It is common knowledge that there are lots of different wood types. However, we generally group wood types into one of two categories:
Hardwood or softwood.
Wood can also be classified as either:
Natural timber or manufactured board.
Natural timber is timber that has been produced from hardwood or softwood trees, whereas manufactured boards are usually made from timber waste or wood by-products (like sawdust) and adhesive. To make manufactured boards more aesthetically pleasing they are often veneered with a thin slice of fine natural wood.
Did you know?
Each year, a tree adds to its girth, the new growth being called a ring. You can see a tree’s rings in the cross section of the tree trunk, and they provide us with accurate evidence of an area’s history, from lighting strikes and floods to fires and insect attacks. Lighter coloured rings represent the longer growing season (spring/summer) whilst darker rings form in Autumn when growth slows down.
Softwoods have big growth gaps between the rings making them softer. Hardwoods have closely packed rings because they grow slower. This is what makes them hard.
Classifying wood as a hardwood or a softwood depends on the seeds that the tree produces. A wood will be categorised as a hardwood if the seeds that the tree produces have a coating. These coatings can either take the shape of a fruit or a shell.
Alternatively, wood is classed as a softwood if the seeds do not have any type of coating and are instead dropped to the ground and left to the elements.
Let us take a closer look at each wood category in further detail…
Hardwoods come from deciduous trees, which are recognisable for their large flat leaves that fall in the autumn. Hardwoods come from slow-growing trees. Their slower growth means that they are denser, giving them their hardwood quality. They are also darker in colour and tend to be the most expensive type of wood on the market because their longer growth time limits their availability (to an extent), and the strength and durability of hardwood is in high demand.
Examples of hardwood
The most common types of hardwood come from the following trees:
Dark in colour, polishes well and is very strong. Very slow growing and, therefore, very expensive.
Used for high-quality furniture
Creamy white or yellow colour.
Can be well worked by machines. Can be steam bent and is resistant to preservatives. Commonly used in joinery and plywood.
Light brown in colour. Sometimes a slight pink tint. Close grain.
It is dense, but when cut thinly can be bent without splitting. Often used to make curved furniture. Tough, durable, and smooth to finish.
Absorbs shock well so is often used for tool handles and sports bats. Polishes well to make furniture.
Moderate-brown colour with unique and attractive grain markings.
Tough and durable, polishes well, used for quality furniture.
Pale and wide-spaced grain due to it being a fast-growing hardwood.
Soft and easy to shape, often used to make models.
Softwoods come from coniferous trees. These will often boast pines and needles, and they stay evergreen all year round (they do not lose leaves during the autumn). They are faster growing than hardwoods, making the wood easier to obtain and, therefore, a cheaper option. Softwoods appear lighter in colour compared with hardwood varieties.
Examples of softwood
The most common types of softwood come from the following trees:
Pale coloured with aesthetically pleasing grain.
Lightweight and easy to form. Used for construction, decking, fence posts, cladding, and furniture.
Colour varies depending on the type of spruce. Heartwood is reddish brown. Sapwood is yellowish white.
Commonly used in the construction of beams, joists, foundations, and sheds. Unsuitable for projects with high wear and tear like flooring.
Reddish brown coloured with straight grain and coarse texture.
Easily worked with tools and machines. Glues and finishes well. Commonly used in joinery and cladding.
A dark honey colour. Resistant to rot.
Ideal for decking and outdoor furniture.
As the name suggests, there is nothing natural about manufactured wood boards compared with hardwood and softwood alternatives. Manufactured boards are sheets of wooden material made from wood by-products. To make them more aesthetically pleasing they are often veneered. Boards are made from a variety of wood materials such as bonded fine wood dust (MDF), bonded larger wood chips (chipboard), bonded veneers (plywood), and bonded blocks of wood (blockboard).
Whilst wood veneer is ‘real’ wood, it is usually bonded to a manufactured piece for greater strength and durability. It is ideal for high-end pieces of furniture or flooring and, therefore, the price tag often reflects this.
The advantage of using manufactured boards over natural timber is that they are produced in large boards of even thickness and come in different qualities that are suitable for a wide range of applications, such as construction, furniture making, and aircraft building. The adhesives used also vary, from water soluble to totally waterproof.
Examples of manufactured board
Medium-density fibreboard (MDF)
Light brown in colour. Smooth. Can be veneered.
Smooth and easy to finish. Absorbs moisture (not ideal for outside use). Ideal for cabinetry, flooring, and flat-pack furniture.
Layers of veneer glued at 90-degree angles for strength. Aesthetically pleasing outer layer for a smooth finish.
Easy to cut and work with. Can be stained/painted. Great for shelving and construction projects.
Bonded wood chips, laminated with a variety of coverings.
Strong but absorbs water. Useful for inside projects such as flooring, tables, and headboards.
Blocks of wood secured between two thin outer wood layers.
Good structural stability and strength. Good for doors, shelves, tables, panelling, partitions, or kitchen worktops.
Choosing the right wood for your project
At Parsons Joinery, we predominantly use five types of timber – European oak, utile and sapele, iroko, redwood, and accoya.
Other wood species available for your joinery are:
- American white ash
- American cherry
- American black walnut