Is Wood a Conductor or Insulator?

Have you ever wondered of wood is a conductor or an insulator?

This has been a long-standing debate in most woodworking and wood forums. Some people claim that wood is an insulator because it simply does not let electricity flow.

However, there are people who push the idea that wood is a good conductor because of some of its natural properties. Here is a lowdown of why wood could be a conductor or an insulator.

Is wood a conductor or insulator?

Before anything else, a quick answer to this question. DRY wood is an insulator but when wood is wet, it can become a good conductor, just like most materials.

The science of conductivity

Electrical conductors are materials that conduct electricity. Insulators are the opposite which means these do not conduct electricity at all. The ability of a substance or a material to conduct electricity depends on how easily electrons can flow through it.

Protons are unable to move from one material to another because despite carrying an electrical charge, these are bound to other protons and neutrons found in the atomic nuclei. The valence electrons are similar to the outer planets orbiting a star. These electrons stay in position but can be knocked out of place easily as well.

Metals are able to readily lose and gain electrons, therefore, these are very good conductors, so they rule the list of conductors. When it comes to organic molecules such as those found in living things, people, plants, animals and wood, these are mostly insulators.

This is because the molecules are held together by covalent (shared electron) bonds and hydrogen bonding helps stabilize molecules and keep them compact.

Most materials can be neither good conductors nor good insulators. These materials do not really conduct electricity but when given enough energy, the electrons, valence electrons, will move. On the other hand, some materials are pure insulators. These will conduct if they are doped with small quantities of another element or if these have impurities.

Most ceramics are excellent insulators, but if you dope these, you can develop a superconductor. Some materials are also known as pure insulators like water. However, dirty water and salt water may conduct electricity but not very well.

Best electrical conductors

Silver is known as the best electrical conductor, under conditions of ordinary temperature and pressure. However, it is not an ideal choice because of its cost. Metallic silver also tarnishes and this layer is not conductive. Rust that develops on metals can also reduce conductivity.

  • silver
  • gold
  • copper
  • aluminum
  • mercury
  • steel
  • iron
  • sea water
  • concrete
  • mercury
  • platinum
  • brass
  • bronze
  • graphite
  • dirty water
  • lemon juice

The best insulators

  • rubber
  • glass
  • pure water
  • oil
  • air
  • diamond
  • dry wood
  • dry cotton
  • plastic
  • asphalt

More insulators

  • fiberglass
  • dry paper
  • porcelain
  • ceramic
  • quartz

Other factors that affect the conductivity

The shape and size of a material can affect its conductivity. A thick conductive material will work better compared to a smaller or thin piece.

But if you take the same material with the same thickness, but one is shorter than the other, the material with the shorter length will conduct better because it has less resistance.

Another factor that affects conductivity is temperature. As temperature increases, atoms and their electrons will gain energy and this improves the material’s conductivity.

Some insulators such as glass are poor conductors when the material is cool but becomes good conductors when it is hot.

On the other hand, some metals are better conductors when cool and perform poorly when hot. There are even superconductors that perform in extremely low temperatures.

Electrons freely flow through a conductive material but these don’t damage the atoms or cause wear. Moving electrons may have resistance or cause friction and the flow of electrical current will produce heat.

Wood is an insulator

No doubt that wood is an insulator especially dry wood. There are instances that a wooden pole is struck by lightning but usually, it’s due to the wood being wet after a storm has struck or as rain falls. The most important thing to do is to steer clear of wooden poles and other tall structures during a thunderstorm. Stay safe.

Conclusion

Wood, especially dry wood, is an insulator. An insulator prevents the flow of electricity while conductors allow electricity flow. The size of the material and temperature also affect the ability of a material to become an insulator or a conductor.

  • January 5, 2019
  • DIY
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