The cost and usually the character and quality of the inside finish depends greatly upon whether it is to be of soft or hard wood, and whether it is to painted or varnished. As stated in Section 5, the soft woods are commercially classified as those belonging to the conifers, while the hard woods come from the broad-leaved trees. Carpenters, however, usually classify whitewood (poplar), redwood and cypress as soft woods, while hard pine is frequently called a hard wood. Very frequently the term " hard wood finish" is used to designate all work that is finished in varnish in distinction from painted work, although the term " natural finish "is more accurate when any of the pines are used.
For finish of any kind the soft woods are always cheaper than hard woods, even when the price of the lumber is the same. This is principally for the reason that the soft woods (and here we include redwood and cypress) can be used in the solid for making doors, sash, etc.; the greater ease with which these woods can be worked also affects the price, although not to a very great extent.
The difference in the cost of casing a door in clear white pine or oak is not very great (about 75 cents a side for 5½-inch casings), but when it comes to the doors, a veneered door (and veneering is necessary for most of the hard woods) costs three or four times as much as a solid pine door. Among the hard woods, too, there is quite a difference in the cost of finishing, some of the hard woods, on account of their scarcity, being very expensive (see Section 38), while others, particularly ash and chestnut, are no more expensive than clear pine. Painted work also costs, as a rule, less than varnished work, for the reason that cheaper grades of lumber may be used, and the same care is usually not exercised in putting it up and keeping it clean.
For finish that is to be painted, the first consideration is that it shall stand well, and next to this are freedom from knots and pitch and low cost. These conditions are most fully found in the white pine from the Northern and Eastern States and the sugar pine of the Pacific Coast. Whitewood (poplar) is also extensively used in some localities, particularly for carved work, columns and mantels, and for shelving, etc., as it can be obtained in large dimensions and remarkably free from knots; its softness and uniform grain make it also well adapted for carving that is to be painted. This wood, however, does not stand as well as pine. In a great many localities hard pine is cheaper than white pine, but it contains too much pitch to take paint well. Oregon pine and spruce are also used to some extent for finishing, but they are inferior to soft pine, and the author cannot recommend them for any but the cheapest work.
Aside from the appearance of the wood, however, its hardness is a very important quality, as the softer woods mar and get dented easily, which greatly injures the appearance of the work, and dents cannot be removed. It is for this reason that soft pine, whitewood, redwood and cypress are inferior to oak, ash, beech or maple, although otherwise they make a very attractive finish when properly treated. Redwood, moreover, is very brittle, and the edges break easily.
In regard to their cost, the various woods used for finishing rank in about the following order, commencing with the cheapest, the relative cost varying somewhat with the locality: Whitewood, hard pine, clear white pine, cypress, redwood, ash, chestnut, butternut, red oak, white oak, beech, birch, maple, bird's-eye maple, cherry, mahogany.
Aside from the cost, the last eight woods are usually considered the handsomest and most desirable, although for certain rooms the other woods are nearly, if not equally, as well adapted. For public waiting, rooms and large rooms where a rich finish would hardly be expected, cypress and hard pine are very appropriate and extensively used.
Ash is quite extensively used in churches and large buildings, as it is cheaper than oak and may be used for solid doors. In dwellings all of the woods mentioned are more or less used, hard pine, for varnishing, being frequently used in the kitchen, servants' quarters, etc., and the other woods as the taste and means of the owner dictates or permits. Where a showy but cheap natural finish is desired, whitewood stained in imitation of cherry is often used. Ash is frequently stained in red and greens for the color effect, and the oaks are usually colored slightly in the filling coat. Ash can be colored or stained with ammonia so as to very closely imitate old oak.
The other woods are generally finished in the natural color, although the oil or varnish gives most of them a deeper tone.
The characteristics and qualities of the various woods have been described in Chapter I (Foundations On Firm Soils. Staking Out The Building).
All hard woods and all soft woods that are to be varnished should always be kiln-dried just before they are sent to the building (see Section 12), and it is desirable that all of the inside finish should be kiln-dried, but it is not the general custom to kiln-dry woods that are to be painted.
The various woods to be used in finishing the different portions of the building should be explicitly specified before describing the character of the finish.