional strength and stability. When maintained correctly, timber pilings will last many times longer than modern alternatives such as concrete or steel foundations providing cost savings over time.

For these reasons, timber piles remain a trusted foundation option offering centuries of service life when properly installed and taken care of regularly over time.

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