Characteristics of Popular Wood Species & Their Applications to Wood Projects

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There are literally thousands of wood species that grow throughout the world. In some cases, there are often many varieties of the same species. The species listed below have been selected to give a sampling of some of the most common and most popular woods used for commercial purposes. They have been divided into three distinctive divisions; hardwoods, softwoods, and exotic woods. The trees in each division have different characteristics that typically thrive in regions with distinctive climate differences.

The hardwoods selected typically grow in the Eastern Regions of the United States and Canada. These are temperate zones that are hot in the summer, cold in the winter, and moderate in the spring and fall months. They are deciduous trees that typically grow broad leaves. They lose their leaves in the fall and winter months. Most woodworkers love to work with hardwoods because of their interesting colors, textures, and grain patterns. The woods are also beautiful, hard, and strong, which make them suitable for making furniture and other items which require these qualities.

Hardwood Species
Red Alder
Red Alder
White Ash
White Ash
Black Cherry
American Elm
American Elm
Sugar Maple
Red Oak
Yellow Poplar
Black Walnut

The softwoods selected typically grow in the in the Western Regions of the United States, Canada, and Alaska. These woods grow in climates where the summers are short and cool, and the winters are long and cold. This does not hold true for the redwood trees, which thrive in a moist climate. Softwoods are classified as coniferous trees, and they typically grow cones and needles. They are also called evergreen trees because they are green all year long. Most of the softwood species are used for building construction purposes.

Softwood Species

Douglas Fir

Ponderosa Pine

Red Cedar


Sitka Spruce

Western Hemlock

Western Larch


Exotic woods are found throughout the tropical regions of the world, such as Central and South America, as well as Africa and Asia. These trees thrive near the equator, where it is warm to hot, and the rain fall is fairly consistent throughout the year. Species that grow in seasonal climate changes will typically show growth rings of alternating light and dark wood. Species growing in tropical rain forest regions, where the climate is relatively unchanged, will show little or no apparent growth rings, because the trees are growing at a more constant rate. There is no list of that specifies which woods are classified exotic, nor is there an official definition of what constitutes exotic woods. They are just typically hardwoods that grow in tropical regions. Also, these woods are usually very beautiful with interesting grain patterns. Most of these woods are above average in density and weight. Exotic woods are usually much more expensive due to their beauty, limited availability, difficulties incurred in harvesting, and shipping costs from remote areas of the world.

Exotic Species

African Ebony

African Padauk

Brazilian Rosewood



Honduran Mahogany





Each wood species, within its division, are differentiated by their own distinct properties and characteristics. They are identified more specifically by characteristics such as: growing areas, color, weight, strength, density, shock resistance, durability, texture, and grain patterns. Also, unique properties such as: workability, gluing, carving, turning, bending, and finishing qualities have been discussed. In certain cases, recommendations have been made to help alleviate problems, and improve success when working with specific types of wood. And last, the most common types of projects suited for each species of wood have been listed. Knowledge of the types of wood and their unique characteristics and properties, is imperative for the successful completion of projects, whether they are used for building construction, or woodworking projects.


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