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Wood Species Explained

December 23, 2015

A Guide to Helping you Decide Which Wood is Best for your Home

We often get asked about the different kinds of wood used in our homes, most often in relation to floors.  We will be posting a separate article soon that will detail considerations when choosing your hardwood floor, but first we wanted to provide a little context about different wood species.

 

The first distinction when thinking about Timber is Hardwood versus Softwood.  Despite their names, a hardwood is not necessarily a harder material and a softwood is not necessarily a softer material.  The distinction is actually attributable to the way the plant reproduces.  Hardwoods come from angiosperm trees, which are usually broad-leaved such as oak, maple or walnut.  These trees produce seeds with some sort of covering like a fruit or a hard shell like an acorn.  Softwood comes from gymnosperm trees, which usually have needles and cones and let seeds fall to the ground as is.  If you looked under a microscope a hardwood has pores that are vessels that transport water throughout the wood.  Softwoods however have no visible pores; Medullary rays and tracheids transport water and produce sap.

 
Softwoods: Cedar, Fir, and Pine Oh My
  • Cedar is a relatively soft wood with a straight gran and slightly aromatic smell.  Cedar is often used for outdoor projects because it can handle a lot of moisture without rotting.

  • Fir has a straight pronounced grain with reddish brown tint.  It moderately strong and hard wood for a softwood.

  • Pine is comparatively light in weight and can be found easy to work with.  It generally takes stain well, although not all Pines are the same.

  • Redwood is similar to cedar as it used mostly for outdoor projects because of its resistance to moisture.

 
Hardwoods: Ash, Birch, and Cherry Woods
  • Ash is a straight grained, stiff, strong and hard, although it is getting harder to find.

  • Birch comes in two colors, yellow and white.  Birch is popular as it is less expensive than many other hardwoods.

  • Cherry is reddish and takes a lustrous finish.  It is a prized furniture wood and brings high prices.

  • Maple is a consistently popular wood for many applications.  It is heavy, strong and stiff and ranks high in its nail holding ability.

  • Oaks are typically grouped into red or white.  They are used extensively for furniture and flooring.  It is a hard material with good shock resistance.

  • Poplar has a reputation of being one of the easiest of all hardwoods to work with.

  • Walnut is hard, strong and stiff with good shock resistance.  Walnut finishes beautifully with a gorgeous grain pattern.

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