Wood has always been and still is the fundamental Material for making furniture, that is to say, a daily use object. But despite the variety of wood which Nature provide us with, not all trees produce a material with the essential characteristics needed in cabinet making. Therefore we offer here a selection incuding the woods most used in furniture making with their natural characteristics, such as colour, texture, etc.— and their most common uses.
BOX: The name boxwood is given to several heavy woods with a smooth uniform textures and a pale yellow appearance. The European variety, which grows in some parts of Great Britain and Spain, also grows extensively throughout northern Europe as jar as Turkey and Iran. There are other varieties in Asia and South Africa. It is a smooth yellow chamois colour and it is one of the smoothest textured woods sold commercially. It has affine concentrated, sometimes irregular grain. It is heavy and even after drying, it floats with great difficulty I’m water. Boxwood needs to be dried carefully as it has a tendency to crack, but once dried, its properties are great and it can be worked easily, like ivory, to great precision in carving wooden figures, rounded objects and woodcuts. Boxwood has a long history. It was used informer times to make objects such as combs, spinning wheels, writing tablets and for ornamnetal inlay. More recently, it has been used to make carving blocks, rulers and shuttles.
Due to the wood's scarcity, it is often employed in making small rounded articles such as chess pieces, corkscrews and tool handles.
MAHOGANY; Real mahogany, like the woods used in 18th century Chippendale and Adams furniture, comes from the area between México and Honduras as well as the Caribbean islands. Venezuela was the first country to trade in mahogany. From the 16th century, South Amerícan mahogany was imported to Europe by Spaniards from Spanish colonies, but it was used in furniture making. This was thanks to the insistence of cabinetmakers in the Chippendale, Hepplewhite and Sheraton workshops. Nowadays, Cuban mahogany is hard to come by and so most South Amerícan varieties are distinguished by their place of origin —Brazil, Perú, Venezuela, etc. Mahogany is a light pink colour which deepens over the years, until it finally takes on a reddish grey shade, varying between dark and very dark. Cuban mahogany is dark and heavy while the mainland variety is lighter and clearer. It is generally hard and compact, with a fine concentrated streaked grain which is almost imporous. South Amerícan mahogany dries easily, it is solid, easy to saw, polish and varnish, and so has a perfect finish. It is used for high quality furniture, reproduction pieces and also for veneering purposes. Besides South Amerícan mahogany, the 19th century saw the beginning of the African mahogany trade which aimed to supply extra wood to be used where genuine wood was lacking. This variety ranges from pale pink to reddish grey. It is light, easy to handle and has a good finish although it does not stand up well to fungus.
EUROPEAN CHESTNUT: It grows mainly in regions of thick vegetation, rich in organic growth with little clay, and it comes from the Eastern Mediterranean although it is also found in Switzerland, Germany and oven in southern England. Its wood is light brown with highly visible growth rings, like oak. The sapwood can be can be easily distinguished from the duramen because it is than oak wood. It is also more solid and easier to work. It is resistent flexible, light and fairly tough. It dries slowly and its cells tend to contract. It is very hard-wearing. It is used specifically to make handles, blinds, tubs and rounded objects. It does not play a large part in cabinetmaking although it does often feature in the doors of kitchen units. Chestnut panels provide for simple but attractive veneering.
CEDAR: The name cedar is given to different aromatic varieties of wood from Central and South America, Europe, Asia Minor (Lebanon) and Africa (Lebanon). Similar in colour to mahogany, but with a rougher texture, it is lighter and can be resinous. It dries quickly, is very stable, hard-wearing and resistant to fungus and termites. Its soft wood is easily worked. For these reasons and because of its attractive appearance, it is a much appreciated wood used for veneering high quality pieces of furniture and it is traditionally chosen for cigar boxes.
CHERRY TREE: It grows in two well defined regions; the first is Europe and Asia Minor where the wild variety is found, and the second one is the eastern United States, which is home to the Amerícan black cherry tree. Originally it is a pinkish brown colour but it gets darker with time, taking on a red mahogany shade. It is finely streaked which coincides with the dark grey poros. It is a delicate wood which needs to be dried well as it warps easily, it is prone to woodworm and is affected by the elements. It is easily sawn and can be worked both manually and with a machine, giving an excellent finish. Steaming improves its qualities. Cherry tree wood is very decorative and is employed in making furniture, especially chairs and high quality cabinetmaking for veneer finishes and as isolation tranformers.
LEMON TREE: This variety grows in western India and Srí Lanka. It is greyish yellow with golden streaks which make it very attractive. It is easily worked and is used in the furniture industry, interior decoration and veneering.
EBONY: Although ebony can be found in various places throughout the world, black ebony, which was previously found in India and Srí Lanka, nowadays comes mainly from tropical Africa. Together with the African wenge, it is the blackest of all known woods although there is also a dark brown variety which is either mottled grey or has black streaks. It has a fine compact grain and is hard but can be worked easily although varnishing may present problems. It is used mainly in high class interior decoration, top quality furniture musical instruments and in lathework.
ASH: It grows in medium storey canopy forests throughout Europe and there are very similar
varieties in the U.S.A. and Japan. It is a creamy white or slightly pinkish grey colour. The grouth rings are easily distinguished from the vessels which make grooves in a radial section and are undulated in a tangential section. It is a highly elastic and resistant wood which can be sawn and machine worked with no great difficulty, obtaining a good finish and it can be bent easily by steaming. It is perishable and not suitable for exterior use unless it has been treated accordingly. Ash is used mainly for articles which need to be bent and is therefore highly appreciated among cabinetmakers.
