for crafts and furniture
Wood is a fantastic
resource, the uniqueness of every board presents its own characteristics
when finished. When buying
project wood there are several choices that a wood worker faces.
Lumber is available in 2 main categories, hardwood and softwood.
Quite simply, hardwood is harvested from any deciduous (leaf
bearing) tree. While softwood is from coniferous or needle
producing trees. However a wood worker also needs to decide
if an engineered wood product like plywood is better suited
for the job.
We will demystify the these 3 classifications by taking a
close look at the 3 main choices a wood worker has to face
when buying project wood.
Looking at hardwoods first,
it is important to remember that these classifications really
have no bearing on the true hardness of the wood, not
all hardwoods are "hard". Species like poplar are
much softer then pine even though poplar is classified as
Some of the more common domestic hardwoods include, oak, maple,
birch and poplar although your choices certainly aren't limited
to these four. For exotic species there are too many to list
but teak, mahogany, rose wood and purple heart are just a few.
Softwoods on the other hand
include species like spruce, fir, pine and cedar and
are often cheaper to buy then hardwoods. This is mainly because
softwood trees grow taller and straighter than hardwood trees.
This yields more lumber per log. Along with the fact that
most softwood is harvested domestically it is the project
wood of choice for most outdoor projects and for many indoor
ones as well.
How do you choose project wood?
There are a number of factors that need to be considered when
deciding which wood to use for what project. There are no set
rules stating what wood to use for an indoor or outdoor project.
Basically the characteristics of the species will determine
whether or not it will stand up to the punishing conditions
of the outdoors or if it better used indoors.
Both hardwood and softwood can be used for both indoor and
outdoor applications but some are more resistant to UV and
moisture then others. These are the ones that should be chosen
when being used outside.
These particular species have natural oils and resins that
fill the cells of the wood and provide, in some cases, very
good protection against rot and insects. Species like cedar
for example last for decades in direct contact with the ground
while spruce would be rotten in under 5 years.
Of course cedar is a softwood and is used a lot throughout
the furniture and house construction industry. However, some
hardwoods also have very good resistance to rot and insects.
Species like teak and mahogany are used a lot in the tropics
for boat construction, but since the cost of these exotic hardwood
species is so much in North America we tend to use softwood
in the outdoor applications.
Another important factor is whether or not you want you intend
to use a clear finish or paint to protect your project. Cedar
needs to be sealed to prevent oils from leaching through the
paint. Some species of hardwood like poplar and birch are great
for accepting paint but have a tendency to blotch when stain
What about plywood?
Plywood developed in the late 1950's when manufacturers started
spinning a thin veneer from logs and laminating it into sheet
comprised of multiple layers of veneer. The layers are alternating
in grain direction which make plywood very stable.
plywood is often used for cabinets and drawer frames
since it is so reliably stable. It takes a half blind dovetail
well and is available in 1/8" to 3/4" thickness.