Don Roberts Don's Fine Woodworking
Custom Furniture, Doors, and Refinishing
Crossville, Tennessee

Wood Species

Some of the most popular Wood Species

   There are basically two categories of wood: Hardwood: the wood of broad-leaved 'dicotyledonous' trees (as distinguished from the wood of conifers) Softwood: the wood of a coniferous tree. Note however, that some of the Softwood species are actually "harder" than some Hardwoods.
 
  Alder: a light reddish brown in color with a very fine or even texture. It is relatively light in weight in comparison to most hardwoods. The grain pattern is very similar to Cherry and Soft Maple. Popular for kitchen cabinet construction due to the upper grade’s resemblance to the more expensive Cherry and the lower grade’s ability to offer that “rustic” appearance. Alder is also used in many millwork applications including the construction of stile & rail doors.
     
  Ash: typically “white” in color and medium in texture. This lumber is known for its stability and is less prone to the twist and cup that is prevalent in may other hardwood species. The wild open grain can provide a very attractive and unique appearance when finished. Natural or Brown Ash is also available. It is sometimes referred to as Cabinet Ash whose grain is very similar to that of all Ash lumber, but the color is definitely a light brown to tan. Very popular in the South for cabinetry and moulding, it is also utilized quite extensively in the furniture industry and in the construction of guitars as body stock.
     
  Basswood: botanically a hardwood; however, it is very light in weight and roughly half the density of Oak. It is known for its workability and is often used in place of, or in conjunction with, Hard & Soft Maple and Birch due to its creamy white appearance. Basswood is very desirable among carvers and turners. It is used extensively in the production of moulding and in the construction of cabinetry. It is also a very popular choice in the interior shutter industry for both paint and stain grade applications.
     
  Beech: sawn and distributed domestically as well as being imported and distributed as what is known as “European Steamed Beech”. Domestic Beech is relatively dense with a light grain pattern and is creamy white to blonde in color and is a suitable substitute for Maple and Birch. “European Steamed Beech” is a little more blonde to reddish in color. Widely utilized in the cabinet and furniture industries, it is also a nice choice in the manufacture of molding, due to its machining abilities.
     
  Birch: a relatively dense wood with a closed, tight grain. It makes for a very stable and strong material however, difficulty in machining sometimes becomes an issue. The majority of Birch is light tan to light yellowish brown in color and is commonly known as “Yellow Birch”. Birch trees are not large in size, therefore long lengths and wide widths are not readily available. Predominately utilized in the manufacture of veneers for the plywood industry, but also used in the manufacture of furniture and cabinetry.
     
  Cedar, Aromatic Red: typically knotty and red in color with the sapwood being pale tan to white. Aromatic Cedar lumber averages 5 inches in width and 8 feet length. It produces and odor that is extremely offensive to moths, but very pleasing to humans. Almost exclusively used in the construction of cedar chests and the lining of closets.
     
  Cedar Red: has a richly textured grain with colors ranging from mellow ambers, reddish cinnamons and rich sienna browns. Its warm coloring is complimented by a uniform, fine-grained texture with a satin luster. It is dimensionally very stable and contains natural preservatives that resist moisture, decay and insect damage. Because it is virtually pitch and resin free, the wood easily accepts a range of finishes, from fine oils and stains, to solid coatings and paint. Extensively used for siding, decking, molding, windows, doors, posts, beams, paneling, and all outdoor projects.
     
  Cherry: the finest Cherry is grown and sawn in the Northeastern portion of the United States. Cherry is very easy to machine and finishes very nicely. It has a tight, slightly swirling but unassuming grain. The more desirable heartwood is reddish brown in color while the sapwood has a light yellow shade. Cherry has long been a leading choice among the cabinet and furniture industries. It is also a popular choice among designers for wall paneling, flooring, and retail fixtures.
     
  Cypress, Yellow: light tan in color and sometimes carries an orange cast. It machines and finishes very well. Often used outdoors as well as indoors. It is typically used in the manufacturing of paneling, furniture, and fencing.
     
  Douglas Fir: is among the strongest and hardest softwood species. Fir is unique among all softwood species in that it is naturally dimensionally stable, having the ability to season well in position. It has a light rosy color that is set off by its remarkably straight and handsome grain pattern. The color will darken or “redden” over time when exposed to light. Gives an exceptionally smooth, glossy surface. Utilized extensively in the millwork industry with the manufacture of doors, windows, and moulding. It is also a choice among designers for cabinets and furniture. Douglas Fir is a top choice for structural and decorative beams.
     
