Here are a few of the common wood types which you will come across when carrying out woodworking projects around the home.
This reddish-brown timber with a straight grain is a very important timber for furniture, cabinet making and high-quality joinery. It is most often used for staircases, banisters, handrails and panelling, as well as for floors. Mahogany is an easy wood to work with and it nails, screws and glues well. While care is needed if you want to stain mahogany, it will varnish and polish well.
This timber is pale cream to pinkish-brown but is often ‘weathered’ to a deep reddish-bronze colour after steaming. It is the most popular general purpose timber, used for furniture, flooring, interior and, when treated, exterior joinery. When rotary cut, beech is also used as utility plywood and it can be sliced to provide decorative veneers.
This is a softwood with a high bending, medium resistance to shock loads and a very poor steam bending rating. Douglas Fir can be worked with ease using hand or power tools, but it does tend to blunt cutters. This light reddish-brown timber is the world’s most important source of plywood, while the large solid baulks are used in heavy construction work.
European Whitewood (Spruce)
The colour of spruce varies from almost white to a pale ‘straw’ yellow and it has a natural lustre. It is used as plywood, for interior building work and domestic flooring. It’s quite an easy wood to work with hand tools, and it also holds nails and screws, and glues easily. Paint, stains and varnishes all work well on spruce and terrific finishes can be produced.
Western Red Cedar
The sapwood is white, while the heartwood ranges from a dark, chocolate brown in the centre, to a salmon pink outer zone, which matures to a uniform, reddish-brown. Once dry and exposed, the timber weathers to a beautiful silver grey, which makes it the ideal choice for shingles, weatherboarding and timber buildings such as sheds. It is not a strong wood but it’s easy to work with hand tools and doesn’t blunt blades. Copper or galvanized nails should be used, because the wood’s acidic properties can cause corrosion of metals and black stains in the wood in damp conditions. It’s a wood that is easily glued, and takes stains of the finest tints without fading, although you may find that the grain tends to ‘lift’ after a while.
Teak is a wood that has a reputation for strength, durability, and for its decorative appearance. Widely used in furniture and cabinet making, decking, staircases, panelling, flooring and garden furniture. It does have a severe blunting effect on cutting edges, and you’ll need to pre-bore holes for nails. Wear a face mask, as teak dust can be a severe irritant. Iroko, from the tropical forests of Africa, is sometimes used instead of teak, but it lacks teak’s ‘oily’ feel. It’s most common use is for parquet flooring when under-floor heating is present.
This is Brazil’s major timber export. It has almost no visible growth rings, and its honey-colouring makes it a very attractive wood, although it is not very durable. Its grain makes it widely used as drawer sides and because it has few knots, it is often used for staircases.
Light/Dark Red Meranti/Seraya
The light red timbers are used extensively in interior joinery, for light construction work and domestic flooring. The dark red timbers are also used for exterior joinery, cladding, and shop fitting. Generally easy to work with, both timber types nail, screw, glue, stain and polish well.
The world’s most popular timber, the genus Quercus produces the true oaks, of which there are more than 200 species. English oak is used for high-class interior and exterior joinery, furniture and cabinet making, flooring, fine art sculpture and the finest whisky, sherry and brandy casks. It stains, polishes, varnishes and glues beautifully, but oak is corrosive to metals and prone to blue stains in damp conditions.
This is made by glueing together odd numbers of veneers with the grain of each sheet at right angles to its neighbour, and is available in sheets of 1.2m x 2.4m (4ft x 8ft).
This is commonly used for the bottom of drawers and the backs of cabinets. It varies in thickness from 3mm (1/8in) to 6mm (1/4in).
This board is available in a range of thicknesses and is used to construct furniture.
This is a whitish board that is used for superior performance and quality. It looks good ‘on its own’ but it also stains and polishes well.
These are similar to plywood, except the inner ‘core’ is made of strips of wood. There are three grades, which refer to the width of the core boards: battenboard has the widest strips, in excess of 25mm (1 in), while other blockboards are available with strips of 6mm (1/2in) to 25mm (1 in) wide. Both plywood and blockboard are also available with special decorative surface veneers such as oak or teak.
In particle board, timber is reduced to fibres then glued back into sheets with synthetic resins. The most common type of particle board is chipboard, which is available in several different qualities.
The most well-known fibreboard is MDF (Medium Density Fibreboard). Some people love it because it is inexpensive and very versatile; others loathe it as ‘ersatz’ wood. MDF needs to have its edges treated by applying a solid or veneer lipping. Face masks and goggles must be worn when working on MDF.
Woodworking Safety Tips
When working with wood, it is important to protect yourself from dust, debris and noise pollution.
- Always wear goggles or a visor. Eye injuries are among the most commonly reported DIY injuries.
- Wear a dust mask that fits snugly around the contour of your nose: the dust from some woods and man-made boards can be toxic, as are the fumes from some chemicals and adhesives. If you are working in an enclosed space, always make sure there is adequate ventilation.
- Always keep hand tools sharp. Sharp chisels, blades, planes and saws are easier to control and therefore safer to work with. The rule is: always make cuts away from your body.
Whenever you use power tools you should wear ear protectors. Never operate power tools wearing loose clothing, and tie back long hair. Beware trailing cables when you use hand-held power tools.
- Make sure your power tools are correctly wired and remember to switch off the power at the mains when you make any adjustments to the machines.
- Get a first-aid kit: make sure it includes bandages, gauze, scissors, a pair of tweezers, some antiseptic swabs, cream or lotion to rub on any cuts or grazes. If you have a workshop, display a basic first-aid chart on the wall and familiarize yourself with the recommended first-aid practices.