Wood Types and Techniques

About the Different Woods:

Different woods are the palette of the furnituremaker. They provide color and texture, strength and beauty to handmade furniture.

Each type of wood has characteristics to be considered when building a piece of furniture. Some are very hard and durable; some are flexible and suitable for bending. "Hardwood" is a term applied to trees that lose their leaves in winter. "Softwood" describes evergreens such as fir, pine and redwood. The actual durability a wood is described in a range from very soft to very hard.

Every wood has a distinctive grain structure. Woods such as white and red oak, ash and walnut have "open-pores". These woods have small holes in their surface that give the piece a textural quality. When a stain is applied to this type of surface, the stain tends to collect in the "open-pores" and appears darker than the rest of the piece. Tight grained woods include maple, alder, and cherry. These woods are smooth to the touch and can take finish evenly.

Many woods have unique "figure" such as quilting, birdseye, fiddleback or spalting.

Quilted Pacific Maple
         
Fiddleback Pacific Maple

 These naturally occurring characteristics can make a piece of furniture that reaches beyond the ordinary.

The following is a list of some of the woods used by Northern California woodworkers and their characteristics.

Find the type that most attracts you and consider using that wood for a special piece of furniture. The experienced craftworkers of Humboldt Woodworkers Guild can help find the right wood for your project.

     Humboldt Woodworkers Guild
encourages the use
of sustainably harvested woods.

Replanting and nurturing furniture grade hardwoods helps to promote healthy, diverse forests. Some of our members used "reclaimed" woods from old buildings to make new furniture that has the patina of aged wood. 
     Living in Northern California, surrounded by forests, the furnituremakers of the Guild are also able to cut and dry their own woods. Many woodworkers have cached lumber cut from their own land, waiting for a special project. Some woodworkers work exclusively with gathered woods which have fallen in wind and storms. 

     Using hardwoods in fine furniture promotes the value of mature trees and encourages the replanting of forests and maintenance of healthy, diverse ecosystems.



California Softwoods and Hardwoods

Alder, Pacific Maple, Black Oak, Madrone, Tan Oak, Redwood, Myrtlewood (pepperwood), Claro Walnut, Western Red Cedar, and Yew

Humboldt County woodworkers prize the unique woods of the Pacific Northwest for their beauty and durability. Local woodworkers use native woods alone and in combination with domestic and exotic species creating the furniture that is part of the distinctive designs of Northern California.



Alder


Warm brown color with a figure like cherry. Alder is a medium soft wood suitable for cabinetry and furniture with the appropriate sized joinery.


Pacific Maple


Golden yellow wood with a variety of figure available, can be found in the curly or fiddleback varieties. This is a medium hard wood suitable for all types of furniture.



Madrone


One of the harder California native woods, Madrone has a reddish pink color with streaks of color throughout. Madrone is used in furniture and turnings, and can be used in flooring and architectural woodwork.

Softwoods and Hardwoods

Ash, Basswood, Beech, Birch, Butternut, Tennessee Aromatic Cedar, Cherry, Fir, Hickory, Maple, Pine, Poplar, Red Oak, Walnut, White Oak.

Long a staple of the American furnituremaker, these mostly eastern hardwoods are most familiar to the public. Humboldt County woodworkers use these woods to make the finest handmade furniture.


Maple
Hard rock maple is one of the hardest of domestic woods. The "select white" grade of maple has a warm gold-ivory color when finished with a hand rubbed oil. Because of its hardness rock maple is suitable for all types of furniture and cabinetry.


Cherry


Furniture grade cherry is a moderately heavy, hard, strong, wood. Close grained, it can be polished to a deep and glowing red. Many of the finest early American table tops and interior panels were made of cherrywood. This wood is suitable for all furniture and cabinetry including chairs.


Walnut


North American walnut is one of the most prized hardwoods. It can range in color from deep rich brown to an almost purple brown. This is an open-pored wood that is relatively hard. Walnut is durable and finishes beautifully. The wood is useful in many furniture applications.

Exotic Woods

Andiroba, Bayo, Bloodwood, Bocote, Bubinga, Spanish Cedar, Chaktekok, Chechen, Chicozapote, Cocobolo, Ebony, Fishtail Oak, Granadillo, Ironbark, Ipe, Jabin, Jarrah, Jatoba, Katalox, Kingwood, Koa, Lacewood, Lignum Vitae, African Mahogany, Machiche, Narra, Obeche, Pau Ferro, African Paduak, Peruvian Walnut, Purpleheart, Brazilian Rosewood, Satinwood, Snakewood, Teak, Vesi Wenge, Zebrawood

With bright colors and expressive grain patterns these woods are often used as highlights in furnishing and turnings. Also, some of these exotic woods such as African mahogany and granadillo are excellent for building whole pieces of furniture, chairs and cabinetry.

Lacewood


A relatively soft wood grown widely in Australia, lacewood has an unusual grain structure that has the look of hammered copper when properly cut. It can be used as an accent wood or in veneered tabletops.


Granadillo


A beautiful, very hard wood from Southern Mexico with a tan-deep brown streaking. This close grained wood is a "Smart Wood" selectively harvested in cooperation with the indigenous people. This wood is suitable for all furniture applications.


African Mahogany


Here is traditional mahogany, deep rich, red and suitable for any furniture application. This wood is imported from Ghana, which has had a sustained yield forestry program in place since 1910.

About Techniques

The solid wood furniture of Humboldt Woodworkers Guild is built using time-honored joinery that gives the work beauty and durability.

All wood is made up of cells that continue to shrink and swell with changes in humidity. A 12-inch wide board will move on average about 1/8 of an inch over the course of a year.

If wood is not properly joined the boards will crack and break apart over the years. Antique furniture that has survived today was crafted with joints such as the mortise and tenon, dovetail, finger joint, floating panels and beautifully glued veneers. It's not that they didn't make bad furniture 100 years ago, it's just that only the good furniture has survived.

Mortise and Tenon - A mortise is the opening cut in wood, a tenon is the piece that is shaped to fit in it. This joint is used to join cross members, for example, connecting a rail to the leg of a chair.

Dovetail - The traditional joint used for drawers and to join casework work in fine cabinetry. The dovetail actually locks the wood in place in one direction.

Finger Joint - A simple joint that is similar in usage to the dovetail, the finger joint is stronger than the dovetail and compliments drawers and casework with a square patterned appearance.

Floating Panels- Frame and panels doors feature solid wood panels that fit into grooves in the wood of the frame. This construction allows the wood panel to "float" with the seasonal movement of wood.

Veneered woods - Another way to control the movement of wood to glue thinly sliced sheets of wood to a more moisture resistance substrate. Using this technique woodworkers can select unusually beautiful boards and carry the appearance of the wood grain throughout the piece.

Humboldt County woodworkers use both hand and machine tools to make fine furniture.

Chisels, hand planes and cabinet scrapers are still used in all shops along with tools as modern as a computer assisted router.