Woodwork: Types of Timber and What it is Used For

Timber remains the most widely used product in do-it-yourself activities; it is, perhaps, the most versatile of materials and can afford immense satisfaction in use.

It is important to choose the right wood for the right job. Basically, there are two types of timber-natural and man-made boards. Natural timbers are, basically, hardwoods and softwoods, consisting of very many types. There are many types of man-made timbers, the most common being chipboard, blockboard, hardboard and plywood. In choosing timber you must take into account whether the wood is to be used in the house or out of doors. For outdoor use, timber must withstand all kinds of weather and should be durable and rot-resistant. These include teak, oak, sweet chestnut and western red cedar.

Teak and oak, while expensive, are the best choice for uses such as garden furniture. Sweet chestnut, cheaper and lighter in weight, may not always be so easily obtainable. Western red cedar, however, is durable, lightweight, soft and fairly cheap.

Softwood, if partially protected and used for such purposes as, for example, the framework of a shed, can be used out of doors. Softwood is widely used for making kitchen furniture, such as sink and kitchen units. Deal (redwood) is widely used and should be free from knots; it is not easy to obtain free of knots in larger sizes.

Other major softwoods are western red cedar, douglas fir, hemlock and parana pine. These are normally knot-free in most sizes but more expensive than deal.

Hardwood, such as beech or ramin, are used where two surfaces are in moving contact, such as a drawer or a folding chair. Where timber is in contact with food, such as a breadboard, it needs to be hard and close-grained, so that particles of food cannot lodge. Sycamore and beech are suitable.

Types of Timber

Some of the best-known timbers, uses, properties and characteristics are as follows:


This is easy to work and nails, screws and glues well. Care is needed in staining, but it will varnish and polish.

Uses: high-class joinery, general utility work and furniture.

Douglas Fir

Light, reddish-brown in colour and reasonably easy to work. It requires care in nailing and screwing and produces good results in finishing, though the grain tends to lift; glues well.

Uses: all types of joinery and constructional work.

European Whitewood

A non-resinous wood which is white to pale-straw in colour. Nails, screws and glues well and finishes satisfactorily.

Uses: general joinery and carpentry.


This is a whitish to light board, easy to work, turns well and stains, polishes and glues.

Uses: general joinery, moulding and furniture.


Yellowish-brown in colour, variable to work but takes a good finish. Nails, screws, stains and polishes well. It needs careful selection and seasoning.

Uses: general joinery and furniture.


Moderately easy to work but requires care in nailing and screwing. Stains, polishes, varnishes and glues well. There is a liability to corrosion when in contact with metal in damp conditions.

Uses: high-class carpentry, joinery and furniture.

Parana pine

Creamy-brown in colour and easy to use. Care in selection is needed, since this has a liability to twist. This often has highly attractive graining. Finishes excellently; needs care in seasoning to avoid twisting. Uses: interior purposes, work tops and general carpentry.


This has a greasy feel but works moderately well. Nails and screws satisfactorily with care and varnishes and polishes well.

Uses: high-class work, including draining boards and garden furniture.

Western red cedar

This is easy to use and finishes satisfactorily, though grain tends to lift. Liable to corrode metals under damp conditions; a very light wood.

Uses: exterior joinery, weatherboards, shingles, and related work.

Red Meranti-Red Seraya

Pink to reddish-brown and generally easy to work. Nails, screws, glues, stains and polishes well.

Uses: joinery and construction work.

Western Hemlock

A non-resinous, pale brown softwood. Moderately easy to saw, with fair nailing, screwing and finishing properties.

Uses: all types of general joinery.

Timber Terminology

Timber may be bought sawn, planed all round (PAR), or planed both sides (PBS). Planning of timber entails a loss of about 3.5mm, so a 25mm piece of planed wood ends up at only 22mm. Similarly, a board measuring 152mm ends up at only 146mm. Unedged boards (UE) retain the shape of the tree at the edges; sawn-edged boards (SE) have unplaned edges.

When buying timber use, where possible, standard sizes; these are cheaper. Allow a little extra on lengths, in particular, for cutting and for dirty or gritty ends. A good rule is to add an extra 13mm for every 610mm. Always reject material with large knots as this would be weak. Where there is a knot, there is often a bend or twist in the wood.

Timber with traces of bark at the edges, reducing the effective width, is called waney-edged. End splits or ‘shakes’ are another common fault and sometimes extend a long way up the board. The other main fault is that of cupped boards – a warped curve across the width.

10. November 2011 by admin
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