When working with any type of material it is imperative to understand its qualities and characteristics as they will have implications for such things as tool choice and cutting speed, especially for wood. There are so many different varieties of wood that exist in the woodworking industry, each having unique qualities that set it apart from the rest. Each type has a different colouring and patterning as well which are important considerations in regards to what you envision for your final product. The following will explore some of the common woods used in the woodworking and furniture industry and their respective characteristics.
Softwoods in most cases come from coniferous trees. Coniferous leaves are “needle-like” rather than the broad-leafed deciduous trees. These needles are designed to retain moisture all year round and thus coniferous trees do not shed their foliage in the winter.
- Cedar: red/brown coloured wood, many knots, aromatic
- Cypress: has many knots, not particularly strong, good decay resistance
- Fir: even, consistent patterning, easy to work with
- Pine: pale in colour, resistant to shrinking, light in weight
- Yew: harder softwood, straight grain, medium strength, low stiffness, good decay resistance
- Spruce: harder softwood, not resistant to decay, light in weight
- Redwood: more resistant to decay from sunlight
Hardwoods typically come from what is known as a deciduous tree. This means that the tree has broad leaves which fall for the harsh winter months.
- Ash: heavy, lots of rings, light in colour
- Beech: strong wood, stiff, shock resistant, has small pores, light in colour
- Birch: light in colour, has a wavy grain, stiff,
- Cherry: strong, light red/brown wood, resists warping, good for carving
- Elm: Light brown colour, low decay resistance, tough
- Maple: one of the hardest woods, resistant to shock, has even pores and grain
- Mahogony: strong, reddish-brown in colour, even pores, indistinct rings, good for carving
- Oak: light in colour, heavy in weight, strong, prominent ring grain
- Walnut: brown in colour, strong, durable, straight grain in the trunk, wavier grain closer to the roots