Wood Species

About Wood Species - Real Wood Furniture Chantilly, VA

How do Hardwoods and Softwoods differ?

Hardwoods and softwoods look different and accept finishes differently.

Hardwoods are deciduous, the botanical group of trees that have broad leaves, produce a fruit or nut, and generally go dormant in the winter. There are hundreds of hardwood species in the United States; together they represent 40% of the trees in the United States. In contrast, Softwoods, or conifers, have needles. Widely available softwoods include cedar, fir, hemlock, pine, redwood and spruce.


A relative of birch, Alder grows from Alaska to Southern California. It ranks third behind oak and pine as the wood most commonly used for ready-to finish furniture.

  • Color: Consistent pale pinkish-brown to almost white.
  • Grain: No distinct pattern.
  • Characteristics: Good working properties, moderately lightweight, low shock resistance.
  • Finishing: Finishes smoothly and takes stain well.


There are several species of American ash: black, brown and white. What sets it apart and makes ash valuable for many special uses is its exceptional flexibility. Ash is among the most easily steam-bent hardwood species. Early windmills were made form ash. Ash is used extensively in the manufacture of sporting goods; for example, baseball bats are made from white ash.

  • Color: Nearly pure lustrous white, ranging through cream to light brown.
  • Grain: Attractive, straight, moderately open and pronounced.
  • Characteristics: Heavy, hard, strong and stiff excellent bending qualities.
  • Finishing: Seldom painted because of its large pores, but takes all other finishes well.


Both quaking and bigtooth aspen are readily available hardwoods as lumber in the western U.S.

  • Color: Light white to light brown.
  • Grain: Even, prominent, resembles oak and hickory; burls have a twisted, interwoven figure.
  • Characteristics: Heavy, hard, ring porous.
  • Finishing: Ideal for non-penetrating finishes, such as water-based stains and paints.


Related to the oak and chestnut, beech is most common in the higher altitudes of the Appalachian Mountain chain. Elegant and attractive, the American beech is a medium-tall tree with smooth bark. It grows along mountain slopes and rich uplands in nearly pure stands. It tolerates shade well, making it one of the forest trees that can thrive beneath the canopy of taller species. American beech is highly adaptable to steam bending while retaining its strength, making it ideal bent-wood chairs and other bent-wood furniture. It also is excellent for woodturning, wears well and takes preservatives well. Because beechwood becomes slick with wear, it is perfect for drawer sides and runners.

  • Color: Ranges from nearly white to deep red-brown.
  • Grain: Close and straight, with little figure and a uniform texture, identified by its dark pores in conspicuous rays
  • Characteristics: Hard and strong; good resistance to abrasive wear
  • Finishing: Easy to paint, stain or bleach.


Yellow birch is a deciduous hardwood that grows primarily in the upland, hilly terrain of the northeastern and lake-states forests: There are nine species of birch native to North America, including the distinctive and familiar white-trunked paper birch. Yellow birch is the most common commercial lumber birch. It is identified by its bright, yellowish-bronze-colored bark that peels in long, thin horizontal strips.

  • Color: Cream or lightly tinged with red.
  • Grain: Fine, often curly or wavy.
  • Characteristics: Heavy, strong, hard and even-textured.
  • Finishing: Takes paints and stains well


Like all fruit trees, cherry belongs to the rose family and was used as early as 400 B.C. by the Greeks and Romans for furniture making. Cherry helped define American traditional design because Colonial cabinetmakers recognized its superior woodworking qualities. Today, cherry helps define Shaker, Mission and country styling. The wood's rich red-brown color deepens with age. Small, dark gum flecks add to its interest. Distinctive, unique figures and grains are brought out with quarter sawing. It has an exceptionally lustrous appearance that glows. The finish is satiny to the touch.

  • Color: Rich, reddish-brown; darkens considerably with age and exposure to sunlight.
  • Grain: Straight and satiny; small gum pockets produce distinctive markings.
  • Characteristics: Light, strong, stiff and rather hard.
  • Finishing: Unsurpassed in its finishing qualities; its uniform texture takes a finish well.


The hardwood eucalyptus genus represents more than 300 species. They have been successfully planted in South America, South Africa, Europe and the United States. Eucalyptus is a renewable resource with high productivity in relatively short harvest rotations. The wood in these products comes from well managed forests, independently certified in accordance with the rules of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).

  • Color: Pinkish-brown; turns reddish-brown with age and exposure to light.
  • Characteristics: Strong, heavy; low maintenance; high oil content makes it resistant to decay and insects.
  • Grain: Straight, dense, tight, light.
  • Finish: Weathers to a soft gray; advisable to leave wood unfinished.


A native American tree, hickories are members of the walnut family. Hickory is the hardest, heaviest and strongest American wood in common use. Westward trekking pioneers allegedly made hickory a prerequisite for their wagon wheels.

  • Color: White to tan to reddish-brown with inconspicuous fine brown lines.
  • Grain: Fine.
  • Characteristics: Extremely tough and resilient; even texture; hard and moderately heavy.
  • Finishing: Welcomes a full range of medium to dark finishes and bleaching treatments.


The heavyweight of all woods, mahogany is one of the most valuable timber trees. New-model automobiles were originally carved, full-sized, entirely out of mahogany. Each piece, from the front bumper to the engine, dashboard, drive shaft, and back to the lock on the trunk were first fashioned from this stable hard wood.

  • Color: Varies from light red or pale tan to a rich, dark, deep red or deep golden brown, depending on country of origin.
  • Grain: Generally straight, but prized for its figures, which include stripe, roe, curly, blister, fiddleback and mottle.
  • Characteristics: Extremely strong, hard, stable and decay-resistant.
  • Finishing: Finishes and stains to a beautiful natural luster.


