Wood is the most versatile, renewable and sustainable resource on the planet which is why wood is also the most commonly used material in the creation of furniture. As wood is an organic material and can be native to specific regions you may find that different woods are traditionally more commonly used for furniture in different countries. Nowadays, with the cost of travel and transport at an all time low these different woods are imported and exported at a much higher rate and the options for furniture makers are at an all time high. New, man made ‘woods’ have also added to the variety of options available and it is up to the furniture maker to decide which wood is best for any given project. Other materials are of course used for either structural or aesthetic properties and they are also discussed here. Browse the list below to learn about the qualities and common uses of each type of furniture material.
Cedar is a reddish soft wood native to Lebanon, western Syria and south central Turkey where it is traditionally used in the making of Venetian Blinds. It has a distinctive sweet odour which is why it is extensively used in chest making, closet lining and household novelties. It is very easy to work with, uniform in texture and is also resistant to decay leading to its use as an outdoor house shingle.
Cherry is close grained hard wood that resists warping and shrinking well. The native range of the wild cherry extends through most of Europe, western Asia and parts of northern Africa. Cherry wood reddens when it is exposed to sunlight. It ages well and is extensively used in cabinet making, boat trim, novelties and solid furniture handles.
Chestnut is a hard wood native to temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere. There are numerous variations, the most popular of which is Spanish Chestnut. Chestnut wood loses it’s durability when grown beyond 50 years so it is difficult to get large, long timber from it. It has always been highly valued for small outdoor furniture pieces, where durability is important, as well as fencing and wooden shingles for covering buildings, it is also used to make barrels.
Chipboard is an artificial wood made like MDF but from actual wood chips, hence the name. It is widely used for the structural casing of kitchen furniture and cabinets which are then covered with a laminate or wood veneer. It is also widely used for low cost sub flooring. It is only useful in sheet form and cannot be easily used or worked in any other format.
Elm is valued for its interlocking grain which gives it a high resistance to splitting, with significant uses in chair seats and coffins. Elm wood is also it quite pliant and is available in long planks due to the long, straight, trunks of the tree, For these reasons elm is favored as a source of timber for keels in ship construction. Elm was historically used by bowyers during the Middle Ages to make longbows.
Fir is a fast growing soft wood which is uniformly textured and has a very low resistance to rotting and decay. It is easy to work and finishes well. Fir is used for making furniture, doors, picture frames, window frames, general millwork and as an interior trim. It is also a main component of plywood.
Hemlock is a lightweight softwood that is native to the North American continent but is also grown in Europe. It machine cuts well due to the wide grain and rarity of knots. It is uniformly textured and has a low resistance to decay. It is mainly used as a construction timber for planks, door panels, sub flooring and transportation crates.
Lime is a hard wood native to Britain that is a pale yellow colour, which gradually darkens over time. Lime has excellent carving properties and it is especially favoured for delicate work by master woodcarvers. Seasoned lime is very stable and is soft enough to be carved and yet firm enough to hold a precisely cut surface well. Lime also stains well, has good bending properties and is often used for making furniture.