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Solid wood — that is, wood cut into boards from the trunk of a tree — makes up most of the wood in a piece of furniture. The type of wood you choose determines the beauty and strength of the piece. Many varieties of wood are available and each has its own properties. The following sections introduce you to the most common types of soft and hardwoods.
HARDWOODS - Mature hardwoods supply the nation, and much of the world, with timber used for everything from railroad ties to quality furnishings. U.S. hardwoods are coveted the world over for their warmth and lasting beauty in furniture, cabinetry, millwork and flooring.
Ash Ash
Ash is a white-to-pale-brown colored wood with a straight grain. It's pretty easy to work with (hardness of 4 on a scale of 1 to 5) and takes stain quite nicely, but ash is getting harder and harder to find. You won't find ash at your local home center — it's only available from larger lumberyards. Ash is a good substitute for white oak.
 
Beech Beech
American Beech is a species to eastern North America. The sapwood of American beech is white with a red tinge, while the heartwood is light to dark reddish brown. The wood wears well and holds a polish, and it bends readily when steamed. Care is needed in gluing, but the wood finishes well with paint or transparent finishes.
 
Cherry Cherry
Cherry is a very popular and all-around great wood; easy to work with, stains and finishes well with just oil, and ages beautifully. Cherry's heartwood has a reddish-brown color to it and the sapwood is almost white. Cherry has a hardness of 2 on a scale of 1 to 5. This is a very common wood for furniture-making and is available from sustainably-grown forests. Because it's in demand, cherry is getting somewhat expensive compared to other domestic hardwoods, such as oak and maple.
 
Hickory Hickory
Hickory wood is very hard, stiff, dense and shock resistant. As stated in the U.S. Forest Service pamphlet on "Important Trees of Eastern Forests", "there are some woods that are stronger than hickory and some that are harder, but the combination of strength, toughness, hardness, and stiffness found in hickory wood is not found in any other commercial wood.
 
Mahogany Mahogany
One of the great furniture woods, mahogany (also called Honduran mahogany) has a reddish-brown-to-deep-red tint, a straight grain, medium texture, and a hardness of around 2 on a scale of 1 to 5. It takes stain very well and looks great with just a coat (or 10) of oil. The only drawback is that mahogany isn't being grown in sustainable forests so it can be rather expensive.
 
Maple Maple
Maple comes in two varieties: hard and soft. Both varieties are harder than many other woods; hard maple is so hard (a 5 on a scale of 1 to 5) that it's difficult to work with. Soft maple, on the other hand, is relatively easy to work with. Because of their fine, straight grain, both varieties are more stable than many other woods. They also tend to be less expensive than other hardwoods.
 
Brown Maple Brown Maple
Brown Maple is the "heart wood" (wood towards the center of a tree) of various soft maple trees and not a specific species of tree. As it's from the center of the tree, it tends to run a range of colors from light to beige to medium brown. Brown Maple is a smooth wood often used for painting or for darker dye stains such as Onyx. Brown Maple hardness varies, but it is in the same range as Cherry (2 on a scale of 1 to 5).
 
Oak Oak
Oak is one of the most used woods for furniture. Available in two varieties — red and white — oak is strong (hardness of about 4 on a scale of 1 to 5) and easy to work with. White oak is preferred for furniture-making because it has a more attractive figure than red oak (white oak is also resistant to moisture and can be used on outdoor furniture). The grain has a beautiful "ray flake" pattern to it.
 
Poplar Poplar
Poplar is one of the less expensive hardwoods. It's also fairly soft (1 in hardness on a scale of 1 to 5), which makes it easy to work with. Poplar has a white color with some green or brown streaks in the heartwood. Because poplar is not the most beautiful wood, it's rarely used in fine furniture and if it is, it's almost always painted. Poplar can be a good choice for drawers (where it won't be seen) because it is stable and inexpensive.
 
Teak Teak
Teak is becoming rarer as the days go on, but it is the staple for fine outdoor furniture. Teak is highly weather-resistant and beautiful (not to mention expensive). Teak has an oily feel and a golden-brown color and rates a 3 for hardness on a scale of 1 to 5.
 
Walnut Walnut
With a hardness of about 4 on a 1 to 5 scale, walnut is a rich brown wood that's easy to work with. Unfortunately, walnut is somewhat expensive. In spite of this, walnut is still a great wood to work with and lends itself nicely for use as accents and inlays to dress up a fine piece of furniture.
 
SOFTWOODS - Softwoods aren't weaker than hardwoods. Softwoods come from coniferous trees such as cedar, fir, and pine and tend to be somewhat yellow or reddish in appearance. Because most coniferous trees grow fast and straight, softwoods are generally less expensive than hardwoods.
Cedar Cedar
The most common type of cedar is the western red variety. Western red cedar, as its name implies, has a reddish color to it. This type of wood is relatively soft (1 on a scale of 1 to 4), has a straight grain, and has a slightly aromatic smell. Western Red cedar is mostly used for outdoor projects such as furniture, decks, and building exteriors because it can handle moist environments without rotting. Western red cedar is moderately priced.
 
Fir Fir
Often referred to as Douglas Fir, this wood is very soft, has a straight, pronounced grain, and has a reddish brown tint to it. Fir is most often used for building; however, it's inexpensive and can be used for some furniture-making as well. It doesn't have the most interesting grain pattern and doesn't take stain very well, so it's best to use it only when you intend to paint the finished product.
 
Pine Pine
Pine comes in several varieties, including Ponderosa, Sugar, White, and Yellow, and all of them make great furniture. In some areas of the country (especially southwest United States), pine is the wood to use. Pine is very easy to work with and, because most varieties are relatively soft, it lends itself to carving. Pine generally takes stain very well (as long as you seal the wood first), although Ponderosa pine tends to ooze sap.
 
Redwood Redwood
Like cedar, redwood is used mostly for outdoor furniture because of its resistance to moisture. Redwood (California redwood) is fairly soft and has a straight grain. As its name suggests, it has a reddish tint to it. Redwood is easy to work with, is relatively soft (2 on a scale of 1 to 4), and is moderately priced.
  REDWOOD  
   
  PINE  
   
  FIR  
   
  CEDAR  
   
  WALNUT  
   
  TEAK  
   
  POPLAR  
   
  OAK  
   
  BROWN MAPLE  
   
  MAPLE  
   
  MAHOGANY  
   
  HICKORY  
   
  CHERRY  
   
  BEECH  
   
  ASH  
   
 
 
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