Types of Wood: What Kind of Wood Should You Build With?
One of the most confusing questions for new woodworkers is what kind of wood they can use for their construction project or woodworking project. Herein, we will give you a short description about woods and types of woods and also their uses on purpose of solving this problem for you. Wood is a resource that we can find easily in nature and different kind of wood provides different spaces. Some wood can load heavy weights, some are light-weighted and some can be used as insulating in cold weather. If you can detect what kind of wood is appropriate for your project, it will save both your money and time. Look attentively at our lists of the wood type in this article; we hope you can understand what kind of wood would be suitable for you.
Three Basic Types of Wood
For doing woodwork, it is very momentous to understand some elementary forms of wood as woods are collected from tress and so many species of trees provide manifold mode of woods. There are three types of woods mostly used in woodworking projects and this are- softwood, hardwoods and engineered wood. These conjugations of wood allow us to use them in different ways for different purposes.
Softwoods are kind of light and open-grained woods which are scientifically known as gymnosperm. Softwoods are collected from coniferous trees like cedars, cypresses, firs, pines, hemlocks, redwoods and so on. Coniferous trees are cone-bearing trees that have needle-like leaves and used as wood producing plants.
Advantages of Softwood
Softwoods have light colored softer surface but they are strong and light in weight and their softness makes them easy to work and airy weight anticipates them facile to transport. Splitting softwood into little pieces is easy and because of softwoods immensity, they are pretty much renewable. Moreover, softwood trees grow swiftly which is the main reason of their less expensiveness. Though hardwoods are more durable than softwoods but softwoods are much more adhesive and preservative than any other wood. Softwoods bacteria, fungal attacks, termite and moisture resistance is praiseworthy.
Disadvantages of Softwoods
Besides having advantages, softwoods have some disadvantages too. Lower density is one of the disadvantages of softwoods and lower density means softwoods have lesser endurance and attenuation. Softwoods are not suitable to use where they might be exposed and have come into contact with fire because of their poor fire resistance ability. We cannot use them for flooring or a place like high traffic areas.
Uses of Softwoods
Softwoods are mainly used for building applications like walls, ceilings, doors, windows, for structural framing, beams, poles, bench tops and cabinets. Softwoods are also used for making elegant furniture.
Some Example of Softwood
Cedar, pine, douglas fir, cypress, redwood are common softwoods.
Are Softwoods Softer than Hardwoods?
Some may think that softwoods are named in this way because of their softness but softwood or hardwood doesn’t imply softness or hardness of wood at all. Though some hardwoods are so hard that it is a great challenge to turn them into shape but some hardwoods are even softer than some softwood.
As example, we can mention Balsawood which is known as hardwood but timbers collected from Balsawood are very soft and like as some softwood is very hard even harder than some hardwood. For example, we can pick the name Douglas Fir which is classified as softwood but it is an extremely hard type of wood. So in short, the difference between softwood and hardwood depends on the botanic structure of wood.
Hardwoods are collected from a dicot or deciduous trees which mean they are flowering plants. Scientifically hardwoods are also known as angiosperm. Hardwood trees are totally different from softwood trees. Hardwoods are typically most of the time harder and lower sap in structure and generally hardwoods are dark colored wood.
Advantages of Hardwood
Hardwoods do not require high maintenance and so it is easy to clean them. Their strong, durable and long-lasting material is the reason why homeowners choose them as their wood flooring. The appearance of the hardwood is also amazing and luxurious as hardwoods color is most of the time rich golden brown. But they can vary from deep brown to chocolate brown. Hardwoods are slightly expensive comparing with softwoods but if we consider them in the long term use, they don’t consume too much cost.
Disadvantages of Hardwood
Some hardwoods are so hard that it is very much difficult and challenging to work with them and turn them into new shape. Hardwoods trees growth is very slow and it takes a long time when a hardwood tree become usable, that is the reason of hardwoods expensiveness. Moreover, after using some time, hardwood floors or things require refinishing which is also quite costly matter.
Uses of Hardwood
Hardwoods requirement is mainly for building floors because of their strength, durability and longevity and also used for paneling, fencing, and cladding, making boats, musical instruments and outdoor sculpting. Hardwoods uses have been seen frequently in making furniture and the excellence and perfection of the furniture made from hardwoods are illustrious.
Some Example of Hardwood
Maple, oak, mahogany, cherry, ash, walnut etc are the most common hardwood trees. Alder, balsa, beech, teak are also known as hardwood.
Engineered woods are not naturally ensued wood like hardwood or softwood but artificially made by men. This form of wood is manufactured from multiple layers of wood that are attached together with the help of heat, glue and pressure. Plywood, Medium Density Fiberboard, Oriented Strand Board etc are all the go example of engineered wood.
