Have you plans for a new home design project and you want to use wood? If so, then a little research into the different types of wood is time well spent. Finding out if the wood you choose will expand and contract, darken with age or bruise easily will go a long way in minimising any long-term design mistakes.
Hard or Soft Wood?
Did you know the term hard and soft wood does not refer to the wood’s durability? It’s actually a botanical term. Softwood comes from coniferous trees while the hardwoods are from deciduous trees. Each wood type varies in density, strength and their resistance to decay and changes in colour. Over time, dark timbers lighten while light timbers darken. Also, ultraviolet light in sunlight affects wood colour just like it does our skin.
So, before you go buying any wood, below we’ve listed some of the more common wood types with information that we hope will help you choose the right wood for your project.
Oak with its strength, durability, colour, and grain pattern makes it a popular choice. For centuries oak was used in boat building including Viking longboats. Oak has a coarse grain and an open pore structure oak so won’t look as smooth or as polished as walnut or maple. Oak is used in flooring, doors, decking, and furniture.
European oak is lighter than other oaks plus more subtle in appearance to walnut or rosewood.
Dark, bold, and rich in colour. Walnut has a dense grain and therefore polishes to a smooth finish and is used in cabinets, flooring, and furniture. Walnut furniture is stunning in a bright sunlit room. If choosing walnut for flooring, avoid heavy traffic areas as it isn’t as hard as oak or maple and will bruise more easily.
European walnut is lighter with honey and coffee hues, while American walnut is darkest chocolate. Unlike cherry, maple and oak which all darken as they age, walnut will lighten so if using in a bright sunny room, expect it to lighten a lot.
Because of its durability and strength, Maple is often chosen for heavy-use items like kitchen cabinets and high-traffic areas like floors.
Maple comes in an assortment of hues with the hard maple coming in cream off-white colours. The pale wood will darken when exposed to UV light.
Traditionally used to make Hurley’s and chairs because of its natural flexibility. It is a hard, pale timber with a coarse grain structure and good durability.
Once finished it is a honey or straw colour which does not change much over time. The centre of the tree can often be light to dark brown in colour which is known as “olive” and can add a lot of drama and character to quite a neutral timber.
A very fine-grained timber with strength that usually has a very non-descript structure, which is why it is mostly used for sofa frames and shaped furniture. However, a very sought after and characterful version is Spalted beech. This is created by fungi that begins the rotting process which shows as pale bandings with black lines running through the wood. When stopped just before the timber goes soft by kiln drying, the effect can be incredibly beautiful. See below
It is very pale to brown, orange in colour.
A fine-grained timber with lots of character. We see a lot of American cherry in Ireland but its less well-known European cousin is equally beautiful. Both are softer than oak or maple but make up for it in character.
American cherry is a dark red, rust colour with bitter chocolate details and lines. Its European cousin is much paler, with green and brown stripes. American cherry initially darkens quite quickly and under extraordinarily strong sunlight can reverse that change to a straw colour. European cherry is much more stable in colour and darkens to a lovely mid brown, never losing the green hues and brown stripes that characterise it.
We Can Help
From our workshop in Rathcoole, County Dublin, we can help you choose the right wood for your upcoming project. Feel free to contact us here.