BEECH: This tree grows throughout Europe but the Yugoslavian highland variety is particularly appreciated. There are also excellent varieties in the U.S.A., Japan, Chile and the Antarctic. It is a witish shade which turns pink or lightish red if it is steemed. Its rings are easily visible and its medullary radii produce mirror-like rectangular shapes in a radial section and greyish spots in a tangential section. It usually has a straight grain, a smooth uniform texture and average weight although this varies. Beech dries quickly but is inclined to warp and once dry it can change considerably depending on the humidity level. It has a good finish and it can be turned well although it may sometimes crack. Used in furniture making and specifically for turned objects and the round edges of chairs and armchairs, it also serves for domestic use in kitchen utensils, tool handles and brushes. It produces hard-wearing parquet for domestic use.
SMALL LEMON TREE: It is found in Africa and the Philippines. A light yellow colour, it is hard and compact with concentrated poros and it can be I worked and polished easily. Its specific use is for inlay work and panel pressing.
WALNUT: Although it originates from the Near East, the common variety of walnut grows in all temperate to hot zones in the northern hemisphere. The Spanish walnut is one of the most highly acclaimed, but its production is very limited. The black walnut comes from the northern coniferous region of America and the white American walnut is in fact a hickory although it belongs to the walnut family. European walnut is brownish grey, with lightly grey streaks and its colour generally varies more than that of its American counterpart which is typically a smooth dark greyish red. A hard wood, it is homogeneous and fairly impervious. Walnut dries very slowly, but once dry it is quite solid. It works well, producing an excellent smooth finish. It moderately resistant to fungus. Well known and appreciated worldwide, it is of great decorative value and has been used throughout the ages in furniture making. Nowadays it is used to make panels or as solid wood in high quality cabinetmaking. Walnut provides the wood for skittles and for other rounded objects.
OLIVE TREE: It grows in hot zones and is found in the Mediterranean, all South European countries and North Africa. It is a green ochre colour with irregular greyish streaks and it has a smooth surface. Olive wood dries slowly and it has a tendency to crack and split open. It does not saw easily, but can be worked well either manually or by machine. It gives a smooth finish and can be polished and dyed. It is moderately resistant to fungus. It is used for inlay work, lathework and to make small objects of high precision, as well as in parquetry.
ELM: It is found in southern and central Europe and in some Paris of the Scandinavian Peninsula. Elmwood can be distinguished by the pattern of its growth rings. Its surface is rough and it is often irregularly grained. The wood is a greyish brown or red with whitish yellow sapwood. It dries quickly and is easy to work. It is employed in exterior structural work or in humid locations and nowadays, as it is a decorative wood, in furniture making and parquetry.
ROSEWOOD: This is a very decorative and much coveted wood. The commercial supply is concentrated in two different areas, each growing a different variety. One is the Indian rosewood which has whitish yellow sapwood with a pink tinge, and a duramen which varies from a deep bluish violet to orange. The other variety is the Brazilian rosewood with the same coloured sapwood and a brown duramen with violet and even black streaks. The first type growns in eastern India, Thailand, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Java. The second type is found mainly in Brazil and Argentina. It can be dried and machine worked without great difficulty, to produce high quality panels. Rosewood has been highly esteemed for two centuries now, being used in select cabinetmaking. It is also used for making objects with round edges.
BRAZIEWOOD: It grows in South America, specifically in Brazil and the West Indies. The wood is salmon pink, with a smooth grain and entwined fibres which facilitate inlay work, high quality cabinetmaking and the carving of precision articles.
ROSEWOOD TYPE: This variety comes from Brazil, varying’in colour with black, greyish and red streaks. It is easily worked and shaped and it polishes well. Panels are made for decorative wooden plaques and it is also used in cabinetmaking.
ROSEWOOD TYPE; It grows in South America, especially in Brazil and Peru. It is a whitish yellow colour with fine long pinkish violet streaks. It can be easily worked and has an excellent polished and varnished finish. It is used in cabinetmaking, lathework anda inlay work.
OAK: It grows throughout Europe, Asia, North Africa and North America. The best quality oaks grow in Yugoslavia, Germany and North America. The white oak grows in Europe, Japan and the U.S.A. and is a greyish yellow with a smooth surface, while the red oak is found in temperate zones of the northern hemisphere, especially in the U.S.A. and Iran. It has a pink tint. White oak tends to be strong, dense, hard and long-lasting which makes it difficult to work. This also applies to the red oak although it is not as hard-wearing. Nowadays white oak wood is still used in areas requiring tradition, strength and durability and it is widely used in furniture making and cabinetmaking veneering, parquetry and furniture. It is not recommended for exteriors as it is not hard-wearing. It is of a poorer quality than the white oak.
SYCAMORE: This tree grows in tropical Africa, Egypt, Canada or the Atlantic coast of the U.S.A. and Oregon. The sapwood is white while the duramen is greyish pink and the rings are slightly visible, producing line shadows in longitudinal sections. It is a hardwearing wood which resists wooduworm and gives a good finish. This wood is very suitable for precision cabinet making where its root can be carved into rhombus shapes which, when placed inside each other, have a striking iridescent effect.