Cedar is softwood which is scientifically known as Cedrus Deodara, a cone-bearing tree that is best known for its lovely aroma, reddish tone and natural spicy scent. Cedar is the longest lasting wood. Though cedar trees are small but their branches are broad and have a thick cortex and if we consider rot and decay resistance, cedar wood will remain above than any other softwood. Western Red Cedar, Eastern Red Cedar, Northern Red Cedar, Yellow Cedar etc are the common varieties of Cedar Wood. Cedar woods are mainly used for closets and wall coverings as cedar wood and cedar oil work as natural moth repulsive. Cedar wood oil has great commercial value as it is used as soap perfumes, household sprays, insecticides and floor polishes. Warp and crack resistance make cedar wood perfect for musical instrument as well as interior paneling around the house.
Pine is a coniferous wood, originates possibly 200 years ago, can be yellowish or whitish with brown knots and its scientific name is Pinus. Medium weighted Pine woods are Northern Hemisphere’s native tree. Carving and bulging resistance features are the main reason behind its high value in carpentry but pine woods are less hard than cedar woods. Woods from pine trees are the cheapest woods for furniture and used for making furniture, window frames, floors, roofs, walls, panels etc.
American softwood cypress is also a light, yellowish brown coniferous wood which carried a natural chemical named cypressene. This chemical protects cypress wood from rotting, decaying and insect. Though cypress wood has slight sour smell but they are more durable than cedar wood. Cypress woods have great appeal in building and heavy construction like building bridges, boats, doors, stadium seats, posts, piers railroad ties and so on. According to the Southern Cypress Manufacturer’s “ASSN”, 100-200 million cypress board feet have been produced in sawmills annually.
Douglas fir Wood
Pseudotsuga menziesli or douglas fir is one of the most famous softwood from coniferous species mostly found in Pacific Northwest also known as fir has straight grain with moderate natural sheen and small to medium sized resin canals. Douglas fir’s woods are so strong and versatile that they are used as trim and joinery work like moldings, mantelpieces, baseboards, threshold, window cases, and stairway risers. Douglas firs strength and bent resistance make them suitable for using them as boat building materials. These woods are one of the best choices for furniture making and aircraft making because of their sturdiness.
California redwood is softwood also known as coastal redwood has soft and fibrous red-brown colored wood only found on the coast from central California through southern Oregon now-a-days. They have been living on earth for more than 240 million years but now they are one of the most endangered species hardly survived against the change of climate. However, redwood trees are huge in size and their wood has good grain and weather resistance which allow them to use for outdoor applications like wooden walls, garden borders, decks and railroad ties. They are also used as veneers, tables and cabinetry projects.
Oak shrubs are from Quercus genus and oak wood is not only strong, durable but also smooth and more perforated than maple wood. They have great resistant to insect and fungal attack. Oak woods are used as fence, posts, railroad ties, cabinets and most importantly used as floor making. Since the middle Ages, oak woods have been used as interior paneling of prestigious buildings like the House of Commons and still they have great appeal in such works. European and American oaks are used for making sherry, aging wines and spirits and Yamaha Drums are famous for making professional drums by using Japanese Oak wood. White oaks have been used by Deering Banjo Company for making several 5-string banjos and also the Vega series, the White Lotus and the limited edition 40th anniversary model. Oak woods are famous as fuel wood and timber in India’s hill area.
Technically maple woods are very beautiful, nicely stained hardwood which is scientifically known as Acer saccharum. Maple woods are harder and stronger but less expensive than oak wood. Sugar Maple and Red Maple are two basic variety of maple wood. Red Maples are softer and easy to deal with but Sugar or hard maples are so hard that their hardness make them best choice for hardwood flooring. Woods from maple trees are used for cabinets, kitchen accessories, sports equipments and so on. It is the hardest wood for furniture but maple wood furniture has lifetime quality guarantee.
Mahogany is an exotic hardwood which has straight, fine grain and they are very prominent for fine and luxurious furniture making. They also have demand for flooring veneer, doors, windows, boats and musical instruments. Many musical instrument manufacturers prefer mahogany wood for their piano and guitar construction. There are different species of mahogany. Swietenia mahogany from tropical America, the national tree of Dominican Republic, is a threatened species and Philippine mahogany mainly found in Indonesia, the Philippines, and Thailand. Among all hardwoods, mahogany is softer and so turning them into different shape is also easier. Mahogany wood is harder and stronger than oak wood and cherry wood but they are the most expensive wood among all hardwoods as they only grow in tropical environment so the shipping and importing cost increase the overall hardwood cost.
Beautiful wood cherry is one of the best known woods which are culled from American Black berry tree. The old or matured cherry wood has reddish-brown color with golden hue but they starts out as light pink color and over time the color changed into deep colors. Cherry woods are softer than mahogany wood and they are also lighter than oak wood. Like other hardwoods, cherry woods are used as furniture making, building floors, panels, moulds, kitchen cabinets, boat interiors, musical instruments. It is also used to make important kitchen accessories like kitchen bowls, wood spoons, cutting boards etc.
