This section is from the book "Modern Buildings, Their Planning, Construction And Equipment Vol2", by G. A. T. Middleton. Also available from Amazon: Modern Buildings.
Woods are classified for all practical purposes into two divisions - Soft Woods and Hard Woods.
Soft Woods are generally used for all work which is to be painted or stained, and hard woods for polished or varnished work. The primary reason for this division is, of course, that of cost, but in cases where this is not the all-important consideration, great advantages are to be obtained in many ways by the substitution of carefully selected hard woods for many items usually executed in soft; and there is a growing tendency in this direction, more especially in better class work, so much so, in fact, that there are now in existence several firms manufacturing, almost exclusively, hard-wood fittings and finishings. The principal soft woods in use belong to the Pine family (natural order Coniferas,) and are as follow:-
Northern Pine (Pinus sylvestris), so called from the fact of its growing in northern portions of Europe. It is imported mainly from Archangel, St. Petersburg, Onega, Wyborg, Riga, and several Norwegian and Swedish ports. It is very durable, of a pale yellow colour, has a strong resinous smell when freshly cut, and the annular rings very regular and distinct. Its easy and clean working qualities render it a great favourite.
This is an American wood, chiefly exported from Quebec and St. Johns. It is sometimes called White Pine and "Weymouth" Pine. It is of a paler colour than the Northern Pine, with annular rings not so distinct. It is easily worked, but subject to dry rot, and has not proved a satisfactory timber in the variable climate of England.
This has a second botanical definition (Pinus resinosa). It is a favourite joinery wood, owing to its non-liability to warp or split, comparative freedom from knots, and cleanliness in working.
Pitch Pine (Pinus rigida) comes chiefly from the southern portion of North America. This wood is very largely used in heavy constructional work, on account of the length and size of the logs in which it can be obtained. It frequently possesses a most beautifully marked grain, and on this account would be in great demand for high-class joinery work were it not for the fact that it also possesses the pernicious characteristic of great and long-continued shrinkage, thus rendering it very unsuitable for decorative work. It is nevertheless largely used, and is exceedingly durable.
Kauri, Cowry, or Cowdie Pine (Dammara australis).
- An excellent joinery wood from New Zealand. It is free from many of the defects of other woods, due in a great measure to the gigantic proportions attained by the tree, it being no uncommon thing to obtain logs of from 10 to 12 feet diameter. It has, however, the unfortunate and exceedingly rare peculiarity of a perceptible shrinkage lengthways of the grain. It looks remarkably well polished or stained.
This is the product of another of the giants of the vegetable kingdom, and, as the name implies, from California. It is sometimes called Sequoia, and sometimes Redwood. It is a soft, easily worked wood, having a somewhat coarse grain; and, although free from many of the usual defects, shakes, knots, sap, etc., it is exceedingly brittle, and consequently not at all suitable for framed work. It is used mainly for large panels, polished shelves, and in circumstances where it can be kept in the solid.
Oregon or Douglas Pine (Abies douglasii) possesses many of the characteristics of American Red Pine, but is slightly harder. It is very free from knots, but owing to the difficulty in working it to a good surface, consequent upon the extreme difference in texture between the spring and autumn growths of the annular rings, it is not classed among the best joinery woods.
Amongst the other soft woods not requiring special mention, the following are sometimes used, and may be noted in passing:-
An exceedingly beautiful wood, indigenous to Tasmania. It possesses such very attractive qualities, from the point of view of the Australian joiner, that most of the output is absorbed by that country, but little finding its way to England.
Spruce (Abies excelsa), commonly known as White Deal, is used largely for domestic shelving and kitchen joinery, and finds a friend in the "jerry" builder, but owing to the swelling and shrinkage which it undergoes with varying temperature it is unsuitable for high-class joinery.
Sometimes called Black Spruce.
White Spruce (Picea alba).
Newfoundland Spruce (Picea rubra).
Cedar (Cedrela odorata), a soft, aromatic wood used largely by cabinetmakers for internal fittings.
The Hard Woods (non-resinous and non-coniferous) in most common use are:-
This is one of the most catholic of all trees as regards its distribution, being found in Europe, Asia, America, and Africa. Although botan-ically classified into numerous species, this wood, wherever grown, possesses to a very large extent the same qualities from a utilitarian point of view. Its general characteristics are hardness, increasing with age, toughness, elasticity; it is easily bent to curves when steamed, warps somewhat in seasoning, and tends to swell and shrink under climatic changes.
Its great strength and durability render it invaluable for many constructional purposes, in addition to which it is used largely in joinery for doors, dado, and wainscoting work, chimney pieces, furniture, etc. The presence of gallic acid in oak imparts to it a peculiar acrid odour, and has the effect of corroding iron, the iron at the same time staining the oak a dark brown. Ironwork should therefore be avoided in all oak work.
The various kinds are named from the countries where they grow; Spanish mahogany, however, excepted. This is imported from Cuba and Jamaica principally. Other kinds are Honduras, Mexican, St. Domingo, Indian, and African. The different kinds vary somewhat in detail as regards colour, texture, and durability. Several woods masquerade under the name of mahogany which are not mahogany at all. Generally, however, the true wood is of a rich red-brown colour, often handsomely marked, durable when kept dry, but does not prove satisfactory when subject to alternations of wet and dry, takes polish well, and is used for interior decorative work.
This is a wood of a purplish-brown colour, often with very fine markings. It is hard, strong, durable when kept dry, fairly easy to work, and takes an excellent polish. It is much in demand for cabinet and high-class joinery work, adding a richness to interior decorations.
Although not possessing many attractions from a decorative standpoint, this is one of the most durable of the hard woods. For exposed positions, external doors, and window frames it is unsurpassed. Of a dark brownish-yellow colour, it is rather difficult to work. The grain being open, it is not a good polishing wood, but it is much better if oiled.
This is not a joiner's wood, except to the extent that his planes and mallets are made from it. It is chiefly used in the manufacture of furniture.
Ebony (Diospyros ebenum) is one of the hardest and heaviest of woods, dead black in colour and difficult to work. It is little used for constructive purposes, but effective for decorative work when used in conjunction with other woods, and also for inlaid work.
Other hard woods, not, however, used to any extent in joinery work, are:-
Used largely for tool handles and for waggon and carriage work.
A valuable wood for under-water work.
Used for sea work, piles, dock gates, etc.