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Furniture Wood Types

Glossary of types of wood used to make furniture as presented by Furniture Facts: The 21st Century Edition

Alder: Hard, strong wood that seasons easily, works well, is easily stained to imitate walnut and mahogany. It has a maple-like figure

Ash: White ash is a ring-porous, hardwood of great strength. Used for furniture frames and hidden parts. Brown ash has strong grain character and is used for veneers. Black ash is similar to white but lighter in weight and softer.

Birch: One of the strongest American cabinet woods that is widely used by furniture manufacturers. It is heavy, similar to maple, and is average in stiffness and hardness for hardwoods, but above average in toughness. The grain is fine and close and the texture is even. It is adaptable to fine finishes and easy to work with. It can be stained and finished to resemble many expensive and imported cabinet woods.

Cedar, Red: Used primarily in lining cedar chests. A durable wood known for its fragrance. Also used for lining chests, closets and drawers.

Hackberry: Native American wood. Used widely in the South. Resembles elm. Has a natural blonde color.

Hickory: Native American wood of the walnut family. Used for rustic furniture. Is very hard, tough, and heavy.

Mahogany: Comes in many different varieties. Often called the aristocrat of cabinet woods. Dates back to the Chippendale era of the 18th century. Strong and tough and uniform in structure with close moderately open grain. Possesses excellent physical and woodworking qualities. Freshly cut, it ranges from a light pink to yellow, but on exposure to light and air, quickly turns to a reddish brown or sherry color.

Maple: Hard or "sugar," maple is one of the most popular woods used in today's furniture industry. It is elastic and very strong. It has good shock resisting qualities and wears well. It is one of the hardest of the common woods. The grain is straight with occasional wavy, curly, bird's eye patterns that are much prized in veneers. The natural color is white to amber. Less desirable features are that it warps easily unless properly seasoned and occasionally splits. Maple is sometimes finished to simulate cherry wood.

Oak: Oak is the most popular of all wood used in furniture making. Oak is very tough, strong, and hard and can live up to the every day abuse furniture takes. Has a pronounced grain that is emphasized when quarter sawed. This is called a "cathedral" grain. Oak is somewhat difficult to work and therefore is used on simpler furniture styles.

Particle Board: Used primarily for core-stock.

Pine: Soft wood that is white or pale yellow. Knotty pine is used extensively for paneling and plywood, cabinets and doors. Dries easily and does not shrink or swell much with changes in humidity. One of the least expensive woods for furniture production.

Redwood: The California redwood is one of the most durable woods. Used for furniture cores because of stability, machining and gluing qualities, high strength and light weight. Used a lot with outdoor furniture because of high resistance to decay and insects. Weathers well.

Rosewood: Dark chestnut or red brown wood streaked and grained with black. Takes a fine polish. Has a milk rose aroma.

Teak: Comes from Java, Burma, Thailand and India. Colors enrich with age. Straight grain, though often richly figured. Has a fragrance similar to rosewood.

Walnut: William and Mary introduced American walnut to England. Has remarkable fidelity. Soft and pleasing grain. Walnut is ideally suited to carving. The heartwood of American walnut is light brown to chocolate brown.

For more information on wood furniture, visit the American Hardwood Information Center.

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