Hardwood: Types and Uses

Hardwoods and their uses

Weights refer to kilograms per cubic metre (35.31 cu. ft) of air-dried timber (1 kg =2.2 lb.).


Grown Congo; weight 630-780 kg; colour mid-brown, striped.

A hard, close-grained timber, available in veneer and solid form, and commonly used in expensive furniture. It is suitable for inside or outside work, and is sometimes used as a substitute for teak.

The timber has an oily texture and the fresh wood darkens rapidly when exposed to light.

Afrormosia is often cross-grained and rather difficult to plane smooth.

Ash (European)

Grown Europe and U.K.: 725-750 kg; white/cream, brown heart.

A long-grained wood which bends easily. It is commonly used for tool handles and shafts because of its resistance to sudden shock.

When dry, ash works easily and is suitable for use both indoors and outdoors. Boards freshly cut from the log often look pink. If you use ash for furniture making, avoid the brown heart of the wood and any timber with brown streaking.

Veneer is available.

Ash (Japanese)

Grown Japan; 535-570 kg; white/ cream.

This timber, easier to work and softer and lighter than European ash.

Is highly suited to furniture making.

Do not use it for external work. As with European ash, avoid timber with brown streaking.

Plywood and veneer are readily available.

purchasing timber


Beech (European)

Grown Europe and U.K.; 660-670 kg; white/light brown.

This is one of the best timbers for chair making, and is very popular for toy making. It is excellent for turning. And good for tools and tool handles — most wooden planes and mallets are made from beech.

It is not suitable for outdoor work unless, as with deck chairs, it can be put under cover in bad weather.

The timber works well, provided that tools are sharp. It has a close. Even grain (except at knots) which finishes well from the plane. It does not splinter, though it may split at the heart, with the split curling into a shape like the bottom of a clothes peg. Dry thoroughly before use.

Cherry (European, wild)

Grown Europe and U.K.; 520-700 kg; golden brown.

This timber is seldom used commercially because it is available only in small quantities. Veneer is available.

Sometimes it has a lot of sapwood which should not be used. The colour varies from a pale yellow near the sap to a much browner centre. Greenish streaks are common but not decorative.

When used for furniture making, and given a simple oiled finish, cherry looks warm and reflects the quality of the craftsmanship rather than dominating the piece, as some timbers do.

Cherry works well, and the end grain can be finished very cleanly.

Chestnut (sweet)

Grown Europe and U.K.: 440-470 kg; cream/light brown.

Chestnut resembles oak very closely in appearance. It is easy to work, and looks well when made up into furniture. Commercially. It is often used for office furniture. Chestnut is a good, reasonably durable construction timber, is fairly cheap, and is easy to obtain in a variety of sizes.

The horse chestnut has little commercial value.

wood defects - points to watch when buying wood



Grown U.K., Japan, N. America; 520-570 kg; light brown.

The most readily available elms are the home-grown English and Wych and the Japanese variety. Home-grown elms are tough and have a high resistance to splitting, as a result of their often wild and cross-grain Veneer, faced block- board and chipboard are available.

Elm is used for coffins, garden and indoor furniture, wheelbarrows, window-boxes and carts. The wood becomes increasingly difficult to work and keep straight as it dries out. Wych elm tends to be the more reliable and is often available with a fairly even grain

The Japanese elm is a much more evenly textured timber than the home-grown varieties but is less durable and inclined to warp.


Grown U.K. And Europe; 550-600 kg; straw.

Lime is too soft to be suitable as a structural timber or for outside use, but it is an excellent timber for carving. The close, even graining allows exceptionally fine detail, and the wood cuts cleanly in almost any direction. It seasons rapidly and is readily available.

Lime turns well and makes good salad bowls or butter dishes. When scrubbed and dried, the timber becomes white and remains smooth.


Grown sub-tropics of America and Africa; 470-630 kg; pink/reddish brown.

African mahoganies are generally more open and cross-grained than those from America, but they are cheaper and often stronger. Boards 460 mm wide and 5 m. in length are not exceptional in size.

Gaboon, Sapele and Utile are three common varieties which are readily available — Gaboon in plywood, Sapele and Utile in the solid. Some African mahogany veneers are commonly used as backing veneers, because of their low cost.

American mahoganies are a different family and are generally easier to work and more uniform in texture than the African ones. Honduras, noted for its reliability and high finish, has been used in furniture construction and pattern making throughout this century.

Mahoganies are for indoor use only. Diagonal planing on cross-grained areas often helps to get a clean finish.

Oak (English)

Grown U.K.; 780-860 kg; beige/ brown.

English oak is stronger and more durable than any other oak and is widely used for making furniture, doors, frames, sills, beams, fencing posts and feather-boarding.

