Types of Wood You Need To Know AboutAndrew Brandon
Wood is an essential part of any construction, and has been since timber frame houses and structures were first invented, all the way up to any modern DIY creation. This amazingly versatile product can be broken down in to different types and variations, all carrying unique properties.
With this in mind, it can be difficult to select the appropriate type of wood to achieve the finish, strength and overall effectiveness you want for your project. With this guide from the experts at Builders Marketplace, covering the types of wood, their characteristics and their purposes, choosing the perfect type of wood for your project will be easier than ever.
What divides Hardwood from Softwood is the cellular arrangement of the wood itself, making the difference less about hardness and more about density of the structure of the wood. Other factors that divide the two include flexibility, resistance and workability with tools and whether a wood is best suited to gluing or screwing and nailing.
On the other hand, Hardwoods are sourced from any trees which do not have needles or produce cones. These trees are most typically referred to as deciduous trees. It is true that some Hardwoods are extremely hard, which then comes with a degree of difficulty to work with, but again, this is not where the difference and benefit of one over the other lies. Hardwoods are better known for being more beneficial over Softwoods because of the many varieties of Hardwood that have very aesthetically pleasing wood grain patterns.
The third kind of wood you will encounter are Engineered Woods. Engineered Wood, as the name suggests, does not occur naturally within the environment but instead is manufactured.
These boards are generally made with wood that is manipulated to possess certain qualities or features and are often made of off cuts of wood, bonded together with either plastic or resin. Engineered wood often uses a chemical or a heat-treated manufacturing process to provide a wood product that can meet certain qualities that would be hard to obtain from nature. Due to the hot-pressing process that these boards go through, Engineered Wood offers more variety in terms of thickness over standard sawn timber.
Despite being a hardwood, Ash is fairly easy to work with. It is a light brown almost white wood with a straight grain. Ash mimics the identical strength and characteristics of Oak but typically comes at a more budget-friendly price if you can find it locally. This wood is best used in colder climates as it can shrink and lose some durability when exposed to warm or harsh conditions. The wood takes stain easily and can be used for several different types of projects.
Its strong composition and suppleness make Ash ideal projects such as staircases, but can be used for other lesser known purposes, such as baseball bats and hockey sticks and is second only to Hickory in the production of tool handles. Ash is readily available in veneer format for even more extensive uses and like Beech, is easy to steam-bend.
Strong, durable, and highly resistant to abrasion, Beech is a commonly utilized Hardwood in the production of furniture framing, flooring and within the construction of chalets, houses, and log cabins. It is a pale pinkish-brown colour and may look attractive in products with an even grain pattern which is typically straight and tight. Beech is best known for its ability to easily steam-bend.
This benefit however can mean that it will sometimes move or suffer from contraction and bulging when exposed to high humidity within the environment. Just like the Ash variety of Hardwood, Beech has unique purposes and uses, such as making piano pin blocks and is often used by woodturners to create delicate stems in objects such as goblets. These projects can be made even easier to achieve as Beech is widely available in a wide range of sizes and in a veneer.
As a readily available Hardwood, Birch is a cost-effective and convenient solution, as well as being extremely strong and one of the most versatile woods on the market. Many look to Birch as a cheaper alternative to other more premium hardwoods such as Oak, as they are able to keep similar properties at a lesser price.
Birch finishes easily thanks to its closed pored construction, but it must be noted that Birch does not take to stain very well, as this process can result in a patchy and uneven finish, this is why it is recommended for projects that require painting, which Birch takes to extremely well.
The tight, straight grain of Birch makes it perfect for furniture panel manufacture because it is less prone to distorting and resists shrinkage compared to woods with more open grains. Birch is also one of the more sustainable options, due to its quick growing nature and current abundance, this variety of Hardwood has minimal impact on biodiversity levels when it is felled.
Mahogany is prized for its beauty and aesthetic quality, coupled with its extreme durability. It has a straight, even grain, and is fairly free from small cavities. It is renowned across the globe as one of the best materials for making fine-quality furniture. Mahogany is easy to work with and takes stain beautifully – often only needing a straightforward coat of oil. Out of all of the Hardwoods, Mahogany is on the softer side, which makes it easier on your tools.
Mahogany wood is often imported, and for this reason, it can be more expensive and difficult to obtain. However, Mahogany has characteristics that give a luxury finish that cannot be as easily replicated, making it a worthwhile investment for the perfect balance between long-lasting and fine-quality furniture. This wood is known for being able to yield an extremely wide board that may be difficult to obtain in other forms of hardwood due to the large size of the trees.
While Mahogany can be a responsibly and sustainably sourced, there are some techniques used to harvest the wood that can be problematic and cause colossal deforestation, so it is important to do some research in to suppliers to check how they are sourcing their Mahogany.
One of the most popular choices for Hardwood, Oak often reveals a wonderful grain to the eye and can offer a reddish tint to your project with the help of Red Oak over the White Oak variety.
