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Alder is a hardwood which is slowly gaining a rising popularity due to its natural beauty, workability and versatility. It is more frequently found in the Northwest regions of California and Southwestern parts of Canada. It is in the same family as the birch tree, so it often shares similar applications.
Alder will appear to be almost white when freshly cut, but quickly turns to warm honey brown once exposed to air and sunlight. This medium density wood usually has a straight grain and is easy to use for carving, turning, and machining.
The wood also works well with a variety of different finishing treatments. Alder wood has a very smooth surface when sanded which can easily be stained or painted.
The Alder tree does not grow to be very large in diameter or height, so this is something to consider if you need very large solid pieces as they may be more difficult and therefore more expensive to obtain.
Alder is used frequently in furniture making and cabinetry. It is also a popular choice for photo frames and other decorative objects.
Perhaps one of the more specialized uses for Alder wood is in the hard body of electric guitars. Alder wood produces a very clean tone that is hard to replicate with other woods. In electric guitars, Alder is often more desirable for its tone than even the exotic hardwoods such as mahogany.
Ash wood can be somewhat difficult to find currently, especially due to the recent issues with the Emerald Ash borer, an invasive pest which caused many of these trees to prematurely die. If you live in the areas where Ash trees are native and grow abundantly, it will be easier to find this wood than if you live somewhere that does not.
Ash mimics the same strength and characteristics of white oak but typically comes at a more budget friendly price if you are able to find it at a local lumberyard near you. The wood takes stain easily and can be used for many different types of projects.
Aspen trees are often used in the production of wood for saunas.
Aspen is a light colored wood which takes painting and stain well. This wood can sometimes appear or feel to have a fuzzy texture.
Aspen is a hardwood grown in Northeast America but can sometimes be difficult to find. Due to its general limited availability, it is typically only used for very specific projects in which Aspen wood is ideal.
One of the most specialized uses for Aspen wood is in the building of saunas.
This wood is also odorless and taste free, making it ideal for making chopsticks and kitchen utensils.
Balsa is a very lightweight hardwood that is typically used in hobby and craft types of projects. Many fine woodworkers tend to have a negative viewpoint of balsa wood since it is not very strong, but it often under appreciated and has many practical uses.
Most of us first encounter balsa wood in childhood building projects and model kits. Balsa wood may be considered child’s play to most serious woodworkers, but it is also perhaps the very catalyst that introduces many people to woodworking and construction.
This wood also has a very rich history, especially because it was often used as a substitute during World War I and World War II in airplanes and ships.
Balsa wood is typically imported to North America from South America and Central America. Balsa wood grows very quickly but has a relatively short lifespan, with most trees only producing usable lumber before it is 10 years old.
The wood is very buoyant, and many people are surprised to learn that balsa wood is often used in building rafts, life preservers, and other types of items that are designed to float. Surfboards are a great example of beautifully crafted projects that can be made of Balsa wood.
Balsa wood is a low density wood which is generally not very strong. For this reason, many people prefer to choose basswood and birch over balsa wood for any type of project that needs to be able to handle weight or stress.
On the other hand, if you DO need to build something out of wood that can quickly break or come apart, such in the case of building sets for theatre and film stages, balsa is a great choice.
The grain of the wood can easily be painted or stained to use as a veneer in order to achieve a number of looks on the cheap.
When assembling projects that use balsa wood, it is often necessary to use glue, since the wood does not play too nicely with nails or screws. Very thin pieces of balsa wood can often be cut with nothing more than a good utility or craft knife.
Technically a grass, bamboo stems may be hollow but are very strong.
Although Bamboo is technically a grass and not a wood, it can be used for building many things due to the hardness and density of the plant stems. Bamboo grows in abundance in tropical climates and there are a number of different species available, which vary greatly between regions.
The Bamboo plant has a tall, hollow stem. These stems can be used as-is, or they can be cut into very thin, narrow strips to create a veneer. The veneer product from the stems is made into an engineered wood such as plywood.
While people might think that Bamboo would be lightweight, soft, and easy to bend or cut this is not the case. It is better to compare Bamboo to the hardwood Red oak or Maple, since it has a similar hardness and strength. The high density grass can sometimes be tough on tools.
