This section is from the book "The Building Trades Pocketbook", by International Correspondence Schools. Also available from Amazon: Building Trades Pocketbook: a Handy Manual of reference on Building Construction.
The wood of the wild cherry is moderately heavy, hard, very durable, and has a close, fine grain. It is susceptible of a high polish, and is much used for fine interior trim and cabinetwork. Cherry stained black to imitate ebony cannot be detected, except by scraping the polished surface. It is largely used for piano cases, furniture, etc.
Birch strongly resembles cherry in texture, and in some species in color also. Black or cherry birch furnishes the best lumber, but is not as durable, and is more affected by atmospheric influences.
Maple is a light-colored, fine-grained, strong, and heavy wood. The medullary rays are small and distinct, giving a silver grain to the quarter-cut lumber. It is used for flooring and interior trim, but for fine work it is used as veneers. Curly maple is maple in which the waviness of the grain is similar to that obtained from the roots of the walnut tree. Bird's-eye maple is produced in old trees by the circular inflection of the fibers. Though both the curly maple and the bird's-eye are practically distorted fibers, and reduce the strength of the wood, they are highly prized in the cabinetmaker's art.
Chestnut is comparatively soft, close-grained, and, though very brittle, is exceedingly durable when exposed to the weather, and has recently come into use for interior finish. It is not as well suited for sills as locust.
Butternut is of a light color and possesses a strongly marked grain. The lumber can be secured only in short lengths, and though soft and easily worked it will not split easily; it resists moisture, and remains unaffected by heat until the wood begins to char. It is not suitable for framing material, but is used in cabinet work on account of its taking a very high polish.
Beech is hard and tough, of a close, uniform texture, which renders it desirable for tool handles and plane stocks. It is used but slightly in building, owing to its tendency to rot, but may be used where constantly submerged.
Poplar, or whitewood, a lumber of the tulip tree, is a large straight forest tree, abundant in the United States. It is light, soft, very brittle, and shrinks excessively in drying. In color it varies from white to pale yellow. The cheapness and ease of working poplar cause it to be largely used for the cheaper grades of carpentry and joinery work, but it warps and twists exceedingly in even slight atmospheric changes.
Button wood, also called sycamore, is the wood of a tree generally known as the plane tree. It is heavy, hard, of a light-brown color, and very brittle. The grain is fine, close, and susceptible of a high polish. It is very hard to work, liable to decay, and has a strong tendency to warp and twist and variations of temperature. On this account it is best used 1 veneered work.
Apple and pear trees furnish wood to be used for tool handles, plane stocks, and small turned work. Neither is much used in building. Pear wood is sometimes used for carved panels, on account of its yielding so easily to edge tools.
Boxwood is close-grained, yellow in color, and on account of its lack of shrinking and warping tendencies, very desirable for small carved and turned work. It is particularly useful in wood engraving.
Basswood is the name given to the American linden tree. In general appearance it strongly resembles pine, but is much more flexible. It has a great tendency to warp, and will shrink both across and parallel to the grain. It is much used for curved panels.
Mahogany is a native tree of the West Indies and Central America. The color, grain, and hardness of the wood vary considerably according to its age and locality of growth. It is used for the highest grades of joiner work. The straight-grained varieties do not warp or shrink materially with atmospheric changes, while the cross-grained varieties warp and twist to a remarkable extent, and can, therefore, be used to advantage only when veneered upon some more reliable wood. The soft and inferior grades from Honduras and Mexico are called baywood to distinguish them from the rich deep-red San Domingo or Spanish mahogany. Prima Vera or white mahogany is of a creamy color, very much like the baywood in texture, and makes a beautiful finish for fine work.
Rosewood is a heavy, hard, and brittle wood, from several trees native to the tropical countries. It has a beautiful grain, alternating in dark brown and red stripings, which when well polished makes the surface one of the handsomest products of the vegetable world. As a veneer, It is applied to all kinds of cabinet, furniture, and Joinery work where richness and durability are required, regardless of expense.
Ebony, a dark, almost jet-black wood, native to the East Indies and parts of Africa, is heavy, strong, and exceedingly hard, with an almost solid annual growth. It takes a high polish, and is used in cabinetwork; its veneers are also applied to interior work.
Lignum vitŠ is an exceedingly heavy, hard, and dark-colored wood. It is very resinous, difficult to split, and soapy to the touch; it is used mostly for small turned articles, tool handles, and pulley wheels.
Sweet- or red-gum, a.tree of large growth, is very plentiful in the Southern and Western States. It is soft in texture, but strong and tough, and strongly resembles light-colored walnut. It presents a very handsome appearance when selected and well finished, but has a tendency to warp and shrink, which makes it unreliable, unless used in veneered work. It is largely used for fine interior trim, and cabinetwork.