Wood Characteristics and Uses
Ash, green (Fraxinus pennsylvanica)
Ash wood is hard and heavy, strong in comparison to weight, and able to resist a succession of shocks that would destroy some woods of equal or greater density. Ash machines and bends well, is noted for stability, less subject to twist, warp and dimensional change than most of our native hardwoods. Used for ball bats, hockey sticks, tool handles, agricultural implements and oars. It is popular for food containers because the wood has no taste, and its primarily blonde color is an excellent alternative to red oak as furniture wood.
Boxelder (Acer negundo)
Its light, close-grained, soft wood is considered undesirable for most uses. However, boxelder is considered as a commercial source of wood fiber for use in fiberboard. There is some commercial use of the tree for various decorative applications, such as turned items. Primarily burl wood and injured wood develops a red stain.
Cherry, black (Prunus serotina)
Cherry wood is moderately heavy, hard, stable and strong with reddish-brown heartwood that sometimes has a greenish cast. The sapwood is yellowish-white. The wood machines and sands to glass-like smoothness. It is a premier American cabinet wood which at times outsells walnut.
Cedar, eastern red (aromatic) (Juniperus virginiana)
Aromatic cedar is medium density, non-porous, close grained and durable with good machining qualities. The heartwood is red and the sapwood is white. Perhaps its most outstanding quality is a unique scent which has endeared itself to millions who are the proud owners of a handsome cedar chest or a cedar lined closet. The sawdust is distilled for aromatic oils.
Coffeetree, Kentucky (Gymnocladus dioicus)
The wood is strong and density with a coarse, straight grain. When dried carefully the wood is stable and machines well. Its heartwood is light red to red or reddish brown and the sapwood is narrow and yellowish white. The wood finishes to a smooth surface and “polishes superbly.” It is used in general construction, cabinet work, sills, interior finish, fine furniture, railway sleepers, bridge timbers, crossties, fence posts and rails, and fuel wood. It also makes beautiful paneling which weathers to a light chocolate brown.
Cottonwood, eastern (Populus deltoides)
Cottonwood is soft, diffusely porous, close-grained, coarse in texture, light in weight and color, resistant to splitting, and odorless. The wood machines easily but contains minerals which dull cutting edges. Heartwood very light brown, often with grayish cast and the sapwood lighter in color. It is used principally for pallets, dunnage, planing mill products, woodenware, plywood, and pulp.
Elm, American (Ulmus americana)
Elm has a medium texture and moderate-sized pores. The grain is sometimes straight, but commonly interlocked. As a result, it can be a challenge to work because of interlocked grain, especially on quartersawn surfaces. The heartwood is a light to medium brown, sometimes with a hint of red and the sapwood is a pale white or cream color. Planing can cause tearout or fuzzy surfaces. Elm glues, stains, and finishes well. Common uses include boxes, baskets, furniture, hockey sticks, veneer, wood pulp, and paper.
Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis)
Hackberry has medium density, hardness and strength with conspicuously porous wood rings. The color is creamy white, often with a grayish cast and no strong contrast between sapwood and heartwood. It is substitute for ash with a course texture and predominantly open grain. The wood is one of the loveliest and most neglected of American hardwoods. Capable of receiving fine finishes and suitable for interior trim and wall paneling.
Hickory, smoothbark (Carya glabra)
Hickory has the combined qualities of extreme hardness, strength, shock resistance and elasticity. The color is pinkish-tan with a pattern similar to ash. It is used principally for furniture, wall paneling, woodwork, bending stock, handles and skis.
Honeylocust (Gleditsia triacanthos)
Honeylocust wood is dense, hard, coarse-grained, strong, stiff, shock-resistant, takes a high polish, and is durable in contact with soil. It has been used locally for pallets, crates, general construction, furniture, interior finish, turnery, firewood, railroad ties, and posts (fence posts may sprout to form living fences). The wood also was formerly valued for bows. It is considered too scarce to be of economic importance.
Locust, black (Robinia pseudoacacia)
The wood is pale yellowish brown; heavy, hard, strong, close-grained and very resistant to rot and durable. Wet, newly-cut planks have an offensive odor which disappears with seasoning. It is one of the heaviest and hardest woods in North America. As a result, it is prized for furniture, flooring, paneling, fence posts and small watercraft. Black locust burns slowly, with little visible flame or smoke, and has excellent heat content.
