Urban Wood - Selected Wood Properties

A Woodworker's Resource

Maple Acer spp.
Hard maple has a fine, uniform texture, turns well on a lathe, is resistant to abrasion and has no characteristic odor or taste. It is heavy, strong, stiff, hard, and resistant to shock, and it has large shrinkage. Sugar maple is generally straight grained but the grain also occurs as "birds-eye," "curly," and "fiddleback" grain. The wood of soft maples resembles that of hard maples but is not as heavy, hard and strong, the better grade of soft maple has been substituted for hard maple in furniture. The sapwood in the soft maples is considerably wider than that in the hard maples and has a lighter heartwood color. Maple lumber sometimes has olive or greenish black discolored areas known as mineral streak or mineral stain, which may be due to injury. Maple wood stains well and takes a high polish. It is intermediate in gluing and has low decay resistance.

Ash Fraxinus spp.
The sapwood of ash is light brown, while the heartwood is brown to grayish brown. White ash and Oregon ash have lighter heartwood than do the other commercial species. The width of the sapwood is 3 to 6 inches (8 to 15 cm). It is ring porous, with the latewood being composed of parenchyma which surrounds and unites the latewood pores in tangential bands. The wood has no characteristic odor or taste. Ash is straight grained, heavy, hard, strong, and stiff; it wears smooth, with high shock resistance. It machines well and is better than average in nail- and screw-holding capacity. It glues moderately well. Black, green, pumpkin and blue ashes have lower specific gravity and lower strength properties, but are still moderately strong, hard, and stiff compared to other native hardwoods. Ashes also split easier, shrink more, are average in workability, and perform more poorly in service compared to other native hardwoods.

Black Walnut Juglans spp.
The sapwood of black walnut is nearly white, while the heartwood is light brown to dark, chocolate brown, often with a purplish cast and darker streaks. The wood is heavy, hard, and stiff and has high shock resistance. Black walnut is straight grained and easily worked with hand tools and by machine. It finishes beautifully and holds paint and stain exceptionally well. It also glues and polishes well. Rated as very resistant to heartwood decay - one of the most durable woods, even under conditions favorable to decay. Used for making Furniture, fixtures, cabinets, gunstocks, novelties, interior paneling, and veneer.

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Sweetgum Liquidambar styraciflua
The sapwood of sweetgum is white to light pink,
while the heartwood is reddish brown to brown. The grain is interlocked, producing an attractive grain, but causing problems in seasoning. The wood is moderately hard, stiff, and heavy.Working Properties: Sweetgum is above average in turning, boring, and steam bending. It is intermediate in planing, shaping, bending, splitting and holding nails and screws. It requires pretreatment before gluing. Rated as slightly or nonresistant to heartwood decay.

Magnolia Magnolia spp.
The wood is even-textured and moderately heavy, fairly hard and straight grained. It resembles yellow poplar (Liriodendron spp.). Magnolia is moderately stiff, high in shock resistance, and low in shrinkage. It has no characteristic odor or taste. Magnolia has average nail-holding ability, is readily worked, and glues, paints, and finishes well.


Sycamore Platanus spp.
Sycamore has a close texture, glues well, and resists splitting because of its interlocked grain. It holds its shape well after steaming and machines well, but requires high speed cutter heads to prevent chipping.



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Black Cherry Prunus serotina
Cherry wood has a mild, aromatic scent, but no characteristic taste. It is of medium density, firm, and strong, with a fine, uniform texture. The grain is generally straight. Working Properties: Cherry is easy to work, finishes smoothly, and is dimensionally stable. It is easily machined. It can be sawn cleanly, turned well, and planed excellently with standard cutting angles. Screw-holding ability is good, as is gluing, except where gum streaks are present.

Oaks Quercus spp.
Oak wood has a course texture; it is heavy, straight-grained, hard, tough, very stiff, and strong. Fast-grown oak, with wide rings, is stronger and heavier than slow-grown oak. Working Properties: Oak wood has good working properties. It machines and glues well and holds fasteners extremely well. It tends to split when nailed, unless predrilled. Oak finishes well, but shrinks considerably.


Elm Ulmus spp.
The sapwood of elm is nearly white, while the heartwood is light brown to brown with a reddish tinge. The wood has no characteristic odor or taste. Elm is moderately heavy, hard and stiff, with excellent bending and shock resistance. It is difficult to split because of its interlocked grain.


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Information taken from: Hardwoods of North America Alden, H. A. Madison, WI : U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Forest Service, Forest Products Laboratory, 1995. http://www.fpl.fs.fed.us/documnts/fplgtr/fplgtr83.pdf