Timber from the mature, inner part of an oak is harder than the wood at the sap line. Oak with a long, straight grain, from trees which have grown relatively quickly, is the most suitable for furniture. Harder, short-grained timber, from stocky oaks which have grown slowly at the edges of fields, is more suitable for outdoor use. Little of the tree is wasted.

The character of oak seems to demand that it be used in reasonably large pieces; it is certainly not suitable for fine delicate work.

When ‘quartered’, it has a noticeable figuring which shows as a large silver fleck effect over the face.

Oak used indoors should be dry. Freshly finished oak is a pale beige colour which turns quickly to a light brown, then deepens slowly to a rich and often dark brown.

Oak used outdoors for jobs like fencing is often ‘green’ and will nail easily. It undergoes surface cracking (’checking’) and bleaches to a silver grey. Rainwater dripping from oak usually stains whatever is beneath it. Steel fittings stain oak permanently — use brass or iron fittings to avoid this.

Oak (imported)

Grown U.S.A., Japan, Europe; 700780 kg; beige/light brown.

Oak has to be imported because the demand exceeds the homegrown supply. American and European oaks are nearer to our own than is the Japanese oak, which is the lightest, often the weakest, and the least durable. It is quite easy to work, however; try to select the heavier pieces. For weight is a reliable guide to the strength. Avoid using Japanese oak outside.

Most imported oak has a slightly less flowery grain than English.


Grown Congo: 315-380 kg; straw.

A lightweight timber, sometimes found as a thick veneer in plywood and often used for framing and drawers in the construction of ‘whitewood’ furniture.

It is soft and easy to work, except for the odd board which may have a stripey, alternating grain similar to some mahoganies.

The dry, open grain takes up stain like blotting paper, darkening rapidly. When obeche has to be painted, always use plenty of filler to prevent the grain showing through.

‘Dead’ worm holes are common in new obeche; these holes are made while the tree is alive, and the worm dies when the supply of fresh sap is stopped.


Grown Malaysia; 630-660 kg; straw.

A hard and close-textured timber which is even-grained timber and almost knot-free.

It is used extensively for picture-frame mouldings, is available in small rectangular planed sections. But hard to get in large sawn sizes.

The timber planes and cuts well and takes a fine finish with abrasive paper. When polished, it turns pale yellow unless previously stained.

Ramin is inclined to split when pinned or nailed unless pilot holes are drilled.


Grown Brazil, British Honduras, East Indies; 860-1020 kg; dark purple/brown.

This wood, not related in any way to roses, is one of the most expensive timbers.

Usually it is sold in veneer form, but solid rosewood can be bought in fairly large boards of 25, 38 and 50 mm thicknesses from specialist merchants.

Rosewood is close in texture and demands sharp tools. For finishing face grain, use a plane and cabinet scraper rather than abrasive paper, which clogs the grain with dust and dulls the surface.

A final burnishing with leather produces a satin smooth finish to show the full beauty of the wood. Heavy coatings of polish are best avoided.

Rosewood turns well. The end grain finishes well but is hard to prepare.

This wood has a tendency to split and must be drilled to receive screws and pins. Smooth off sharp edges and corners — they could be dangerous.


Grown India and Burma; 700-780 kg: reddish brown.

Like cedar, teak contains natural oils which make it highly resistant to decay. Because of these oils, special precautions are needed before gluing

Teak works well, as long as the tools are sharp. It is tough and fire-resistant with a long, even grain which sometimes has an attractive black veining.

Because of its resistance to damp and rot, teak is used for ship decks, garden furniture, laboratory benches, draining-boards, duck-boards and so on. It is also used for domestic furniture; and teak wood block flooring is sometimes laid in houses.

The timber is expensive, but veneer and veneered panels are available.


Grown Europe, Africa, U.S.A., Japan, Australia, etc; 470-780 kg; mid-brown.

African: the least distinctive of the walnuts and the lowest in weight and strength. This wood is rather difficult to finish, resembling mahogany in texture.

French (European): available in boards or veneers, with a good length and straight grain having a pinkish stripe. It weighs 630-780 kg, is fairly easy to work, and polishes well.

Queensland: an Australian walnut which is fairly readily available. The wood, weighing about 700 kg, is quite soft, with a close and even texture. It is veined slightly with a dark brown stripe.

English: the most attractive of all the walnuts, but it is almost unobtainable. The little which is felled is usually converted into veneers rather than sold as solid timber. The timber has an almost black veining,weighs up to 780 kg, is close in texture, and has a fine appearance. Many pieces of antique furniture were made from English walnut; it requires considerable care to last that long.

The sapwood of all walnuts shows as a light-coloured strip at either side of a full-width board. It should be removed as it attracts woodworm and has no strength Knot-free boards of considerable length are available in the African, French and Queensland varieties

26. June 2011 by admin
Categories: Timber, Woodworking | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Hardwood: Types and Uses


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