We call wood in the form of planks and beams “timber,” and in the United States and Canada, we call it “lumber.” You can get lumber in different sizes and shapes, and it plays a crucial role as a construction material.
In this post, we look at the two broad wood categories, softwood, and hardwood and their uses. We then go on to discuss the various types of lumber you can get in the market to use for woodworking projects, advantages, disadvantages, and the uses thereof.
Another form of wood is pilings, which are sections that have round cross-sections. Lumber, on the other hand, is characterized by a square or rectangular cross-section. We call any such wood that can yield a minimum dimension size lumber.
You can find two broad categories of lumber, softwood, and hardwood. While we get softwood from evergreen conifers such as spruce, cedar, pine, fir, and redwood, hardwoods come from deciduous trees, and their surfaces are more resistant to dents and abrasion than softwoods.
Softwood vs. Hardwood
Softwoods are easier to work with due to their inherent softness, but they also have some downsides. Hardwoods are a bit more difficult to work with, but they also have some advantages worth noting.
Softwood also absorbs and loses moisture more readily than hardwood, making it more prone to expansion and contraction. That is why you should take particular care while storing softwood lumber to avoid the wood from getting deformed.
Hardwoods are harder than softwoods, except perhaps balsa. So, you may find hardwoods more difficult to work with. But the primary advantage of hardwoods over softwoods is that they possess a much better dimensional stability.
Different categories of construction require different varieties of lumber. For example, you will find softwood and hardwood being used in several projects. Of course, both types of lumber have their particular uses. But how do we distinguish between the two?
Rather than basing the classification on the hardness of each category of wood, we base it on the reproductive system of the respective types of wood. The source of hardwood is deciduous trees, which lose their leaves every year.
Softwoods come from conifers which are “evergreens,” meaning that they do not shed their leaves every year. Softwoods are classified as “gymnosperms” by their reproductive system, whereas hardwoods are “angiosperms.”
A few of the commonest types of softwood lumber are pinewood, redwood, cedar, fir, and hemlock. Let us consider each one individually:
You will find pine an easy wood to work with because of its inherent softness. It serves as a good wood for carving. Pinewood also displays a significant level of shock resistance, which lends popularity amongst woodworkers.
Pine develops a sort of “patina” over time if left on its own without adding a finish. As a result, it takes on a rustic look favored by many. A major advantage of pinewood is that it is easily available and is not very expensive. It also requires little maintenance.
Pinewood is good for paneling, flooring, roofing, and making windows. In addition, the resin of some species of pinewood is used to make turpentine.
Fir is an extremely popular form of softwood. The most popular type of fir is Douglas fir, straight-grained wood with a reddish-brown tint. This lumber is easily available and inexpensive.
Douglas fir is dimensionally stable and has a fair degree of weather resistance. Due to its strength and stability, we use Douglas fir in the construction field for buildings and bridges and occasionally for furniture-making.
Redwood has many names, such as California redwood, coast redwood, sequoia, and vamona. The color varies from light pinkish-brown to deep reddish-brown. The sapwood is pale white or yellow.
The grain pattern of redwood can be straight or wavy. Redwood is a durable wood and is also resistant to decay and moisture. As a result, it is a suitable wood for outdoor use. You will find it easy to work with redwood using hand tools and simple machinery.
Redwood is used for making beams, posts, furniture, trim, decking, and musical instruments.
There are several varieties of cedar, the most popular being western red cedar. It has a straight grain, is rather soft, and exudes a slight aroma. In addition, cedar is reasonably resistant to moisture and rot, so it serves well in outdoor items and structures.
It is used to make siding, decking, fencing, and trim. In addition, because of its aromatic nature, the perfume industry uses it in essential oils, perfumes, colognes, body washes, and soap.
Hemlock can be further divided into eastern hemlock and western hemlock. Here are the salient features of the two varieties of hemlock:
We also call this variety Canadian hemlock. The wood can have a straight texture, interspersed with uneven interlocking grains and spiral patterns. The uneven grain structure calls for extra caution while cutting the wood.
But eastern hemlock is one of the easier woods to work with. We use it to make framing, boxes, pallets, plywood, and crates.
Western hemlock has a straight grain structure but a slightly uneven texture. As a result, this type of lumber has the dubious reputation of causing allergies. Other than that, western hemlock shares most properties and uses of eastern hemlock.
There are so many types of hardwood lumber that it is well beyond the scope of this article to describe them all. However, here is a list of the most popular types of hardwood lumber in the world:
Teak Wood (Tectona grandis)
Teak grows in the tropical forests of Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent. It is a versatile form of wood and has a high degree of resistance to moisture, rot, insect attack, and the sun’s ultraviolet rays.
Teak has a pungent, leathery smell, attributed to the natural oil it produces. It is the same oil that makes it so durable. This wood plays a crucial role in making furniture, indoor and outdoor structures, cabinetry, shelves, and various wood applications.
Balsa is the softest and lightest type of hardwood lumber that you can find. It grows in warm climates and needs well-drained soil with abundant rainfall. Balsa offers excellent insulation against sound and heat.
You will find it easy to work with balsa thanks to its softness, and you can use light hand tools like knives and hand chisels. We use balsa for model-building, insulation, packing, and flotation devices.
Oak comes in many forms, but red oak and white oak are the commonest varieties. It is a highly durable wood and is strong with a high degree of resistance to moisture, insects, and rot. In addition, oak exhibits some beautiful grain patterns like the famous “ray flake” pattern.
We use oak for paneling, furniture, cabinets, kitchen counters, and other wooden kitchen accessories.
Maple again comes in several forms, the two major varieties being soft maple and hard maple. You may find hard maple a bit difficult to work with, but it will be easier with soft maple.
Both varieties are dimensionally stable with moderate resistance to moisture and insects, but it is a wood that needs to be used indoors. Maple has a straight, fine grain and is an inexpensive and easily available form of lumber.
Walnut is an all-time favorite for making furniture. It is a rich, deep brown wood with a striking grain pattern further accentuated if you apply a suitable polish and finish. Walnut is an expensive wood but remains a favorite amongst woodworkers for making cabinets, countertops, carved items, chairs, and tables.
Ashwood is an attractive wood but not too expensive. It is a light and durable wood with a straight grain pattern. It is easy to work with and takes stain and polish quite well.
Due to its light, durable properties, and good looks, ashwood makes excellent furniture and high-end wooden items.
Coming to our last entry in today’s list and another inexpensive type of lumber is poplar. This wood has a smooth, straight grain pattern with a low-gloss texture. It changes color with time when exposed to direct sunlight.
Poplar is not very endowed in the looks department but more than makes up with its strong, dense structure. We use it for making pallets, frames, and wooden crates.
We hope that we have thrown sufficient light on the types of lumber and its uses. There are innumerable varieties of lumber that you can find and use in your woodworking projects, in addition to those that we featured in this post.
You would do well to develop lumber identification into a passion, wherein you can learn as much as possible about the different types of lumber and their uses. The more you learn, the more versatile you will be in procuring suitable wood for your projects.