Bamboo stems are especially popular for garden furniture, garden decorations, fences, and privacy screens. You can also see bamboo in cabinets, fine furniture and even as hardwood flooring.
Part of what makes Bamboo able to resist decay outdoors is its natural waxlike coating. If you wish to stain, paint, or glue bamboo, you will need to sand the wood first to ensure the paint or glue grips to the wood. Most bamboo should be sealed and protected for longevity if it is used outdoors.
Moisture can cause Bamboo to swell or shrink, so it is best to let it acclimate to the environment before cutting, especially if you are in a drier and colder climate than where the plant is natively grown.
Basswood is a very light cream-colored wood, and has a very straight and tight grain. The wood is not prone to warping or movement once properly acclimated and dried.
Basswood is a hardwood favorite for woodcarvers and woodturners. It is also a very popular choice for those who enjoy miniature woodworking and building models. Woodturners often enjoy working with basswood due to its ease of use and availability.
The wood also has no odor, taste, or known allergens so it makes it a popular choice for food storage crates or even possible use in kitchen utensils. Basswood is easy to find and typically budget friendly.
Basswood can be challenging to stain evenly. In most cases it is best to appreciate simply the natural finish with a protective clear coat of oil or to paint the wood. Many decorative painters enjoy working with basswood projects because once it is primed will allow for a very smooth finish.
Beech is a hardwood that is often used for wood veneers, furniture, and woodturner objects. This cream toned wood has a consistent grain pattern which is usually straight and tight, and occasionally will have gray flecking. The wood is very light in color, but usually has a yellow-reddish cream tone to it.
It is a sturdy wood best known for its ability to easily steam-bend. For this reason, beech is an excellent choice for making any type of interior furniture, such as chairs and other curved pieces. This benefit however can also mean that Beech wood will sometimes suffer from movement, shrinkage and swelling when exposed to high humidity or unpredictable moisture in the environment.
Beech is often found in pianos, used for the bridge and pin blocks of the piano mechanism.
Beechwood is in the more affordable range of hardwoods, and can be found in a wide range of sizes and as a veneer. The wood is relatively easy to work with as long as your tools are sharp. It can be glued and stained without too much difficulty if desired.
Birch logs and end grain examples.
Birch is a hardwood which is easy to find and often one of the more affordable hardwood species at local lumberyards and home centers.
Birch is very strong and can be used for almost everything and anything you can imagine. Many people use birch as a less expensive alternative to Oak.
One thing to know about birch wood however is it can be very difficult to stain. Staining can sometimes result in blotchy patches that look uneven. For this reason, birch is an ideal and economic hardwood to use if you plan to paint your project.
California redwood trees are a popular softwood for outdoor building projects.
California redwood trees are a softwood known best for their massive size and red color. It has a very interesting wood grain pattern, and much likes its Cedar cousins, Redwood is very suitable for outdoor applications due to its ability to be weather resistant.
Redwood is often used for railroad ties and trestles, and it is also popular to use in building retaining walls, decks, and garden borders. Redwood is also a suitable choice for veneers, tables, and large cabinetry projects.
Many people are familiar with cedar not just for its interesting wood grain and color, but also for its aromatic smell which is believed to repel pests and moths. The aromatic scent and bug repelling properties is why it is sometimes a popular choice to use in closets and storage chests.
Cedar is also an ideal choice for outdoor building projects. This wood is often considered to be rot resistant and can withstand the rugged weather outdoors quite well. For this reason, many people use cedar for outdoor use, such as decks, patio furniture, fencing and decorative siding.
There are a number of different species of cedar wood, which are members of the Cypress family. Certain cedar species are better for specific applications than others.
Common Varieties of Cedarwood:
While many people adore cedar for its aromatic properties, it is important to remember that some people may be sensitive to the naturally occurring oils. If you plan to work with cedar wood, it is important to wear gloves and wear a mask to reduce inhalation of the sawdust.
Due to high likelihood for irritation, Cedar should not be used for kitchen utensils or any other projects that would be used with food or have prolonged contact with skin.