Hardwood ash is light-colored, smooth grained wood that grows in Europe, Asia and North America. In American furniture making, ash wood has outstretched history because of their attractiveness. They are durable, light weighted, stains well and shock-resistant that’s why they have been used as basketball bats, tool hands and as restaurant furniture. Now-a-days ash wood is common in cabinets, tools, weapons, sport equipments, flooring, furniture and many other purposes. Many species of ash wood are widespread across the world. Black ash wood is a good choice for weaving and green ash can grows in polluted areas and in salted land. White ash is the largest among other ash trees and blue ashes’ young shoots are square and their survival rate is higher in ash borer infested areas.
Alder is a soft, beautiful and even-textured wood which is considered as the softest wood among all hardwoods. Alder wood belongs to the birth family Betulaceae and grown well into Central America, northern and southern Andes. Straight-grained wood ash has smooth surface and can be easily painted. They are mostly used in furniture making, cabinetry, photo frames and other decorative objects. Alder wood produces clean and desirable tone which is far better than mahogany wood.
Aspen is a light-colored hardwood suitable for all kind of carpentry work and especially for beginner woodworkers as they are soft but strong and easy to work with and cut. They originate from Midwest and northeast United States. Aspen wood’s low flammable quality allows them to produce matchsticks and paper. They are used as drawer slides as they abate sticking. Aspen woods are ideal for making spoons, chopsticks, cutting boards and other kitchen vessels as they have no savor and flavor.
Balsa wood is a native to America comes from the mallow family and their open-grained lumbers are very soft and light. Because of their lightweight and low density, they have been used as the structures of model bridges tests, model building, and model aircraft. As an example, we can mention the name “The de Havilland DH.98 Mosquito” which is a wood-constructed combat aircraft introduced during the Second World War. Balsa woods are used in building items that are planned to float like rafts, life preservers, surfboards etc. These woods are used to build temporary projects like sets of theatre, film stages.
Beech wood is a reddish-brown hardwood which is widespread across the Central and Western Europe, Asia and North America. These woods are hard and sturdy and have high abrasion resistance and steam-bend ability. For these reason, beech woods are used for interior furniture like chairs, tables and other curved pieces. Cutting, leveling, drilling, milling etc. are easy with beech wood and beech is frequently found in pianos, toys, and household instruments. As they have no odor smell and taste, they are well suited for food container. Beech woods are specially used for the stocks of military rifles.
Birch wood is a hardwood that is native to Europe, Asia and northern part of North America. Birch trees are considered as pioneer species tree that symbolizes rebirth, new beginning and growth. Birch woods are used as firewood, tone wood and paper making material as well as birch timber has a great value for wood veneer and furniture making.
Ebony is one of the few black colored woods classified as hardwood has a long and blooming history of use. In modern ages, ebony wood has a rich value in musical instruments like black piano, violin, viola, mandolin, guitar, harpsichord keys, cello fingerboards etc. Black pieces of chess sets were made from ebony wood and white pieces are made from ivory.
Walnut woods are very popular exotic hardwood cut from the trees of the Juglans genus also known as “royal nut”. Two species of walnut is commonly found over the world and they are – English walnut and black walnut. Walnuts are fine grained wood that are easy to polish up and easy to work with too. They are used for flooring, carving, routing, musical instruments like guitars and violins and decorative furniture.
Walnut woods discerning fiber makes them able to thwart the shock and force and helps them to have a great significant role in high end luxury car manufacturing and in gun making. Extraneous wood walnut is one of the lavish hardwoods yet they have great demand in the wood market.
Plywood is an engineered wood made from plies of wood veneer and these plies are glued together. Plywood differs on the basis of thickness. The more the layers, the higher the quality of plywood is. Plywood can be compared to wood. Where woods can be used, there we can use plywood. Moreover, plywood has high impact and chemical resistance. Plywood’s rot and moisture resistance is more in comparison than MDF’s.
MDF: Medium Density Fiberboard
Medium density fiberboard is an engineered wood, also known as MDF, made from wood fiber, wax and resin. Maintaining MDF is easier than plywood. MDF is stronger, denser, more durable but less expensive than plywood and so they are more appropriate to use than plywood in some aspects. MDF’s have crack and warp resistance like other solid wood.
Customization is easy with MDF which allows you to make variety of styles and shape. MDF woods are larger and also cheaper than solid woods and so you can use MDF when you are going to do a project that demands large piece of wood. But MDF board can be damaged easily when they come into contact with heat or fire. So they are not fit for outdoor projects. MDF is a great option for knockdown furniture and small, decorative interior projects.
The book “The Leading Edge: The Originating History of MDF in New Zealand” by J. Piers Maclaren will provide you enough information about MDF wood.
It is not a hard thing to decide what kinds of wood you should build with if you have enough idea about different kinds of woods. If you can make your choice rightly, it will not only save your time and money but also your work will last long. Moreover, it will give you comfortable feeling while working with right type of wood whether it is hardwood, softwood or engineered wood. However, make sure your safety before doing woodworking projects. Have a good time and enjoy your work.
For more information, you can read the book “Identifying Wood” by R. Bruce Hoadley about wood.