Furniture Wood Identification
Different furniture wood types and individual characteristics are summarized.
White ash is a hard wood of great strength that bends well. It is used for furniture frames and hidden parts. Brown ash has strong grain characteristics and is often used for veneers. Black ash is strong like white ash, but it's lighter in weight.
Aspen, a European white poplar, once grew in the eastern U.S. but is now popular in the western states. White-yellow in color with a lustrous satiny surface, it is highly prized for bedroom furniture.
Beech is a tough wood with small pores that is rarely figured. It is various shades of red-brown and used mostly for frames, bent chair backs, runners on rocking chairs, and drawer slides.
Birch is a blonde hardwood with even texture and close, fine grain. Birch is very tough. It is easy to work with and adapts to fine finishes. It is widely used for cabinets and can be stained and finished to look like more expensive woods.
Also called white walnut, butternut is a soft wood. It is yellow-gray in color and used only for decoration where strength is not important.
A durable wood that is red in color, cedar is noted for its fragrance. It is used mostly for lining chests, drawers, and closets because its odor repels moths.
Cherry is warm, reddish-brown in color. Strong and durable, it does not warp. It is widely used in Queen Anne and French Provincial styles of furniture.
Chestnut is grayish brown to near white in color, and it is practically free from warping. Light in weight, it has a coarse, open grain. Chestnut is not commonly used because many commercial areas in the U.S. have been wiped out by blight.
Fruitwood is the name given to some apple, cherry and pear woods used for veneers.
A native wood of the walnut family, hickory is hard, tough and heavy. It is used for rustic furniture.
Often called the aristocrat of cabinet woods, mahogany dates back to the Chippendale era. This strong wood is uniform in structure with close or moderately open grain, depending on where it was grown. It holds its shape exceptionally well and possess excellent woodworking qualities. Freshly cut mahogany is light yellow to pink but exposure to air quickly turns this wood to a reddish brown or sherry color. The most desirable figure is the crotch-and-swirl obtained from sections of the trunk immediately below a fork, or crotch. Mahogany doesn't have clearly defined annual growth rings. The shell or leaf pattern in flat cut mahogany is due to the interlocking grain.
Hard maple, or sugar maple, is strong, wears well, and is one of the hardest woods. Birdseye maple, which is due to buds who couldn't force their way through the bark, is rare and highly prized for furniture making. When saws cut through these abnormal growths they expose crumpled edges of annual growth rings that formed around the buds. Maple was used as a inlay for mahogany pieces during the 18th century.
Moderately heavy oak is widely used in furniture making. Its well developed annual growth rings cause it to have a pronounced grain. Strong and tough, it wears well. However, it is hard to work with and therefore is utilized in simpler William and Mary and other colonial styles where carving is not a styling characteristic.
Pine is white or pale yellow soft wood. It has no figure, and grain must be produced by rotary cutting. Knotty pine is often used for paneling, cabinets and doors. It is not affected by temperature changes.
Even-textured and straight grained, poplar is widely used for unseen parts of furniture such as crossbandings.
Rattan is a vine widely used in woven wicker furniture. Its color comes from varnish or lacquer.
Reddish brown with attractive grain and texture, redwood is often used for outdoor furniture. That's because it highly resistant to decay, mold, and insects. It is one of the most durable woods with high strength and light weight.
Long used in China for carving, rosewood has a color range from light red-violet to deep purple or black. It was used in Empire, Rococo Revival, and Victorian styles of furniture. It can be polished to a gleaming finish.
A very hard wood used in India, satinwood is golden yellow to light brown. It has soft stripes and rich blotches, called mottles. Used primarily for inlays, satinwood has a characteristic fragrance that increases with age.
American walnut was introduced from Britain through William and Mary style furniture. This soft grained wood is well suited to carving. The trunks of walnut trees provide little figure, but the most prized wood comes from where roots spread out around a tree. Good stumps are carefully dug and then quartered. These quarters are made into veneer that accentuates the beauty of the grain comes from the wavy pattern produced by annual growth rings. Huge growths known as burls can weigh as much as a ton. Burls grow at the roots or on the trunk and are another source of highly prized figured walnut.
A soft wood that takes mahogany and walnut stain very well, willow is often used in weaving wicker furniture.