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Purchasing hardwood lumber can be a daunting task. People are often overwhelmed by the options and the effort it takes to sort through the information to find what is relevant but when you are armed with information that is simply presented and organized, it’s significantly less challenging. Before tackling the various types of hardwood lumber it is important to understand the origin of hardwood. Hardwood comes from trees that are slow growing and produce and drop seeds every year. There are several types of hardwood that all have unique characteristics.


Red Cedar

Eastern red cedar, also called pencil cedar, an evergreen ornamental and timber tree of the cypress family, native to eastern North America.

  • The common Names are Aromatic Red Cedar or Eastern Redcedar
  • Scientific Name: Juniperus virginiana
  • Distribution: Eastern North America
  • Tree Size: 100-115 ft tall and 3-4 ft  trunk diameter
  • Average Dried Weight: 33 lbs/ft3
  • Specific Gravity (Basic, 12% MC): .44, .53
  • Janka Hardness: 900 lbf (4,000 N)
  • Modulus of Rupture: 8,800 lbf/in2 (60.7 MPa)
  • Crushing Strength: 6,020 lbf/in2 (41.5 MPa)
  • Shrinkage: Radial: 3.1%, Tangential: 4.7%, Volumetric: 7.8%, T/R Ratio: 1.5

African Mahogany

Mahogany is a popular type of hardwood that ranges in color from reddish brown to a deeper medium brown. It is among the more expensive types of hardwood and is used for a variety of different household projects. It is widely considered elegant and professional.

  • Common Name(s): African Mahogany
  • Scientific Name: Khaya spp. (Khaya anthotheca, K. grandifoliola, K. ivorensis, K. senegalensis)
  • Distribution: West tropical Africa
  • Tree Size: 100-130 ft  tall, 3-5 ft trunk diameter
  • Average Dried Weight: 40 lbs/ft3 (640 kg/m3)
  • Specific Gravity (Basic, 12% MC): .52, .64
  • Janka Hardness: 1,070 lbf (4,760 N)
  • Modulus of Rupture: 13,190 lbf/in2 (91.0 MPa)
  • Elastic Modulus: 1,537,000 lbf/in2 (10.60 GPa)
  • Crushing Strength: 7,100 lbf/in2 (49.0 MPa)
  • Shrinkage: Radial: 4.2%, Tangential: 5.7%, Volumetric: 10.0%, T/R Ratio: 1.4
  • Color/Appearance: Heartwood color is variable, ranging from a very pale pink to a deeper reddish brown, sometimes with streaks of medium to dark reddish brown. Color tends to darken with age. Quartersawn surfaces can also exhibit a ribbon-stripe appearance.

Walnut

Walnut is typically a vivid chocolate brown color. It is a strong wood that is also extremely versatile. Walnut hardwood is very durable and water resistant and so it is great for areas with lots of humidity. In addition to its durability it is also very easy to clean so it’s great for large families and households with children.

  • Common Name(s): Walnut
  • Scientific Name: Juglans nigra
  • Distribution: Eastern United States
  • Tree Size: 100-120 ft. tall, 2-3 ft trunk diameter
  • Average Dried Weight: 38 lbs/ft3 (610 kg/m3)
  • Specific Gravity (Basic, 12% MC): .51, .61
  • Janka Hardness: 1,010 lbf (4,490 N)
  • Modulus of Rupture: 14,600 lbf/in2 (100.7 MPa)
  • Elastic Modulus: 1,680,000 lbf/in2 (11.59 GPa)
  • Crushing Strength: 7,580 lbf/in2 (52.3 MPa)
  • Shrinkage: Radial: 5.5%, Tangential: 7.8%, Volumetric: 12.8%, T/R Ratio: 1.4
  • Color/Appearance: Heartwood can range from a lighter pale brown to a dark chocolate brown with darker brown streaks. Color can sometimes have a grey, purple, or reddish cast. Sapwood is pale yellow-gray to nearly white. Figured grain patterns such as curl, crotch, and burl are also seen.

Oak

Oak can be recognized by its beautiful prominent grain pattern. It is sold as white oak and red oak commercially. Due to its density and strength, oak is often used for cabinets and other large furniture pieces.

  • Common Name(s): White Oak
  • Scientific Name: Quercus alba
  • Distribution: Eastern United States
  • Tree Size: 65-85 ft  tall, 3-4 ft trunk diameter
  • Average Dried Weight: 47 lbs/ft3
  • Specific Gravity (Basic, 12% MC): .60, .75
  • Janka Hardness: 1,350 lbf (5,990 N)
  • Modulus of Rupture: 14,830 lbf/in2 (102.3 MPa)
  • Elastic Modulus: 1,762,000 lbf/in2 (12.15 GPa)
  • Crushing Strength: 7,370 lbf/in2 (50.8 MPa)
  • Shrinkage:Radial: 5.6%, Tangential: 10.5%, Volumetric: 16.3%, T/R Ratio: 1.9
  • Color/Appearance: Heartwood is a light to medium brown, commonly with an olive cast. Nearly white to light brown sapwood is not always sharply demarcated from the heartwood. Quartersawn sections display prominent ray fleck patterns. Conversely, Red Oak tends to be slightly redder, but is by no means a reliable method of determining the type of oak.

