American Wood: understanding types and uses

American wood falls into three broad categories; Hardwood, Softwood, and Tropical Hardwoods. All three types find a use for building purposes.

Hardwoods are technically referred to as deciduous trees, which means they shed their leaves annually. Hardwood trees have broad leaves, produce a fruit and are dormant during the winters. Different varieties of hardwood trees include oak, cherry, ash, and maple. Typically hardwoods are used in furniture, cabinetry, and flooring.

Softwoods are conifers, which means “cone-bearing.” These trees do not have leaves. Instead, they bear needles. Common types of Softwoods include fir, pine, redwood and cedar. Typically Softwood is used for structural lumber. The wood has little decorative value.

Tropical hardwoods are not native to North America. These types include mahogany, rosewood, and teak. This kind of wood is usually not used for structural purposes. The majority of the use is for furniture.

Another important aspect to consider for American wood is the level of pressure it can bear. The hardness of wood is measured using the Janka Rating System. Hickory Pecan is perhaps the strongest of the American hardwoods. Compared with Aspen, it is almost five times harder. Hickory Pecan is medium-reddish brown, and it does not have any odor. It is heavy and can barely be scratched with fingernails. The general appearance is that of unevenness; vessel scratches are somewhat obvious. Sapwood thickness is variable but frequently wide. This kind of wood is best used for construction purposes.

Aspen, which is much softer than Hickory Pecan is native of Rocky Mountains, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. Aspen forests also extend from Alaska to New Foundland. A typical use of Aspen is in low-value wood products including crates and boxes.

Among the softwoods, Redwood is perhaps most commonly used for building purposes. Most siding, decking, outdoor furniture trim, comes from Redwood. The natural range of Redwood is rather limited and only be found between southern Oregon and Central California.

Another type of wood that is commonly used for building purposes is Alaska Yellow Cedar. Its use is found in shingles, siding, paneling and cabinets. For this reason, it is referred to as an “ornamental species.” Alaska Yellow Cedar has an odor which is similar to ginger, and its growth rings are relatively obvious. The trees are native to Southeastern Alaska, British Columbia and Washington and Oregon.

Since wood from different species looks alike, it is important to understand the characteristic and their use.