Red Oak is a hard and heavy wood with high shock resistance, making it the perfect indoor flooring material. Other uses for Red Oak include the manufacturing of pallets and crates, ideal for the overseas transportation industry.
White Oak is a solid choice as a flooring material for the same reason, but is the preferred choice for exterior projects because of its additional immunity to insect and fungal damage thanks to its high tannin content, provided it is treated and sealed properly.
Another beneficial feature of White Oak it’s resistance to moisture, making it common place in the boating industry. A purpose that is explicit to White Oak is its use in barrels, particularly those that store alcohol that requires an aging process such as wine and whiskey, with the added plus of adding flavour to them over time.
Cedar, along with White Oak, is a perfect choice for outdoor building projects. This wood is considered to be rot resistant and is able to withstand extreme weather, therefore making it ideal for projects such as fencing and decking. Cedar is quite soft and features a straight grain. Many of us are accustomed to Cedar not only for its interesting wood grain and colour but for its aromatic smell which is believed to repel pests and moths as well.
While many of us adore Cedar for these aromatic properties, it is important to remember that some people could be sensitive to naturally occurring oils. With this in mind, Cedar should not be used for any project associated with food or prolonged contact with skin.
This wood has multiple varieties, mainly differing in colour, appearance and country of origin. The most popular types include Western Red Cedar, Yellow Cedar and Spanish Cedar. Western Red Cedar in particular has a unique ability to remove greenhouse gases, making it an even more ideal choice for the environmentally conscious out there.
Pine is a common and versatile Softwood which has many practical applications. Pine typically is deemed to be economical, sustainable, and sturdy, which makes it a preferred choice for various projects, such as panelling and window frames.
Most Pine trees grow very tall and quickly and they are often grown in sustainable forestry conditions, as well as being known as a renewable resource. This makes Pine an extremely eco-friendly option. However, Pine does come with its drawbacks, including excessive knots that can cause structural issues and can require more maintenance and can show signs of damage more clearly than other varieties of wood.
With Pine, you can decide whether to stain it, paint it, or just finish it with a transparent coat of protectant sealant. Pine behaves well for staining in different shades and colours as long as you properly prepare the wood beforehand.
Most Pine is best suited to indoor use only unless it has been specifically treated to be utilized in outdoor applications.
Teak is a high-quality exotic hardwood native to the rainforests of Asia and is known to have a higher oil content than most woods. The density is far higher in Teak which gives it greater resistance to rot and decay, but the wood is malleable and can be worked easily. Teak is very durable and stands the test of time.
Just like Cedar, Teak is known for a distinct scent that some describe as earthy and the same sensitivity and allergy precautions should be taken due to this.
Teak is usually used outside in products like garden furniture and boat decks, but can be used for cutting boards, flooring, and work surfaces. Over time Teak can weather to a silvery-grey finish, particularly when subjected to direct sun. Teak, along with Mahogany and Zebrawood, comes with a more premium price tag and added time searching for it, due to the extremely lengthy growing cycle sometimes taking up to 60 years, resulting in an almost constantly low yield.
Plywood is a strong thin board made from three or more layers of wood, bonded together with resin to create durable sheets of ply, making it a type of engineered wood. Plywood is a hard-wearing and long-lasting alternative to normal wood and is usually found being used in partitioning, insulation, and furniture.
Plywood is a manufactured wood, therefore possesses properties that cannot be found with the use of traditional timber, such as its load bearing properties and high aesthetic standard. Plywood is available in a massive range of sizes and thickness, so you will be able to find a Plywood sheet to fit your needs.
Due to the capability to manufacture Plywood consistently and on demand, there are differing kinds of Plywood based on the desired properties of the builder. Marine Plywood for example can withstand excessive amounts of moisture and humidity for long periods of time, therefore making it ideal for boating construction. Due to its purpose made manufactured structure, it can be adapted to any shape and be easily modified to take on any piece of construction.
Medium-Density Fibreboard (MDF)
Medium-Density Fibreboard is one among the most effective substitutes for plywood and other sorts of wood. MDF is made of wood fibres, generated from the off cuts of timber production and mixed with wax or resin, it is then heat pressed to a number of desired thicknesses. MDF is highly versatile due to the fact the pressing process eliminates any grains and knots, providing a smooth facing finish, ready to customise in a number of ways, including the ability to be custom cut to almost any size you could need.
Just like Plywood, MDF is a manufactured wood, so can be adapted to possess other desirable qualities alongside those that the come with Standard MDF Boards. These varieties include the added benefits of moisture resistance, fire retardance and the Standard MDF can be coated in melamine to provide a cohesive finish to kitchen and bathroom units.
Ebony is a very unique, therefore very rare type of wood. Easily identifiable by the fact that it is one of the very few woods that are naturally black in colour, this extremely dense hardwood is desirable for specialised woodworking and construction projects. In a historic context, Ebony was mainly used in the production of musical instruments, including the black keys on pianos and fretboards of guitars.