  • Common Name(s): Red Oak
  • Scientific Name: Quercus rubra
  • Distribution: Northeastern United States and Southeastern Canada
  • Tree Size: 80-115 ft (25-35 m) tall, 3-6 ft (1-2 m) trunk diameter
  • Average Dried Weight: 44 lbs/ft3 (700 kg/m3)
  • Specific Gravity (Basic, 12% MC): .56, .70
  • Janka Hardness: 1,220 lbf (5,430 N)
  • Modulus of Rupture: 14,380 lbf/in2 (99.2 MPa)
  • Elastic Modulus: 1,761,000 lbf/in2 (12.14 GPa)
  • Crushing Strength: 6,780 lbf/in2 (46.8 MPa)
  • Shrinkage: Radial: 4.0%, Tangential: 8.6%, Volumetric: 13.7%, T/R Ratio: 2.2
  • Color/Appearance: Heartwood is a light to medium brown, commonly with a reddish cast. Nearly white to light brown sapwood is not always sharply demarcated from the heartwood. Quartersawn sections display prominent ray fleck patterns. Conversely, White Oak tends to be slightly more olive-colored, but is by no means a reliable method of determining the type of oak.

Ash

Ash is a very easily manipulated wood. It is light brown and often used for woodwork that involves a lot of intricate curves. An ash curved back chair, for example, is a great addition to any decor.

  • Common Name(s): White Ash, American White Ash
  • Scientific Name: Fraxinus americana
  • Distribution: Eastern North America
  • Tree Size: 65-100 ft  tall, 2-5 ft trunk diameter
  • Average Dried Weight: 42 lbs/ft3 (675 kg/m3)
  • Specific Gravity (Basic, 12% MC): .55, .67
  • Janka Hardness: 1,320 lbf (5,870 N)
  • Modulus of Rupture: 15,000 lbf/in2 (103.5 MPa)
  • Elastic Modulus: 1,740,000 lbf/in2 (12.00 GPa)
  • Crushing Strength: 7,410 lbf/in2 (51.1 MPa)
  • Shrinkage: Radial: 4.9%, Tangential: 7.8%, Volumetric: 13.3%, T/R Ratio: 1.6
  • Color/Appearance: The heartwood is a light to medium brown color. Sapwood can be very wide, and tends to be a beige or light brown; not always clearly or sharply demarcated from heartwood.

Birch

Birch is inexpensive and readily available. It is light in color and is often used for cabinets. It serves as a fantastic plywood with a great finish. For all these reasons it is a very popular and often used material.

  • Common Name(s): White Birch
  • Scientific Name: Betula neoalaskana
  • Distribution: Alaska and northern Canada
  • Tree Size: 50-65 ft. tall, 1-2 ft trunk diameter
  • Average Dried Weight: 38 lbs/ft3 (610 kg/m3)
  • Specific Gravity (Basic, 12% MC): .49, .61
  • Janka Hardness: 830 lbf (3,690 N)
  • Modulus of Rupture: 13,600 lbf/in2 (93.8 MPa)
  • Elastic Modulus: 1,900,000 lbf/in2 (13.10 GPa)
  • Crushing Strength: 7,450 lbf/in2 (51.4 MPa)
  • Shrinkage: Radial: 6.5%, Tangential: 9.9%, Volumetric: 16.7%, T/R Ratio: 1.5
  • Color/Appearance: Heartwood tends to be a light reddish brown, with nearly white sapwood. Occasionally figured pieces are available with a wide, shallow curl similar to the curl found in Cherry. There is virtually no color distinction between annual growth rings, giving Birch a somewhat dull, uniform appearance.

  • Common Name(s): Yellow Birch
  • Scientific Name: Betula alleghaniensis
  • Distribution: Northeastern North America
  • Tree Size: 65-100 ft tall, 2-3 ft trunk diameter
  • Average Dried Weight: 43 lbs/ft3 (690 kg/m3)
  • Specific Gravity (Basic, 12% MC): .55, .69
  • Janka Hardness: 1,260 lbf (5,610 N)
  • Modulus of Rupture: 16,600 lbf/in2 (114.5 MPa)
  • Elastic Modulus: 2,010,000 lbf/in2 (13.86 GPa)
  • Crushing Strength: 8,170 lbf/in2 (56.3 MPa)
  • Shrinkage: Radial: 7.3%, Tangential: 9.5%, Volumetric: 16.8%, T/R Ratio: 1.3
  • Color/Appearance: Heartwood tends to be a light reddish brown, with nearly white sapwood. Occasionally figured pieces are available with a wide, shallow curl similar to the curl found in Cherry. There is virtually no color distinction between annual growth rings, giving Birch a somewhat dull, uniform appearance.

Maple

This pale brown wood is takes paint very well and is fantastic for any projects that will have a stained or painted finish. Maple, like mahogany, is heavy and water resistant. It is great for areas that are humid and heavily used items.

