Different Types of Woods & Wood Grain

Different Types of Woods & Wood Grain

The different types of woods in the world and their characteristics in terms of grain, texture, color, and figure.

Craftsman Style

Interior Trim Woods, Descriptions of Characteristics

¶ There is a great deal of knowledge about the characteristics of woods commonly used for interior trim, cabinets and furniture which helps the wood finisher to do his work more effectively, both as to beauty of the finishes he produces and their durability.

¶ One of the very first considerations is whether the trim in a building or the wood used in a cabinet or piece of furniture is sufficiently uniform as to color, grain and figure to make it practical to finish it in the natural or a stained color, whether it might not be better to finish with paint or enamel. A skillful finisher can always bleach dark boards and stain light boards to tone in with the general appearance of the other wood, but it costs money and time to remedy defects. Then again it may be that the wood has too many defects in the way of knots, end grain, cross grain, etc., to make suitable natural or stained finish. First class natural and stained finishes are transparent, the whole plan in finishing is aimed to bring out the beauty of the wood, not to obscure defects. It sometimes helps to darken the stain and to touch up defects, but the facts remains that wood to be finished in the natural color or with stains should be selected by the mill to match as to grain, figure and color. That saves money in the end, even though selected lumber costs more than the general run.

¶ Nature has not produced two woods which are exactly alike. Each kind differs as to hardness or softness, fine or coarse texture, open or close grain, light and dark colors. Then there are medium degrees of all of these characteristics. It is often difficult to say whether a certain wood belongs in one class or another. Some woods have characteristics which would put them in two or more classes. So it is much better to classify woods as open or close grain, rather than soft or hard. The kind of grain is a more important consideration when it comes to the finishing method to be employed. Then there are some woods which have a beautiful grain figure and color shadings while others are rather uninteresting. Some of the former group have very large, outstanding figures which make them suitable for large rooms, while some of the same group are beautiful because of fine, small and subdued grain and figure. Because of the natural color of some woods, like Circassian walnut, redwood and some others, they are far more beautiful when finished in their natural color than when stained. But staining, on the other hand, adds beauty to the natural grain of some woods.

¶ In the matter of finishes it may be said that generally the woods like white pine, poplar, cottonwood and bass are better finished with paint or enamel.

¶ A logical classification of woods as to open-grain and close-grain is as follows:

Open Grain Woods

Oak (hard), Elm (hard), Ash (very hard), Mahogany (soft), Chestnut (medium hard), Walnut (medium hard), Butternut (medium hard), Rosewood (hard), Bass (soft), Georgia Pine (hard), Beech (soft), Southern Pine (hard), Birch (hard), Norway Pine (hard), Cedar (soft), Yellow Pine (hard), Cherry (hard), White Pine (soft), Cypress (soft), Sugar Pine (soft), Fir, Oregon Pine (soft), Poplar, whitewood (soft), Gum (medium hard), Redwood (soft), Hemlock (soft), Spruce (soft), Holly (soft), Sycamore (soft), Maple (very hard).

¶ The manner in which wood is sawed makes a difference, of course, in the grain figure, as plain sawed, quarter sawed, edge grain, slash grain, etc. When the trim of a room includes wood of the same kind but sawed by two different methods it will be difficult to finish them to match up exactly as to color. Then again we have wood from the same tree which is different in color,the sapwood is light in color while the heart-wood is dark. This is especially noticeable in gum wood and cypress. Note Picture 22 in this connection. Quarter-sawing of wood is done with many varieties and has been done for hundreds of years. It is considered somewhat wasteful of wood, but it gives greater uniformity of surface and greater strength. The beauty of the grain and figure and color shadings is greater, the wood resists wear by abrasion better when quarter-sawed and is less likely to warp, shrink or swell.

Heartwood and Sapwood
Picture 22. Indicating Where the Heartwood and Sapwood of a Tree Grow, Also the Methods of Cutting Straight and Quarter or Rift-sawed Boards.

Next Page: Oak Characteristics.



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