Hardwood and softwood trees

Identifying hardwood and softwood and the best uses for different hard and soft woods.

Woods without Pores—Conifers or So-Called “Softwoods”

Woods with resin ducts.

1.) Pines. Resin ducts numerous, prominent, fairly evenly distributed. Wood often pitchy. Resinous odour distinct. Clear demarcation between heart and sapwood. There are two groups of pines—soft and hard.

(a) Soft Pines. Wood light, soft, not strong, even-textured, very easy to work. Change from early wood to late wood is gradual and the difference in density is not great.

(b) Hard Pines. Wood variable but typically rather heavy, hard and strong, uneven textured, fairly easy to work. Change from early wood to late wood is abrupt and the difference in density and colour is very marked, consequently alternate layers of light and dark wood show. The wood of nearly all pines is very extensively employed in construction work and in general carpentry.

2.) Douglas fir. Resin ducts less numerous and conspicuous than in the pines, irregularly distributed, often in small groups. Odourless or nearly so. Heartwood and sapwood distinct. The wood is of two kinds. In one the growth rings are narrow and the wood is rather light and soft, easy to work, reddish yellow in colour; in the other the growth rings are wide, the wood is rather hard to work, as there is great contrast between the weak early wood and the very dense late wood of the annual rings.

Douglas fir is a tree of great economic importance on the Pacific Coast. The wood is much like hard pine both in its appearance and its uses.

3.) Spruces. Resin ducts few, small, unevenly distributed; appearing mostly as white dots. Wood not resinous; odourless. The wood is white or very light coloured with a silky lustre and with little contrast between heart and sapwood. It is a great deal like soft pine, though lighter in colour and with much fewer and smaller resin ducts. The wood is used for construction, carpentry, oars, sounding boards for musical instruments, and paper pulp.

4.) Tamarack. Resin ducts the same as in the spruces. The colour of the heartwood is yellowish or russet brown; that of the distinct sapwood much lighter. The wood is considerably like hard pine, but lacks the resinous odour and the resin ducts are much fewer and smaller.

The wood is used largely for cross-ties, fence posts, telegraph and telephone poles, and to a limited extent for lumber in general construction.

Woods without resin ducts.

1.) Hemlock. The wood has a disagreeable, rancid odour, is splintery, not resinous, with decided contrast between early and late wood. Colour light brown with a slight tinge of red, the heart little if any darker than the sapwood. Hemlock makes a rather poor lumber which is used for general construction, also for cross-ties, and pulp.

2.) Balsam fir. Usually odourless, not splintery, not resinous, with little contrast between early and late wood. Colour white or very light brown with a pinkish hue to the late wood. Heartwood little if any darker than the sapwood. Closely resembles spruce, from which it can be distinguished by its absence of resin ducts.

The wood is used for paper pulp in mixture with spruce. Also for general construction to some extent.

3.) Cypress. Odourless except in dark-coloured specimens which are somewhat rancid. Smooth surface of sound wood looks and feels greasy or waxy. Moderate contrast between early and late wood. Colour varies from straw colour to dark brown, often with reddish and greenish tinge. Heartwood more deeply coloured than the sapwood but without distinct boundary line.

Wood used in general construction, especially in places where durability is required; also for shingles, cooperage, posts, and poles.

4.) Red Cedar. Has a distinct aromatic odour. Wood uniform-textured; late wood usually very thin, inconspicuous. Colour deep reddish brown or purple, becoming dull upon exposure; numerous minute red dots often visible under lens. Sapwood 226 white. Red cedar can be distinguished from all the other conifers mentioned by the deep colour of the wood and the very distinct aromatic odour.

Wood largely used for pencils; also for chests and cabinets, posts, and poles. It is very durable in contact with the ground.

Western red cedar is lighter, softer, less deeply coloured and less fragrant than the common Eastern cedar. It grows along the Pacific Coast and is extensively used for shingles throughout the country.

5.) Redwood. Wood odourless and tasteless, uniform-textured, light and weak, rather coarse and harsh. Colour light cherry. Close inspection under lens of a small split surface will reveal many little resin masses that appear as rows of black or amber beads which are characteristic of this wood.