  Hickory: considered to be one of the most dense of all commonly utilized hardwoods. Hickory is known for its relatively closed grain and reddish brown to light tan color. Note that there is usually no distinction made between Hickory and Pecan when they are being cut and graded. They are considered interchangeable. Both are used quite extensively in the manufacturing of flooring and have grown in popularity as a choice in cabinetry and furniture.
     
  Maple, Hard:  is very dense and is generally pale tan in color. Hard Maple is typically sorted at the saw mills and sold in 3 distinct categories. #1 & #2 white is sorted and sold for a premium due to its uniform white appearance. Unselected will have a mixture of the darker heartwood and the whiter sapwood within the same board. Has a wide variety of common uses, among them are flooring, cutting surfaces, fixtures, and furniture. The floors of basketball courts and bowling alleys are typically constructed from Hard Maple flooring.
     
  Maple, Soft: possesses many of the same general characteristics as Hard Maple however, it is not nearly as dense or strong. Soft Maple is medium in density with a fine texture and close grain and has excellent machining and finishing properties. The heartwood varies from pale to reddish gray and the sapwood is white to off white. Predominately used in the construction of cabinetry and in the manufacture of a wide variety of molding profiles and in the furniture and fixture industries.
     
  Oak, Red: is one of the better known and most widely used species of wood in the US. It is very hard and machines, stains, and finishes quite well. The open grain of Red Oak often does not require filling as part of the finishing process. Red Oak varies in color from light pink to light red. Has a wide variety of applications and has been a top choice in the cabinet and furniture industries for years and is also used extensively for flooring and moulding as well. It is also a very popular choice in the construction of interior doors.
     
  Oak, White: is the more desirable choice in the Oak family. It is more dense than Red Oak and possesses a more even texture. Therefore, White Oak is easier to work and finish in comparison to Red Oak. Due to the abundance of 'tyloses' in the pores of White Oak, it can be used in exterior applications. White Oak can be very light gray to very light tan in color. It is a favorite choice for architectural millwork but is also used extensively in the furniture and flooring industry, and because of its durability when exposed to the elements is an excellent choice for exterior doors and furniture.
     
  Pine, Eastern White: is very soft in texture, light weight, and light in color. It is pale yellow to a light cream in color. It machines and glues very well. D Select contains a minimal amount of small knots. Furniture Grade contains a great deal of large but tight knots and is the grade of choice where “knotty pine” is requested. Used for cabinetry and millwork, it is also utilized by woodworks as pattern lumber.
     
  Poplar, Yellow: probably considered the most valued of all the hardwood species because of the abundance of supply and versatility. It is reasonably stable and machines and glues quite well. Poplar has a light to dark green heartwood with a creamy sapwood. It is used extensively as a both a paint and stain grade molding and cabinet door manufacturers utilize Poplar in many paint grade applications.
     
  Walnut: a popular choice among woodworkers for many years. It machines and glues very well and is extremely stable. The majority of Walnut that is distributed has been steamed. This process blends the heartwood and sapwood in an effort to provide more uniformity in the color of the entire board. The heartwood is brown to black and the sapwood is basically white. Walnut is one of the few woods that actually lighten (instead of darken) with age. Used extensively in the manufacture of fine furniture and cabinetry. It is also a favorite choice for gun stocks.
     

A Few Imported Varieties

     
  African Mahogany: wood texture is smooth. The color ranges from yellowish to pinkish, salmon colored and deepens with age to deeper rich red or brown. It stains and finishes very well. Its stability and natural resistance to rot and decay make it an excellent choice for exterior doors. It is of course also used for fine furniture and cabinetmaking, interior trim, paneling, fancy veneers, musical instruments, boat building, pattern making, turnery, and carving.
     
  Sapele: native to tropical Africa (considered by some to be in the Mahogany family), this wood has possibly the largest variety of “figure” of all the hardwoods.  The color is  a little more reddish brown than Mahogany, with dark tones and purple-brown hues. It displays beautiful graining and a remarkable feature of sapele is that the grain is interlocked and changes direction in frequent, irregular intervals. Used for flooring, furniture, doors and musical instruments.
     
  Spanish Cedar (Cedrela): one of the seven species in the Mahogany family, usually found in South America. A lightweight wood with very good resistance to termites and other wood-boring insects, and also rot-resistant outdoors. The wood is often sold under the name "Spanish-cedar" (like many trade names, confusing as it is neither Spanish nor a cedar), and is the traditional wood used for making cigar boxes, as well as being used for general outdoor and construction work, paneling and veneer wood.
     
  Brazilian Oak (Amendoim): has a similar color to American Oak but shows much more pronounced graining. It is also much harder than oak and thus known for its excellent durability. Used extensively for flooring, counter tops and is my personal favorite for making very distinctive doors.