  • Common Name(s): Hard Maple, Sugar Maple, Rock Maple
  • Scientific Name: Acer saccharum
  • Distribution: Northeastern North America
  • Tree Size: 80-115 ft (25-35 m) tall, 2-3 ft (.6-1.0 m) trunk diameter
  • Average Dried Weight: 44 lbs/ft3 (705 kg/m3)
  • Specific Gravity (Basic, 12% MC): .56, .71
  • Janka Hardness: 1,450 lbf (6,450 N)
  • Modulus of Rupture: 15,800 lbf/in2 (109.0 MPa)
  • Elastic Modulus: 1,830,000 lbf/in2 (12.62 GPa)
  • Crushing Strength: 7,830 lbf/in2 (54.0 MPa)
  • Shrinkage: Radial: 4.8%, Tangential: 9.9%, Volumetric: 14.7%, T/R Ratio: 2.1
  • Color/Appearance: Unlike most other hardwoods, the sapwood of Hard Maple lumber is most commonly used rather than its heartwood. Sapwood color ranges from nearly white, to an off-white cream color, sometimes with a reddish or golden hue. The heartwood tends to be a darker reddish brown. Birdseye Maple is a figure found most commonly in Hard Maple, though it’s also found less frequently in other species. Hard Maple can also be seen with curly or quilted grain patterns.

  • Common Name(s): Bigleaf Maple
  • Scientific Name: Acer macrophyllum
  • Distribution: Coastal regions of Pacific North America
  • Tree Size: 80-100 ft (25-30 m) tall, 2-3 ft (.6-1.0 m) trunk diameter
  • Average Dried Weight: 34 lbs/ft3 (545 kg/m3)
  • Specific Gravity (Basic, 12% MC): .44, .55
  • Janka Hardness: 850 lbf (3,780 N)
  • Modulus of Rupture: 10,700 lbf/in2 (73.8 MPa)
  • Elastic Modulus: 1,450,000 lbf/in2 (10.00 GPa)
  • Crushing Strength: 5,950 lbf/in2 (41.0 MPa)
  • Shrinkage: Radial: 3.7%, Tangential: 7.1%, Volumetric: 11.6%, T/R Ratio: 1.9
  • Color/Appearance: Unlike most other hardwoods, the sapwood of maple lumber is most commonly used rather than its heartwood. Sapwood color ranges from almost white, to a light golden or reddish brown, while the heartwood is a darker reddish brown. Silver Maple can also be seen with curly or quilted grain patterns.

Cherry

Cherry is a deep red color and a bit of a renaissance wood. It has great density, bendability and workability. It is also among the more inexpensive hardwoods. It is often seen as regal and is a great way to create a luxurious feel in any space.

  • Common Name(s): Black Cherry, Cherry, American Cherry
  • Scientific Name: Prunus serotina
  • Distribution: Eastern North America
  • Tree Size: 50-100 ft (15-30 m) tall, 3-5 ft (1-1.5 m) trunk diameter
  • Average Dried Weight: 35 lbs/ft3 (560 kg/m3)
  • Specific Gravity (Basic, 12% MC): .47, .56
  • Janka Hardness: 950 lbf (4,230 N)
  • Modulus of Rupture: 12,300 lbf/in2 (84.8 MPa)
  • Elastic Modulus: 1,490,000 lbf/in2 (10.30 GPa)
  • Crushing Strength: 7,110 lbf/in2 (49.0 MPa)
  • Shrinkage:Radial: 3.7%, Tangential: 7.1%, Volumetric: 11.5%, T/R Ratio: 1.9
  • Color/Appearance: Heartwood is a light pinkish brown when freshly cut, darkening to a medium reddish brown with time and upon exposure to light. Sapwood is a pale yellowish color.

  • Common Name(s): Jatoba, Brazilian Cherry
  • Scientific Name: Hymenaea courbaril
  • Distribution: Central America, southern Mexico, northern South America, and the West Indies
  • Tree Size: 100-130 ft (30-40 m) tall, 2-4 ft (.6-1.2 m) trunk diameter
  • Average Dried Weight: 57 lbs/ft3 (910 kg/m3)
  • Specific Gravity (Basic, 12% MC): .77, .91
  • Janka Hardness: 2,690 lbf (11,950 N)
  • Modulus of Rupture: 22,510 lbf/in2 (155.2 MPa)
  • Elastic Modulus: 2,745,000 lbf/in2 (18.93 GPa)
  • Crushing Strength: 11,780 lbf/in2 (81.2 MPa)
  • Shrinkage: Radial: 4.2%, Tangential: 8.0%, Volumetric: 12.1%, T/R Ratio: 1.9
  • Color/Appearance: Heartwood varies from a light orangish brown to a darker reddish brown, sometimes with contrasting darker grayish brown streaks. Color tends darken upon exposure to light. Sapwood is a light grayish yellow, clearly demarcated from the heartwood.

Now that you are aware of the origin and some of the characteristics of the more common types of hardwood, you are well on your way to making an informed decision. Hardwood in general is a fantastic option for household projects and is sure to be a lovely addition to your home. Whether you want something that is heavy and durable, something with a beautiful finish, or a particular grain pattern, hardwood is versatile enough to meet a variety of needs.