Wooden sewer pipes were an early way for people to dispose of wastewater and deliver fresh water to their homes. According to John Schladweiler at SewerHistory.org, some Londoners had wooden water pipes "as early as the 13th century." While other materials eventually replaced wood in water pipes for most applications, there are still a few working wooden water pipes in existence today.
Bored and Hollow Wooden Pipes
The earliest wooden pipes were bored out of logs. A hole much smaller than the log was bored through a large log and resulted in very heavy pipe. The excess material was an early way to pressurize a system without pipes breaking. One end of each pipe was sharpened slightly to fit into the end of another pipe hollowed out to accept this point. Once in use, according to Schladweiler, the water would wet and expand the wood, thus effectively sealing the pipes.
Steel Wrapped Wooden Pipes
Some early wood pipes were thin-walled pipes carved from wood and then wrapped in strips of steel braces. Schladweiler reports this practice was a necessity to halt pipe breakage under pressure while still lightening the overall pipe system. This design was used widely in the 1800s.
Machined Wooden Pipes
Machined wood pipes rose to prominence after the Civil War. Scladweiler notes that these pipes still used the steel wrapped method of early carved pipes, but due to the rise of industrial processes, these new pipes were machined out of wood with ends that fit snugly together and sealed more efficiently.
Insulated Wooden Pipes
Late models of wood piping constructed in the late 1800s were iron insulated by wrapping iron bands under steam power around the wood, effectively insulating and strengthening the pipes, according to Scladweiler. These pipes allowed for the transport of heated water and steam with less heat dissipation.
Continuous Wood Stave Pipes
Wood stave pipes--pipes assembled similarly to hardwood floor constructions banded with steel cables and tensioners--replaced other pipe styles in industrial application. Building pipes by laying lengths of board together allowed for continuous pipe construction and met many industrial water needs of the early 1900s. Schladweiler reports that a wood stave pipe in Fernandina Beach, FL, owned by Rayonier, Inc., a paper manufacturer, is still in use 24/7 (as of 2010).
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