Pine is the most commonly used timber in homes. In building it is used as a first-fixing timber to construct stud walls, roof rafters, door frames and floor and ceiling joists. Also widely used as a timber for second-fixing – carpentry work carried out after the plastering has been completed – such as skirting, architrave, dado rails etc.
Cedar of Lebanon
This light-coloured, softwood is strongly scented and resinous. It is easy to work and used mostly for interior joinery. It is soft and brittle which affects its overall strength.
Western red cedar
Western red cedar is a reddish-brown timber, which is fairly weather resistant and therefore used mainly for exterior work. Although very durable, western red cedar can be prone to attack from the common furniture beetle.
Douglas fir is an extremely strong and durable timber that has a light rosy colour and a straight grain. Its strength makes it a superb timber for building. This makes it particularly suitable for exterior use. It is also used in plywood.
The timber of western hemlock is pale brown in colour with quite a lustrous appearance, with a straight grain and quite an even texture. It can be worked readily with all hand and machine tools. It is less prone to warping and twisting but tends not to be as durable as other softwoods. Its main use is for general construction and joinery including doors, windows and other interior work.
Oak is a traditional building material and often found in older houses. Newly harvested oak or “green” oak is sometimes used for constructing the timber frames in houses. Green oak is soft so its easy to cut and shape, but as it dries it assumes a concrete-like hardness making it an ideal construction material. Oak is also used for decorative interior joinery though it is expensive.
Beech has a straight grain and a fine even texture. American beech is a light or reddish brown colour while the European variety is a yellowish-brown. Beech is generally not suitable for outside work, but is very popular for making furniture, handles for tools, kitchen surfaces, plywood and veneers.
Although an attractive timber with a coarse texture, ash does not withstand exposure to the weather and is prone to insect attack. Consequently it is used almost exclusively for interior joinery.
Originally from the Far East, teak is a dark hardwood used when a high-quality finish is required. It also has natural oils that give it excellent weather resistant properties and therefore is often used in the manufacture of outdoor furniture and boat decks.
Because of its attractive appearance and the ease with which it can be worked, Idigbo is used for making furniture, flooring, decorative paneling, veneers and in cabinetmaking. Idigbo timber can be yellow brown or a light pink brown and has a straight to slightly irregular grain. For a hardwood it is comparatively inexpensive.
Mahogany has a thick, rough grain and is a reddish brown colour, which darkens over time and will have a beautiful reddish sheen when polished. More commonly used for furniture and paneling, particularly in period houses.
Maple wood is extremely hardwearing and is often known as “Hard Maple”. Due to its toughness it can be used to make bowling pins and butcher’s blocks. Maple timber is creamy-white with a reddish tinge and can have a highly decorative grain. Consequently it is popular as a flooring material.
American black walnut
This moderately priced wood is a tough, medium density timber with a straight grain. Colours vary from dark brown to purplish black. Black Walnut can be made into fine furniture, kitchens and plywood and like many other hardwoods, is also used for flooring.
Sycamore timber is creamy white in colour with a natural shine. This timber is used to make furniture and worktops; but it is mostly used for domestic flooring.
The darkest hardwood timber available is Wenge. An extremely attractive wood, Wenge is also the most water-resistant natural timber available and is used in bathrooms and kitchens. Wenge has a very high resistance to abrasion thus making it ideal for flooring. As the tree is native to Central Africa the timber has to be imported which makes it expensive.
Bamboo is equally as robust as other hardwoods and is an eco-friendly option as it grows in plentiful supply. Cherry has a classic look about it and darkens over time but is less durable than other hardwoods, so is more suitable for worktops and decorative features.
What to look for
When buying timber inspect it to ensure it is free of cracks and knots. Also be aware that timber can warp during storage, so hold out the timber to check for bending and bowing. Timber can be treated or prepared in different ways, so make sure you know exactly what you are buying.
When wood is first cut it has a high moisture content, which can cause problems later. To remedy this timber is seasoned. This is a process where the timber is allowed to dry until it has a stable moisture content. You can buy wood that has been seasoned or kiln-dried to prevent shrinkage later on. Timber which has been kiln dried has a moisture content level of less than 19%.
Alternatively you can use reclaimed timber, which can have an attractive worn quality to it. Although seasoned, it is advisable to check reclaimed timber over carefully for damage.
Timber can be bought treated with preservative or untreated. As a rule untreated timber is used for second-fixing carpentry such as skirting boards, door frames etc. All timber used for first-fixing carpentry (rafters or stud walls etc) should be treated. Timber that has been pressure treated is referred to as tanalized timber, which means it has been impregnated with preservative and is recognizable by its greenish or brownish tinge. Treated timber can come into contact with soil and other surfaces where there is a risk of damp.
Planed and rough-sawn timber
Timber can be bought either rough-sawn or planed to a smooth finish. Timber labelled D4S (Dressed on 4 sides) or S4S (Surfaced on 4 sides) has been planed smooth on all sides. Always check the dimensions of the timber before buying. This is because the dimensions of timber refer to its size when it is cut. So although rough-sawn timber may only be slight smaller due to shrinkage when drying out, planed timber can be considerably smaller.