Maple, silver (Acer saccharinum)
Silver maple has medium density, hardness and strength, machining and the finishing properties are good. It has good stability, fine texture, and close-grained. The wood does not require filling, annual growth rings are inconspicuous, the heartwood color varies from pale tan to reddish-gray, sometimes streaked and the sapwood is white to off-white. Odorless and tasteless, this species is suitable for food containers. Woodworkers often request silver maple as a lower cost alternative to the very popular hard maple. The furniture industry consumes large quantities of silver maple as a secondary wood.
Mulberry, red (Morus rubra)
Mulberry is a medium density hardwood with a closed, straight grain. The color is bright yellow sapwood with light tan heartwood that tends to turn brown with exposure to sunlight. Red mulberry is reported to be rather weak and is not recommended for applications where strength is of primary concern. However the wood is reported to be suitable for furniture if it is processed and dried properly. Resistance to decay is rated as very high, and the wood is reported to be suitable for outdoor applications and turning.
Oak, bur (white) (Quercus macrocarpa)
Bur oak is very hard, heavy and strong. It is considered fairly easy to work because it turns, carves and bends well. Oak sanding and finishing qualities are excellent. The wood is stable with porous wood rings. The heartwood is durable under conditions of decay resulting in its outdoor durability. This is a popular decorative and furniture wood. White oak antiques from Europe are especially prized for soft texture and color as well as for workmanship. White oak is attractive, durable, and requires minimal care. The two main differences between red oak and white oak are that white oak can be used where the wood will be exposed to decay, as in boat parts, because of its great durability. Second, white oak will stain and finish more uniformly than red oak. Thus, many consider it a higher quality furniture wood.
Oak, red (Quercus rubra)
Red oak is very hard, heavy and strong. It is fairly easy to work, density considered, turns, carves and bends well, sanding and finishing qualities and stability excellent, and the wood rings are porous. However the heartwood not particularly durable under conditions of decay. Almost any article that can be made of wood has been manufactured from red oak. A popular decorative and furniture wood, red oak is prized for soft texture as well as for workability. Red oak is attractive, durable and requires minimal care. No other wood is as handsome and lasting for residential flooring. Red oak is not waterproof.
Osage-orange (Hedge) (Maclura pomifera)
This is a fine textured wood with a close grain, extremely resistant to rot and considered the most durable native wood in the United States. The heartwood is bright yellow when fresh cut, planed or sanded and quickly oxidizes to russet brown. Sapwood is white to ivory. Due to the tree being small, it's rarely available in long lengths or wide widths. The tree grows with numerous stress checks (cracks). As a result the wood is often checked. Typical uses include turnings, archery bows, small accent pieces, boxes, accessories, pens, and fence posts.
Pecan heartwood tends to be light to medium brown, with a reddish hue. The sapwood is a paler yellowish brown. In general, the wood is straight, though occasionally wavy, with a medium texture. The pores are medium-sized and open. It is considered non-durable to perishable regarding heartwood decay, and very susceptible to insect attack. Pecan has slightly lower strength values than some of the other species of hickory, but it is still among the hardest and strongest of woods native to the United States. The wood is commonly used where strength or shock-resistance is important, such as tool handles, ladder rungs, wheel spokes, and flooring.
Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis)
Similar to maple, the wood of sycamore trees is predominantly comprised of the sapwood, with some darker heartwood streaks also found in most boards. Sycamore has a fine and even texture that is very similar to maple. The grain is interlocked. Sycamore is rated as non-durable to perishable regarding decay resistance, and is susceptible to insect attack. Some common uses for sycamore include veneer, plywood, interior trim, dunnage, flooring, furniture, particleboard, pulpwood, paper, tool handles, and other turned objects.
Walnut, black (Juglans nigra)
Walnut is moderately dense and hard, strong in comparison to weight with excellent machining properties. The heartwood is a variegated dark, chocolate brown, sometimes with purplish cast. The sapwood is nearly white. It has open pores that require filling in conventional finishing. The annual growth rings are clearly marked and the texture polishes to high luster. It is considered durable, with a very high degree of dimensional stability. Few woods respond more agreeably to both hand and machine tools. Unsurpassed finishing properties are so inherent that even an amateur can expect excellent results. Walnut is used in fine furniture, fixtures, cabinets, and musical instrument cases.