Cherry is a beautiful wood which comes from the American Black Cherry fruit tree. This wood often starts as a light pink color that darkens and changes to a reddish hue over time. Cherry wood can sometimes have black flecking, which occurs naturally from mineral deposits over time.
When selecting cherry wood, you may want to take some time to try and ensure the pieces you select all match. Cherry can be stained, but most people opt for its natural state and will give it a clear protectant finish to let the beauty of wood and natural patina process that occurs with aging stand out.
Fir is another great economical and strong softwood to consider working with for beginning woodworking projects. Fir is usually a good choice for projects you plan on painting, since it can be sometimes difficult to stain and really does not have much of a wood grain.
Most varieties of fir have a very tight wood grain, which gives it a bit more strength and stability compared to pine. Fir is commonly used for construction and utility projects where a natural wood grain finish isn’t especially important.
An example of Ebony wood.
Ebony wood is easy to identify, since this is one of the few woods that are truly black in color. It is a very dense hardwood and has many characteristics that make it desirable for a number of wood carving and specialized woodworking projects.
It is important to note that ebony is a protected species and is often heavily regulated worldwide. Cameroon is the only country where the wood can be legally harvested, and the harvesting practices are not always ideal.
For this reason, it can sometimes be very difficult to obtain ebony wood. The tree is very slow growing, which contributes to its scarceness. Historically ebony was used in the production of musical instruments, used to make the black keys on pianos and in the fretboards for guitars.
Older pianos and musical instruments that are no longer playable could be an interesting source for reclaiming old ebony wood. Antique pianos very likely may have true solid ebony keys, although often times the black keys were made with other wood types.
As a carving medium, ebony produces a beautiful finish and is able to hold detail. Most woodworkers suggest using only hand tools with ebony, as the denseness and hardness can be challenging to machine. You will definitely want to reach for the carbide tipped blades for any type of work you may do with ebony.
Ebony should not be painted and it can sometimes be a challenge to glue. In most cases, ebony is best finished with very fine sanding and buffing and then waxed. One should avoid any type of sealers or varnishes with this wood.
Many cabinet makers who wish to achieve similar looks to ebony but using more sustainable woods often choose cherry or walnut and then stain it to a dark rich black color. This not only saves on costs and promotes sustainability, it can also be much less challenging to build with cherry and walnut compared to ebony.
Mahogany is a beautiful exotic hardwood and a premium wood for furniture making. The wood often starts with a pinkish tone that will deepen and darken over time.
It is easy to work with and takes stain beautifully – often times this wood only needs a simple coat of oil. Out of all of the hardwoods, mahogany is softer than many of them, which makes it easier on your tools.
Many musical instrument manufacturers also use Mahogany in the construction of guitars and pianos because it produces a clean tone acoustically.
Mahogany wood is typically imported from South and Central America, and for this reason it can be quite costly to purchase and difficult to find. These varieties are known as Tropical Mahogany.
If you do choose to use Mahogany for a project, you may wish to make sure the wood you choose is grown sustainably. Sadly many times the demand for this wood can cause massive deforestation when it is not obtained from sustainable sources.
There are also other types of Mahogany. Australian Mahogany is one you may encounter, with similar properties but quite different since it is from the Eucalyptus family of plants. Philippine Mahogany is also very different, and usually is considered to be a very “cheap” type of wood like Luan.
Maple is a beautiful hardwood which is often used in applications where the natural wood grain is visible. Maple is grown primarily in sustainable North American forests.
There are a number of different species of Maple trees, and so for this reason when shopping for Maple you may notice there are two basic varieties to choose from: soft or hard. Hard maple is
from the Sugar Maple tree, where the soft maple typically is from Red Maple trees.
Red Maple, also called soft maple is usually the top choice for woodworking, since it is much easier on the tools.
Sugar Maple, also called hard maple can be difficult to cut and work with. Due to its hardness, Sugar Maple makes for a very popular choice for hardwood flooring. This variety of maple can take the abuse of being walked on and holding furniture without any indentations or scuffs.
Oak wood has a beautiful grain pattern.