An important thing to note about ebony wood is that the rate of harvesting and the harvesting process itself is extremely restricted and limited. This is due to the fact that the tree itself is extremely slow growing, resulting in a low yield, and that Cameroon is the only country in which the wood can be harvested, and even then, the harvesting conditions are considered not ideal.
Ebony is best suited for carving work as it provides a beautiful finish and is able to hold even the most intricate of detail. It must be noted that Ebony is more suited to a less complex finishing process, consisting of fine sanding and buffing then finished with a coat of wax.
This popular and high-grade wood is an ideal choice for particularly structural work. Douglas Fir is best suited to this kind of work because of its incredible strength to weight ratio and resistance. As well as being naturally resistant to decay, this wood can maintain its integrity in even the harshest of conditions.
With this in mind, Douglas Fir is an excellent choice for constructing residential, small commercial buildings and even bridges in areas prone to high winds all the way to natural disaster levels of conditions such as earthquakes.
A lot of those in construction prefer to use Douglas Fir for the fact that the trees themselves are extremely tall, providing extremely long boards of timber.
Apart from providing structure, this wood can be used for aesthetic and decorative purposes, including flooring, furniture and cabinetry. This wood can even be used in the manufacturing of saunas because of the woods ability to retain its smooth texture and stability even when exposed to constant heat and moisture.
Zebrawood is truly like no other, this exotic wood gets its name from the striping pattern that naturally occurs in the grain. The unique pattern of the wood makes it highly desirable in the premium furniture trade due to the bespoke finish it can create. Zebrawood is usually associated with projects more on the luxurious side, including skis and boat construction.
In terms of the practical aspects of the wood, it is known for being extremely heavy and extremely hard, this combined with its density makes it ideal for any project that requires resistance to shock and vibration, such as auto manufacturing.
As times have progressed, Zebrawood is more commonly used as a veneer for decorative flourishes on different furniture pieces. The only downside of Zebrawood is that it isn’t the most environmentally friendly, but most other hardwoods we have specified would make a perfectly acceptable alternative.
Boasting a very light colour and just as tight of a grain, Basswood is a favourite among woodcarvers and in particular those that participate in miniature woodworking. The main advantage of Basswood compared to other hardwoods like Teak and Cedar is that it has no odour, no taste and no known allergens.
This lack of allergens opens up many more possibilities when it comes to the uses of Basswood. These optimal uses include the production of food storage crates and even kitchen utensils, as no odour or taste will contaminate any food stored in or prepared on Basswood.
In terms of finish, Basswood is one of the easiest to maintain a clean, perfect finish. A clear coat of oil for an extra layer of protection is all you need. Just like Beech, Basswood is available in several formats, including veneer and plywood sheets. Basswood is extremely favoured and enjoyed among decorative painters as once the wood is primed, the finish is extremely even.
What makes Alder wood different from most other woods we have specified, is the fact that it is classed as a medium density wood, making it a standout choice for those that feel hardwood and softwood are not the right choice for their project. Alder wood is extremely versatile, workable and provides a naturally attractive finish.
This wood appears white when first harvested, but over time and it has been exposed to air and sunlight, the wood develops the classic honey brown colour that can only be achieved in some woods with a staining and treatment process. This in some cases makes the tone of Alder just as or even more desirable than the more expensive and luxury woods such as Mahogany.
This is a straight grain wood and is favoured in the furniture and craft trade, particularly in the making of photo frames and body work of particularly electric guitars. The possible downside of this wood is that because the Alder tree does not grow to be very large in either diameter or height, larger and more solid pieces of wood could be more difficult to obtain, and even if it is possible, it may come at a cost.
Balsa wood is somewhat of a controversial topic in the woodworking world. Most industry woodworkers find it the amateur’s choice, but Balsa has its own inimitable purposes in other industries. Balsa, while not the sturdiest of woods, is one of the very few that float, making it extremely useful in some of the direst of situations, even emergencies. Balsa can be used to make rafts, life preservers and any other equipment that needs to be able to float.
As well as this, its lack of durability can be put to good use in the film and theatre industry, as a wood that will quickly come apart and is easy to paint will be needed for sets and set changes.
These qualities play in to the colourful history of the Balsa wood, often used as a substitute in airplanes and ships in both World War I and World War II.
Despite technically being classed as a hardwood, this wood can be easily cut and manipulated to create the shape you need for your project just like a softwood, even a good quality craft knife will be enough to achieve this. Balsa trees are often in abundance and tend to grow extremely quickly, producing a large harvesting yield in a very short space of time.
All of these types of wood possess unique and useful properties for an expansive range of projects, some more tailored to specifics, others can be multipurpose therefore giving you more choice and options for your project depending on what you need from your wood.
This guide should give you a helping hand in learning more about the different types of wood and the characteristics they have to make sure you choose the wood that is perfect for your next project. At Builders Marketplace, we stock a variety of woods that serve any purpose you could need to complete your projects.