Redwood is confined to portions of the Pacific Coast. It is used for house construction, interior finish, tanks and flumes, shingles, posts, and boxes. It is very durable.

Woods with Pores—Broadleaf, or So-Called “Hardwoods”

A. Ring-porous. 1.Woods with a portion of the rays very large and conspicuous.

Oak. The wood of all of the oaks is heavy, hard, and strong. They may be separated into two groups. The white oaks and the red or black oaks.

(a) White oaks. Pores in early wood plugged with tyloses, collected in a few rows. The transition from the large pores to the small ones in the late wood is abrupt. The latter are very small, numerous, and appear as irregular greyish bands widening toward the outer edge of the annual ring. Impossible usually to see into the small pores with magnifier.

(b) Red or black oaks. Pores are usually open though tyloses may occur, the early wood pores are in several rows and the transition to the small ones in late wood is gradual. The latter are fewer, larger and more distinct than in white oak and it is possible to see into them with a hand lens.

The wood of the oaks is used for all kinds of furniture, interior finish, cooperage, vehicles, cross-ties, posts, fuel, and construction timber.

2.Woods with none of the rays large and conspicuous.

(a) Pores in late wood small and in radial lines, wood parenchyma in inconspicuous tangential lines.

Chestnut. Pores in early wood in a broad band, oval in shape, mostly free from tyloses. Pores in late wood in flame-like radial white patches that are plainly visible without lens. Colour medium brown. Nearly odourless and tasteless. Chestnut is readily separated from oak by its weight and absence of large rays; from black ash by the arrangement of the pores in the late wood; from sassafras by the arrangement of the pores in the late wood, the less conspicuous rays, and the lack of distinct colour.

The wood is used for cross-ties, telegraph and telephone poles, posts, furniture, cooperage, and tannin extract. Durable in contact with the ground.

(b) Pores in late wood small, not radially arranged, being distributed singly or in groups. Wood parenchyma around pores or extending wing-like from pores in late wood, often forming irregular tangential lines.
1. Ash. Pores in early wood in a rather broad band (occasionally narrow), oval in shape, tyloses present. Colour brown to white, sometimes with reddish tinge to late wood. Odourless and tasteless. There are several species of ash that are classed as white ash and one that is called black or brown ash.

(a) White ash. Wood heavy, hard, strong, mostly light coloured except in old heartwood, which is reddish. Pores in late wood, especially in the outer part of the annual ring, are joined by lines of wood parenchyma.

(b) Black ash. Wood more porous, lighter, softer, weaker, and darker coloured than white ash. Pores in late wood fewer and larger and rarely joined by tangential lines of wood parenchyma.

The wood of the ashes is used for wagon and carriage stock, agricultural implements, oars, furniture, interior finish, and cooperage. It is the best wood for bent work.

2. Locust. Pores in early wood in a rather narrow band, round, variable in size, densely filled with tyloses. Colour varying from golden yellow to brown, often with greenish hue. Very thin sapwood, white. Odourless and almost tasteless. Wood extremely heavy and hard, cutting like horn. Locust bears little resemblance to ash, being harder, heavier, of a different colour, with more distinct rays, and with the pores in late wood in larger groups.

The wood is used for posts, cross-ties, wagon hubs, and insulator pins. It is very durable in contact with the ground.

(c) Pores in late wood comparatively large, not in groups or lines. Wood parenchyma in numerous fine but distinct tangential lines.

Hickory, Pores in early wood moderately large, not abundant, nearly round, filled with tyloses. Colour brown to reddish brown; thick sapwood, white. Odourless and tasteless. Wood very heavy, hard, and strong. Hickory is readily separated from ash by the fine tangential lines of wood parenchyma and from oak by the absence of large rays.

The wood is largely used for vehicles, tool handles, agricultural implements, athletic goods, and fuel.

(d) Pores in late wood small and in conspicuous wavy tangential bands. Wood parenchyma not in tangential lines.