Perhaps one of the most loved hardwoods, oak is a very popular choice for woodworkers, especially in building furniture and high quality heirloom pieces that can last for generations.
The two main varieties of oak wood you will encounter are white oak and red oak. Red oak has a more reddish hint of a colour to it, and is typically what is most readily available at the majority of lumber stores. Red oak is slightly softer than white oak, which makes it a little bit easier to work with when building.
White oak is a very hard hardwood and is an excellent choice for hardwood flooring. Oak is also resistant to rot and decay, so with the proper treatment and sealing can be used in outdoor applications.
Oak is easy to stain, and so it is a wonderful choice for a number of different stained finishes. You can also paint oak, though most woodworkers would agree that it would be a waste, especially when you could use similarly strong woods that are less expensive if you are planning to paint over and cover up the beautiful natural wood grain.
Pine is a very common and versatile softwood which has many practical applications. Pine typically is considered to be economical, sustainable and durable, which makes it a popular choice for a number of different projects.
Most pine trees grow very tall and quickly and they are often grown in sustainable forestry conditions, which means more trees are planted than are ever cut down in any given year.
There are several species of pine, all of which have various different characteristics. Southern Yellow pine, as the name implies, may have a more yellow hue to it than the white or sugar pine varieties. White Pine and Sugar pine are sometimes also referred to as clear pine.
With pine, you can decide whether to stain it, paint it, or simply finish it with a clear coat of protectant sealant. Pine behaves very
well for staining a wide variety of colors and tones as long as you properly prepare the wood beforehand.
Pine can also sometimes be found in dimensional lumber that is sold under the generic terms “SPF lumber” and “White Wood”. SPF stands for “Spruce, Pine and Fir”.
Most pine is best suited for indoor use only, unless it has been specifically treated to be used in outdoor applications, as in the case of pressure treated lumber, which is also covered in this list of types of wood.
Poplar is a popular and economical hardwood to use for a number of different building projects and applications. The wood is very light in color, and may even appear as white. It does not have a very distinguishable nor necessarily attractive wood grain, so poplar is often painted or used in places where it is not visible.
Of all of the hardwoods, poplar is a very soft wood, which makes it easy to work with, but also means it can be very easy to indent or knick while working with it.
Poplar is less prone to warping or movement. Since it is not exactly the prettiest of woods for this reason it is often used in parts of furniture that are not visible, such as drawer slides or the inside pieces of dresser frames.
Poplar is also often used in model building, as well as for many wood crafts. It is readily available at most stores that sell lumber as well as available in smaller pieces at hobby and craft stores that sell wood for craft projects.
Rosewood is music to a woodworker’s ears – this wood is most commonly used in the construction of guitars, pianos, and other wood musical instruments.
Rosewood is an exotic hardwood, which often contributes to the expensive price of popular musical instruments. Brazillian rosewood is common, although it can also come from Madagascar or Asia. Many people are concerned about illegal logging and deforestation practices that may occur in harvesting rosewood, so for this reason many people may choose alternative woods in their projects.
Rosewood is also a known irritant for many people, especially with prolonged exposure to the saw dust that may happen when cutting the wood. If you are working with rosewood, it is very important to use the proper wood safety precautions.
Spruce is an evergreen softwood tree, and as mentioned previously is commonly found in lumber yards as “SPF lumber” which is frequently used for construction framing projects.
Spruce has a very light color, and therefore sometimes may also be sold under the generic umbrella of “White Wood”, especially in the cases of large home improvement retail chains. It has a straight and subtle grain.
When spruce is permitted to grow to its peak maturity, it can have excellent accoustic properties that make it desirable for the construction of musical instruments such as pianos, guitars, and other string instruments.
Historically, spruce has been used to build aircraft and boats. The first airplane built by the Wright Brothers was constructed from Spruce. but spruce is prone to swelling and not especially weather resistant so it is no longer typically used for these applications.
Teak is an exotic hardwood native to the Asian rainforests. It takes a very long growing cycle, with the average tree needing 60 years before it reaches maturity to be harvested.
While there are more sustainable forestry practices in place today than there were decades ago, this long growing process means that teak will always be a difficult wood to find that comes with a very premium price.
