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How To Buy Hardwoods


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Established Member
19 Dec 2019
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really useful post that explains what i have been trying to get my head around for years


12 May 2021
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Even at more "standardised" yards you'll still have to be aware of some potential problems with ABW. I mentioned that Walnut is almost always sold on a "sap no fault" basis. A bit of sap on just one side of a board is something most of us could live with, but what if the best side of a board has thick bands of sap like this? Sorry I got the photos wrong, look at the end of the post! :oops:

View attachment 62491

As the small buyer the hard fact is you're that bit more likely to receive these kind of boards. You could try returning them, or explaining before hand that you won't accept sap on both sides, but it's something you need to be prepared for. It's another reason to select your boards in person, even if that means going to a yard like Surrey Timbers where there'll be a bit of premium for the privilege.

Indeed every timber has it's own unique pitfalls. Off the top of my head here are some of the others,

American Cherry. Excessive number of black resin pockets. Too sappy. English Cherry is a cheaper substitute, personally I like it, but be aware it's often field grown with wild grain that makes jointing boards together very difficult. Cherry ages beautifully, taking on a lovely patination after just a few years. It can be slightly blotchy to finish but time cures that. It's easy to work and kind on your tools. I would strongly recommend American Cherry for your first hardwood experiments, it's also a natural match for Shaker style projects. Cherry used to be called "poor man's Mahogany", but it's now a far more fashionable timber than Mahogany, plus it has the huge benefit of being a renewable, temperate zone timber, so no one will think you're Jack the Ripper for using it.

Oak. There's a bit of an epidemic of yellow stain at the moment, that's a drying fault from being rushed through kilning with inadequate air drying before hand. If you buy from a yard that does there own kilning (like Tylers) you won't get this, it's more of a problem in smaller yards that buy in ready kilned stock purely on price. Oak is often available graded, for furniture making don't skimp, you want the highest grade available. Oak is also one of the very few timbers where you can often specify quarter sawn even from a "standardised" yard. You may want to do this for the distinctive medullary rays you get with quarter sawn Oak. Be aware though that medullary rays come in all sorts of shapes and mixing them up within a single project can be a bit jarring. Personally I favour "spidery" rays like this,

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Rather than "splodgy" rays like this, but this really is just a personal preference!

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Beech. Beech comes in two versions, steamed and unsteamed. personally I like the slightly pink tinge you get with steaming. But that's a personal choice, the important thing is to specify one or the other and then stick to it, mixing up the two in one project looks messy. Beech is one of the cheapest hardwoods, but it can quickly get a bit boring. It works well with mixed hardwood/plywood projects though.

Sweet Chestnut. Sweet Chestnut isn't as well known as it deserves to be. It's very similar to Oak except it's a bit paler and doesn't have medullary rays. It's also widely available and very affordable (as far as hardwoods go that is!), the reason it's affordable is commercial planters often include some Chestnut amongst Oak because it can be harvested much earlier so they can get some cash in before they pop their clogs, it's got much narrower sap bands so for any given tree diameter you get a higher yield than Oak. If you want to stick to traditional furniture making techniques you'd use Oak for your show faces and Sweet Chestnut as the secondary timber for backs, drawer sides, etc. Whatever you do don't buy Horse Chestnut if it's offered to you by a local tree surgeon, it's hopeless for furniture making.

Sycamore. Be very careful when buying Sycamore, most of it is fairly grey and often has sticker stains. The stuff to look out for is the bright white boards that are sometimes called "Arctic Sycamore". Buying bargain basement Sycamore sight unseen is just asking for trouble. Rippled Sycamore is probably the most widely available of the heavily figured timbers. There's normally some for sale in at least one of my local yards.

Ash. It's very common to find Ash with a pale brown staining, especially around the centre of the tree. It's sometimes sold as "Olive Ash", if you want a pale clean look then specify upfront that you don't want any Olive Ash, like Walnut Sap it's often sold as not being a fault. Ash isn't an easy timber to finish, it really needs grain filling and that's a bit trickier with a pale timber.

Maple. Maple has a surprising range of colour variation, from white to yellow to pink. They're all attractive in their own way, but you don't want to mix them up within a single project. Buy a bit extra per project and state you want a consistent colour match.

I'm sure there are lots of other things but it's time I had some dinner! Hopefully other people can chime in with their timber buying experiences.

Oops. I messed up the first photo. It should have been this one,

View attachment 62498
Thank you for taking the time, I'm just starting out and your right up has been very helpful to me. Thank you again.

Keith 66

Established Member
5 Jan 2013
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Benfleet Essex
That is a real shame - it's sad that continuity of supply was never at the forefront of the forest owners' minds as much as the dollar signs were. So who's stashing the millions of trees that have been felled to make way for palm oil plantations?

Most of them will simply have been burnt.