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A Guide to the Most Common Hardwoods

Makers Central Team

Makers Central Team

September 2, 2019

Whether you want to use hardwood for a project or even find the right wood for buying furniture, researching and choosing the right hardwood can be a little overwhelming.

Deciding which to go for is a lot easier when you’re armed with the knowledge of the different types of wood and so with this guide, we hope to help make your decision easier.

Hardwood mostly comes from something called deciduous trees. The word deciduous means to “fall off”, meaning every autumn these trees shed their leaves.

They tend to grow much more slowly than others, which means the timber is dense and hard, which is why you’ll find it’s more commonly used in good quality furniture.

The shape of a hardwood tree is different from others due to its large branches which when grown, then re-branch from the trunk. This is how it gives the distinctive visual of an open grain and a more distinctive texture.

Due to the lengthy process and slower growth of these tree’s, it also means that the cost tends to be higher. One of the biggest differences between hardwood and softwood is the weight as hardwood is incredibly more dense and durable.  Due to their cell structure, it will also produce a distinctive looking grain and colour.

Check out some individual points on Oak, Cherry, Ash, beech, walnut and Maple below.

Oak

Oak

Oak is one of the strongest hardwoods and it certainly lives up to its name, which quite literally means Strength in Latin. Oak has a strong presents all over the globe which means it’s fairly easy to get your hands on. It one of the most popular due to its strength and incredibly warm colour which will often have a distinctive pattern.  It has an incredibly good resistance to decay which results in it being often used in boat building.

Maple

A maple tree is very distinctive and easily recognizable by its palmate leaves. The wood itself is one of the lightest in colour and is often used for kitchen items such as chopping boards due to its moisture resistance. If you’re looking for something subtle then Maple could be the best option for your project or furniture due to the lighter grain.

There is an exception when it comes to the typical maple grain and that’s Birds-eye maple. Birds eye is a rare phenomenon which gives the wood a distinct pattern resembling tiny swirling eyes, however, you’ll need to fork out a lot more money to get your hands on some. The average selling price of a bird’s-eye maple log is in the range of $20,000 to $30,000. To put this in perspective, a fully loaded truck with the highest quality logs would be worth in excess of $700,000.

Ash
Ash has a long straight grain which is why it can be closely compared to Oak. Its lighter in colour and density but also lighter on the wallet. As a result of its strength and durability, ash wood has an array of uses but is commonly used in the making of furniture and frames. It will often add brightness to a room and create a sense of open space. It has also been reported to Give off a distinct, moderate unpleasant smell when being worked with!

Walnut
Most people are familiar with walnut wood in its darkest state, which can be a deep chocolate or coffee color which will often create a wow factor. Walnut is still hard wearing but is lighter in weight. Walnut will lighten in colour over time Unlike cherry, maple, and oak which all darken in color as they age. The colour can be maintained by using oil which will be saturated by the grain. 

Cherry
Cherry wood is one of the more expensive hardwoods available. Although Walnut is more expensive as it’s rarer due to natural limitations (such as size), Cherry has a highly sought after aesthetics in the grain which make them more expensive than other hardwoods.Cherry is known as being one of the best woods for workability as It is straight-grained and machines well. It will tend to change colour rather dramatically over time, especially if left in the sun. If staining, it is advised to use a gel based stain as an oil based will often create a blotchy result. Cherry is certainly one to use if you’re after a unique, stand out piece of furniture.

Beech
Beech is a widely-used hardwood in Europe and is typically at the lower end of the price bracket for hardwoods. Due to it’s incredible bending properties and its resistance to water, it’s often used for boat building!
Each wood type often has many species, for example there 60 different variants of Oak in the US. Although their general properties remain the same, the colour and grain patterns within the different species do vary. It’s the fact that each piece of timber is natural and unique which makes handcrafted furniture a joy. It ensures you own a true one-of-a-kind piece when you buy furniture made from real wood.


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