Monopoly: The Materials Edition



Raw material


Wood is the oldest and one of the most commonly used engineering material in the world. It is a natural polymer composite material found in the stems and routes of trees and shrubs. It comprises fibres of cellulose in a matrix of lignin. It has long been vital as a fuel and a construction material and the UK wood industry remains an important contributor to the economy. Wood can be divided into two types - hardwood and softwood – depending on the type of tree it comes from. However the names can be misleading as softwoods can be harder than some hardwoods.

a stack of logs

Hardwoods come from broad leaved trees. There is huge variation in their height, weight, growth rate and geographical distribution resulting in woods with a wide range of properties that can be used in a huge variety of applications. Many hardwoods have a beautiful appearance and so are used in furniture, flooring and cladding, though woods such as oak may also be used in construction.

Softwoods come from coniferous trees such as pine and spruce with needle-shaped leaves that mostly occur in colder climates. They are often grown in plantations making them cheaper to produce. Softwoods are used in construction, furniture, fencing and packaging.



giant rolls of paper

The first record of paper manufacture dates from China in the first century AD. The technique spread to Europe and the process was industrialised in the 19th century. Paper was originally used for writing and printing but a huge variety of paper and card is now available for a range of uses:

  • Newspaper and magazines
  • Printing and writing
  • Sanitary and household uses
  • Packaging
  • Speciality papers e.g. waxed, photographic and filter

Why not have a go at making your own paper?



The availability and low cost of wood together with its natural beauty mean that wood is still the material of choice for furniture today. Wood can be shaped and joined using simple tools meaning that amateur carpenters can make simple benches and tables whilst master craftsmen can create highly decorative and complex pieces of furniture.

Different types of wood have different characteristics. Softwoods tend to grow tall and straight and so are relatively cheap and are easy to source sustainably. Hardwoods provide a huge range of colours and interesting grain patterns but can be very expensive and difficult to source sustainably.

Musical Instruments


Wood used to make musical instruments is known as tonewood. Hundreds of different woods are used to make percussion, wind and string instruments. The stiffness, density and acoustic properties such as the speed of sound in the material affect the pitch and timbre of the sound produced.

A xylophone consists of horizontal wooden bars of different lengths that correspond to different frequencies. Sound is produced when the bar vibrates on being struck with a mallet. Xylophone wood needs to be hard to resist frequent impacts without denting or splitting which would affect the tuning. A dense wood is also preferred which increases the duration of the note before the sound decays away. Tropical hardwoods such as Amazon rosewood meet these criteria.