Furniture is generally made out of solid wood. Solid wood comes in two categories – hard and soft. Broad-leafed trees without needles are the kind that produce hardwood. These are trees like cherry, ash, walnut, oak, mahogany and maple. Hardwood usually assures stability and great strength.
Softwood is derived from evergreen, needle-bearing trees like redwood, cedar, spruce and pine. Softwood is prone to marks and dents but this often gives it an antique charm of its own. Softwood is preferred for making intricately carved furniture.
For making fine furniture, solid wood has always been the favorite selection. It is available in a wide variety of grains, colors and hardness. Solid wood is durable and an excellent investment that only appreciates with time. Different kinds of solid wood are endemic to different countries, each with its own peculiar characteristics. Furthermore, each tree yields wood with its own unique markings and grain patterns which lends its wood its own exclusive charm and personality.
There is a huge range of woods to choose from, but the most commonly used in fine furniture manufacture are confined to the following five – Mahogany, Oak, Maple, Beech and Pine. They are listed in order – best-downwards – of their qualities of stability, strength, durability and shock-resistance. Other species like cherry and walnut trees yield wood that is used in making luxury furniture but these, because of cost, are less popular.
Briefly listed are the individual characteristics of the five best woods mentioned:
Mahogany is native to Central and South America and Africa. It is a tropical hard-to-medium wood of medium grain with good strength, durability and pore structure. In color the wood ranges from tan to reddish brown. Mahogany lends itself to carving.
Oak is indigenous to North America and Europe. It is very hard, heavy and open-grained, found in both red and white species. Oak stains well in any color, though Red oak is the most popular.
Maple comes from Eastern America and is known for its evenly-sized pores which give the wood a level grain and fine texture. It is medium-to-hard, light in color but stains well. Maple can be finished with a walnut or cherry look, or that of more exclusive woods.
Beech grows in northeast America and Canada. It is a medium-to-hard wood, pale-colored and heavy, and used extensively for stools and chairs. In appearance it closely resembles birch or maple with a tight, fine grain and large, medullar rays. Beech is hard and strong and stains well though it is not as enduring as other hard woods. Beech is good for general furniture and polishes well.
Pine grows in several parts of the world in different varieties. Pine is light-yellow in color and has unique knotty characteristics which give individuality to each piece. Pine has a widely spaced striation pattern. Because of natural grain and shade, no two pieces are identical. Pine lends itself to staining and is ideal where the preference is for a lighter, airier feel.