Teak was originally used most commonly for boat building and is still a favorite amongst nautical crafters and artisans. It is also very popular to use in premium outdoor furniture, decking, and other outdoor applications.
Teak has a naturally oily finish, which can make it difficult to stain or glue in some instances. The wood is also quite hard, and so you may notice that you need to sharpen and replace blades more often when working with it.
Teak has an aroma that a lot of people would describe as being very distinct and earthy. Many people can be extremely sensitive to the naturally occurring oils in the teak wood, so it is important to not use teak for any type of application that would have prolonged and direct contact with food or skin.
When working with teak, it is also wise to use a dust respirator and gloves. This will help reduce the irritation you may experience while working with the wood. If you are concerned about sensitivity or allergies, it is best to avoid teak and instead choose a more hypoallergenic wood for your projects.
Walnut is a hardwood that is best known for its rich brown and dark colouring. Walnut can be expensive and often is only available through specialty lumber stores, but it is a beautiful wood to consider for special projects.
Walnut is relatively easy to work with, but is also very strong. It can be used in hardwood flooring, although many people may opt to still choose maple or white oak and stain those woods to match the desired shade of walnut because they are slightly more durable.
Walnut is a fine grained wood which polishes up quite nicely and can easily be stained and protected. Many people enjoy using it for carving, routing, and as decorative accents for wood furniture. Walnut cabinets are very popular, though it is common for less expensive woods to be stained to match a walnut color.
Many people are also surprised to learn walnut is used in high end luxury car manufacturing and in gun making. The fibers of the walnut tree are very dense, which makes it able to withstand the shock and force the wood might experience in these types of uses.
Musical instruments such as guitars and violins can also commonly be made of walnut. While walnut is one of the more expensive hardwoods, it is still a much more economical choice over other exotic hardwoods that are desirable for producing clear tones for music instruments.
“Whitewood” is not a specific species or type of wood, but instead is a generic term to describe a wide variety of different woods that have similar characteristics in strength and color.
Whitewood is a term most frequently used by the big box retail stores and they use this term in order to have one SKU number for a number of different woods based on availability. This wood can sometimes be Pine, Poplar, or Douglas fir.
Basically, if something is sold as “whitewood” you typically have no idea what type of wood you may actually be getting. This type of wood is often sold as dimensional lumber and used in construction and framing projects.
If you learn the secrets to identify different wood species, you can sometimes find some great deals on woods such as poplar and pine in the generic “white wood” section, but you also have to be careful because sometimes the lesser grades of fir are also sold as whitewood.
Whitewood is basically the “box of chocolates” in the lumber world – you never know what you might get.
Lastly, but certainly not least, is the exotic wood known as Zebrawood. There are several varieties of Zebrawood, most of which are native to Central America and Central Africa.
This wood is characterized by its prominent striping pattern in the wood grain. It is most commonly used for premium furniture due to the nature of its unique pattern. It is a very heavy, hard wood that can be sometimes difficult to work with.
Zebrawood historically was most commonly found in high end luxury items. The density and hardness make it desirable for manufacturing in things such as cars, guns, and other items that would require it to withstand shock and vibration.
Today it is most often seen as a wood veneer that is used to give decorative accents to different furniture pieces. There is much concern over the sustainable and legal logging of this exotic wood, so if you want to ensure your projects are environmentally friendly you may wish to look at other hardwood alternatives.
Sheesham is that it is classified as a hardwood. Hardwood can be defined as wood that comes from dicot trees. These trees are often found in tropical forests. Hardwood trees often grow at a slower pace than softwood trees and are also a lot bigger in size. Hardwood trees are considerably stronger than softwood trees because of the lignin lining in their xylem vessels. Although hardwood trees are strong, they are also durable. Hardwood trees have several additional properties like resistance to fire, does not split easily, and so on. Sheesham wood is a great example of hardwood.
Is Sheesham wood waterproof?
Sheesham has a high moisture content and is prone to damage caused by water and tends to warp in humid conditions. For protection sheesham needs to be coated with a wood finish which can create a waterproof layer. Sheesham has good termite resistance.