The American species of maple are divided into two groups: hard maple, which includes sugar and black maple; and soft maple, which includes red and silver maple. Until the turn of the century, the heels of women's shoes were made from maple, as were airplane propellers in the 1920s. Maple has been a favorite of American furniture makers since early Colonial days.

  • Color: Cream to light reddish-brown.
  • Grain: Usually straight, close; sometimes found with highly figured bird's-eye or burl grain.
  • Characteristics: Heavy, hard, strong, tough, stiff; possesses a uniform texture; resistant to abrasion and indentation, making it ideal flooring as well as cutting boards and countertops.
  • Finishing: Takes stain satisfactorily and polishes well.


Red and white oaks are the most abundant U.S. hardwood species. It would be difficult to name a wood with a longer and more illustrious history in furnishings and interior design. Oak was a favorite of early English craftsmen and a prized material for American Colonists. White oak is just one of 86 oak species native to this country, but it is the classic oak of America. Although prevalent throughout the eastern half of the United States, from Maine to Texas, white oak lumber comes chiefly from the south, south Atlantic and central states, including the southern Appalachians. Red oak grows only in North America and is found further north than any other oak species. A big, slow growing tree, red oak takes 20 years to mature and lives an average of 300 years. It’s great for flooring, furniture, cabinets, ships and decorative woodwork.

  • Color: White oak ranges from nearly white sapwood to a darker, gray-brown heartwood; Red oak ranges from nearly white cream color to a warm, pale brown heartwood tinted with red.
  • Grain: Distinguished by rays that reflect light and add to its attractiveness; depending on the way the logs are sawn into timber (rift-cut, flat sliced, flat sawn, rotary cut, quartered), many distinctive and sought-after patterns emerge: flake figures, pin stripes, fine lines, leafy grains and watery figures.
  • Characteristics: Heavy, strong, hard, stiff, durable under exposure, great wear-resistance, holds nails and screws well.
  • Finishing: Stain beautifully with a wide range of finish tones.


Parawood is native to the Amazon Region of South America. Information about Parawood can be traced back to Christopher Columbus. During his second visit to South America, he wondered at the heavy black ball the natives were using in games. This black ball was made from the vegetable gum of the Parawood tree. Later historians would also marvel at this substance, which bounced so much when thrown to the ground it appeared to be alive. In the 19th century an Englishman named Henry Wickham transported some seeds to England for germination. The seeds germinated and these small seedlings were transported to the Malay Peninsula for planting; there to start the Great Rubber Plantations of Malaysia. After 25 to 30 years of latex production, tapped in the same manner syrup is tapped from the Maple trees, the tree ceases to produce sufficient quantities of latex. The tree is cut for processing in the manufacture of fine furniture and a new tree is planted in its place.

  • Color: Pale yellow.
  • Grain: Open grain similar to mahogany.
  • Characteristics: A very hard wood.
  • Finishing: Takes a very even stain.

Pine (Radiata)

Radiata Pine is a plantation-grown wood from South America and New Zealand that is harder than other pines and has fewer knots.

  • Color: Pale cream.
  • Grain: Straight.
  • Characteristics: Even texture.
  • Finishing: Takes most finishes well.

Pine (Southern Yellow)

Southern Yellow Pine is actually a species group primarily made up four trees: loblolly pine (Pinus taeda), long leaf pine (Pinus palustris), shortleaf pine (Pinus echinata) and slash pine (Pinus eliottii) Loblolly Pine is the most important and predominant of the four; it grows throughout the Atlantic Coastal Plain, often in commercial stands, from Maryland south through all the Carolinas and Georgia into Florida, and westward to East Texas. It is classified as a hard pine and is harder than white pine.

  • Color: Warm pale yellow with brown knots.
  • Grain: High density, uneven; distinctive light and dark pattern.
  • Characteristics: Hard.
  • Finishing: Takes most finishes well; with some stains, a sealer helps prepare the wood to achieve a more even look.

Pine (White)

Found in the uplands of Newfoundland and Manitoba, south throughout New England and the Great Lakes Region to South Carolina, White Pine is the state tree of Maine and Michigan. A large tree with relatively few horizontal big limbs, the Eastern white pine is one of the tallest timber trees in the Northeast.

  • Color: White to pale yellow with a reddish tinge; darkens with age and air exposure, eventually turning deep orange.
  • Grain: Light, soft, straight with uniform texture.
  • Characteristics: Works well and is easily shaped with hand and power tools; accepts many types of glue well, making for tight bonding.
  • Finishing: Takes most finishes well; with some stains, a sealer helps prepare the wood to achieve a more even look.


Also known as yellow poplar, tulip poplar, tulipwood and hickory poplar, poplar trees grow taller than any other U.S. hardwood species. Yellow poplar grows quickly into a tall straight tree. It is found alone in open, rich, moist soil. Because of its fast maturity, the lumber from poplar is lightweight and soft for a hardwood. It is strong, durable and seasons well, resisting warping once it is dried. Because the trunk has no limbs or branches, except at the very top, the wood has no knots.

  • Color: White to yellowish cast, sometimes with slightly greenish cast and occasional dark purplish streaks.
  • Grain: Straight.
  • Characteristics: Comparatively uniform texture; light to medium weight; excellent strength and stability; cuts and sands well; keeps its edge and resists splitting.
  • Finishing: Stains well and can easily be made to resemble walnut or maple; often painted because it takes paint exceptionally well.