Alder – Alder, part of the birch family, is a softer hardwood from the Pacific Northwest. Consistent color, stability, and uniform acceptance of stains and finishes are some of the characteristics that have made Western Alder a preferred wood for furniture. Its elasticity makes it ideal for carving intricate details. Ranking second only to oak as the most commonly used wood, alder offers the look of many fine hardwoods at a value price.
Ash – White Ash is commonly used in the furniture market. Ash is a long-fibered, light-colored, medium-density wood that grows in the United States and Canada. Its coarse, porous grain is similar to that of oak, but it varies from white to light-red in color. Hard and heavy enough to be used for baseball bats, it’s also flexible enough for bending. Ash takes stain well and is used mainly for chairs and stools.
Aspen – Hailing from the north-eastern and north-central United States, this is a softer, light-colored, even-grained hardwood belonging to the Populous family. Unfinished, aspen appears to have little or no grain, but the natural grain appears after the stain has been applied. Aspen can be finished to resemble cherry, walnut, and other more expensive hardwoods. It accepts most stains well, but may need a sealer to achieve an even coloring.
Beech – Found primarily in northeast U.S. and Canada, beech is a heavy, pale-colored, medium-to- hard wood used widely for chairs and stools. It has a fine, tight grain and large medullar rays, similar in appearance to maple or birch woods. Beech wood has a high shock resistance and takes stains well.
Birch – Birch is a stiff, close-grained hardwood that grows primarily in northeast U.S. and Canada. A heavy wood, it has a high shock resistance. Birch is very light in color (predominantly a light yellow) and takes any stain well.
Cherry – Also known as fruitwood, cherry is a strong, fine-grained hardwood with a pink undertone, often played up with a medium or dark finish to enhance its mahogany-red tones. Its rich coloring darkens with age and exposure to light. Cherry resists warping and is easy to carve and polish. Often used for 18th-century and formal, traditional-style furniture, cherry is often considered a luxury wood. Fine-grained hardwoods, such as maple and alder, are common substitutes for cherry. Black Cherry grows in Canada, the United States, and Central America; European Cherry is distributed throughout Europe and southeast Asia.
Eucalyptus – This is a hardwood that earns high marks for strength, durability, and excellent weathering characteristics. Eucalyptus is pinkish-brown in color and ages to a reddish-brown with time and exposure to light. Its resistance to decay is similar to that of teak wood. In fact, when finished with a high-quality oil, eucalyptus takes on a teak-like appearance.
Hickory – One of the hardest, heaviest, and strongest woods in the United States, hickory is a hardwood whose varieties can also be found in Canada and Mexico. Distinguished by extreme contrasts of light and dark colors, it has a dramatic natural look. For more even coloring, hickory can be easily stained.
Mahogany – A tropical medium-to-hard wood indigenous to South America, Central America, and Africa, mahogany’s strength makes it an excellent carving wood. It has a uniform pore structure, a medium grain, and less defined annual rings. Mahogany ranges from tan to reddish-brown in color, and may display stripe, ribbon, rope, ripple, or blister figures. Its stability and resistance to decay makes the wood ideal for high-quality cabinetry and furniture.
Maple – This is a very light-colored medium-to-hard wood, abundant in the eastern United States. Known for its shock resistance, maple has diffused, evenly-sized pores that give the wood a fine texture and an even grain. Eastern maples are generally harder than western maples, due to the colder winters and shorter growing seasons. Both are highly durable and take any stain well. Maple can be finished to resemble walnut, cherry, or other more expensive hardwoods.
Oak – Oak is the wood most commonly used for finer, more durable furniture. It’s a very hard, heavy, open-grained wood that grows from deciduous and evergreen trees in the United States, Canada, and Europe. It’s found in both red and white varieties. Red oak (also known as black oak) has a pinkish cast and is the more popular of the two. White oak has a slightly greenish cast. Prominent rings and large pores give oak a coarse texture and prominent grain. It stains well in any color.
Parawood– Native to the Amazon region of South America, this wood is used for much of the furniture made in that region. Parawood can be traced back to the days of Christopher Columbus, when its seedlings were used in rubber plantations to produce latex. Today it’s used to build fine furniture, a new tree planted in the place of each that is cut. Parawood is just as hard as maple or ash, and takes a very even stain. Yellow in color, it has a medium grain similar to mahogany.
Pine – Pine is a softwood that grows in many varieties in various parts of the world. In the U.S., Eastern White Pine, Ponderosa Pine, and Sugar Pine are some of the types used to make furniture. Pine’s "knotty” characteristics provide warmth and individuality to each crafted piece. Usually light-yellow in color, the wood has a broadly spaced striation pattern. It’s ideal for children’s rooms, family rooms, beach cottages — anywhere you’d like an airier, lighter feel. Its natural grain and shades ensure that no piece is exactly alike. Excellent for staining.
Poplar – Poplar is a light-colored, softer wood that is more costly than pine, but less costly than oak or maple. It’s generally straight-grained and “woolly” with a fine, even texture. Pale in color, similar to beech and alder, poplar grows throughout North America, Europe, and Asia.
Redwood – A hard, valuable, reddish-brown wood, redwood has a straight grain and a fine, coarse texture. Its coloring ranges from light-red to a deep reddish-brown, with very prominent growth rings. Weathering more gracefully than other woods, redwood is often used to build decks and outdoor furnishings. Stains can enhance its natural beauty and durability. Redwood grows along the Pacific coast of the United States in California and Oregon.
Rosewood – This is a dark-red or brown hardwood, derived from tropical trees. Heavy, hard, and dense, rosewood is noted for its stability and excellent decay resistance. Though commonly used for Oriental furniture, rosewood is now used for traditional European designs, as well as cabinetry. Quality rosewood furniture can be distinguished by silver lines, achieved by polishing with Chinese Tang Oil. This firm luster surface is different from the glossy imitation paint used on more inferior rosewood furniture.
Rubberwood – This wood is plantation-grown in tropical countries, particularly in the Amazon. The trees’ sap is used for latex production. A rubber tree is useful for about 30 years, at which time it slows in creating latex. The trees are then cut down to make room for newly planted trees. This eco- friendly timber is very durable, and resistant to most varieties of fungi, bacteria, and mold. It is comparable to teak.
Teak – Indigenous to Indonesia, India, and Central America, teak is a high-quality yellow to dark- brown hardwood. It’s generally straight-grained with a coarse, uneven texture and an oily feel. Teak ranges from yellow-brown to dark golden-brown in color. Noted for its heaviness and durability, it was originally used for shipbuilding and is now often used for high-caliber outdoor furniture and decking.
Walnut – Prized in North America for high-end cabinetry and furniture, walnut provides strength, hardness, and durability without excessive weight. It has excellent woodworking qualities and takes finishes well. Walnut is light to dark chocolate-brown in color, with a straight grain in the trunk. It can be found in the United States and Canada.
Hardwood vs. Softwood – Solid woods can be classified as hard or soft. A hardwood is derived from a broad-leefed tree (without needles), such as maple, cherry, oak, ash, walnut, or mahogany. Hardwoods usually offer greater strength and stability. Softwoods come from needle-bearing evergreen trees, such as pine, spruce, redwood, or cedar, and are preferred for intricately carved pieces. Softwoods are more susceptible to marks and dings, but this can often result in an appealing weathered quality.