The earliest work undertaken by the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research in the field of timber research was that into kilning and physical tests of timber carried out by the Building Materials Research Committee.
In 1918 the department established a separate organisation for timber research; a consultant on timber research was appointed and investigations were undertaken into the qualities of home-grown timbers and kiln seasoning of timber. A resolution, recommending the establishment in the United Kingdom of a "research organisation which should include a central institute to deal with problems connected with the utilisation of forest products" which would be "of direct assistance to various parts of the Empire and particularly to the Crown Colonies", was made at the British Empire Forestry Conference in July 1920. The Cabinet then approved the establishment of a Forest Products Research Board, with Professor J.B. Farmer as chairman and acting director, which was set up by the department in July 1921.
Its functions were to organise and carry out research into the utilisation of timber and other products, into wood technology, and to investigate products other than timber. Additionally, it inherited work initiated by existing timber research organisations. A director of forestry was also appointed in 1921. A limited amount of research work was carried out at various university laboratories, but with the need for mechanical testing and large scale seasoning, in 1923 accommodation was provided for a small group at the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough, Hants. In 1927 a central Forest Products Research Laboratory was established at Princes Risborough, Bucks.
The Forest Products Research Board was advised by a number of committees on wood preservation, empire timbers and timber mechanics. In 1935 work on the development of colonial forest resources and the service testing and marketing of colonial timbers was transferred to the Colonial Office, where it was carried out by a Colonial Forest Resources Development Department, but it was returned to the laboratory on the dissolution of that department in 1945.
In 1958 the Forest Products Research Board ceased to function. The laboratory's field of operations was reduced, and its responsibilities for certain aspects of applied research and advisory services passed to the Timber Development Association (formed in 1934 by the Timber Trades Federation to promote the increased use of timber), and the board was replaced by a small steering committee (the joint Forest Products Research Laboratory-Forestry Commission Committee), set up to co-ordinate research into home-grown timbers.
On the dissolution of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research in 1965, the laboratory was transferred to the control of the Ministry of Technology. In 1970, it was transferred to the Department of Trade and Industry and to the Department of the Environment in January 1971. In the following year it was amalgamated with the Building Research Station and the Fire Research Station to form the Building Research Establishment, but retained its separate identity as the Princes Risborough Laboratory. In 1989 the laboratory moved to the main Building Research Establishment premises in Garston, near Watford, and thereafter it ceased to have any separate identity