Elm. Pores in early wood not large and mostly in a single row, (several rows in slippery elm), round, tyloses present. Colour brown, often with reddish tinge. Odourless and tasteless. Wood rather heavy and hard, tough, often difficult to split. The peculiar arrangement of the pores in the late wood readily distinguishes elm from all other woods except hackberry, from which it may be told by the fact that in elm the medullary rays are indistinct, while they are quite distinct in hackberry; moreover, the colour of hackberry is yellow or greyish yellow instead of brown or reddish brown as in elm.

The wood is used principally for slack cooperage; also for hubs, baskets, agricultural implements, and fuel.

B. Diffuse-porous. 1.Pores varying in size from rather large to minute, the largest being in the early wood. Intermediate between ring-porous and diffuse-porous.

Black Walnut. Colour rich dark or chocolate brown. Odour mild but characteristic. Tasteless or nearly so. Wood parenchyma in numerous, fine tangential lines. Wood heavy and hard, moderately stiff and strong. The wood is used principally for furniture, cabinets, interior finish, moulding, and gun stocks.

2. Pores all minute or indistinct, evenly distributed throughout annual ring.

(a) With conspicuously broad rays.
1. Sycamore. Rays practically all broad. Colour light brown, often with dark stripes or “feather grain.” Wood of medium weight and strength, usually cross-grained, difficult to split.

The wood is used for general construction, woodenware, novelties, interior finish, and boxes.

2. Beech. With only a part of the rays broad, the others very fine, Colour pale reddish brown to white; uniform. Wood heavy, hard, strong, usually straight-grained.

The wood is used for cheap furniture, turnery, cooperage, woodenware, novelties, cross-ties, and fuel. Much of it is distilled.

(b) Without conspicuously broad rays.
1. Cherry. Rays rather fine but very distinct. Colour of wood reddish brown. Wood rather heavy, hard, and strong.

The wood is used for furniture, cabinet work, moulding, interior finish, and miscellaneous articles.

2. Maple, With part of the rays rather broad and conspicuous, the others very fine. Colour light brown tinged with red. The wood of the hard maple is very heavy, hard and strong; that of the soft maples is rather light, fairly strong. Maple most closely resembles birch, but can be distinguished from it through the fact that in maple the rays are considerably more conspicuous than in birch.

The wood is used for slack cooperage, flooring, interior finish, furniture, musical instruments, handles, and destructive distillation.

3. Tulip-tree, yellow poplar or whitewood. Rays all fine but distinct. Colour yellow or brownish yellow; sapwood white. Wood light and soft, straight-grained, easy to work.

The wood is used for boxes, woodenware, tops and bodies of vehicles, interior finish, furniture, and pulp.

4. Red or sweet gum. Rays all fine but somewhat less distinct than in tulip tree. Colour reddish brown, often with irregular dark streaks producing a “watered” effect on smooth boards; thick sapwood, greyish white. Wood rather heavy, moderately hard, cross-grained, difficult to work.

The best grades of figured red gum resemble Circassian walnut, but the latter has much larger pores unevenly distributed and is less cross-grained than red gum.

The wood is used for finishing, flooring, furniture, veneers, slack cooperage, boxes, and gun stocks.

5. Black or sweet birch, Rays variable in size but all rather indistinct. Colour brown, tinged with red, often deep and handsome. Wood heavy, hard, and strong, straight-grained, readily worked. Is darker in colour and has less prominent rays than maple.

The wood is used for furniture, cabinet work, finishing, and distillation.

6. Cottonwood. Rays extremely fine and scarcely visible even under lens. Colour pale dull brown or greyish brown. 233 Wood light, soft, not strong, straight-grained, fairly easy to work. Cottonwood can be separated from other light and soft woods by the fineness of its rays, which is equalled only by willow, which it rather closely resembles. The wood is largely used for boxes, general construction, lumber, and pulp.

How to judge the quality of wood: To know the name of a piece of wood means, in a general way, to know certain qualities that are common to all other pieces of wood of that species, but it does not explain the special peculiarities of the piece in question or why that particular piece is more suitable or unsuitable for a particular purpose than another piece of the same species. The mere identification of the wood does not explain why a particular piece is tougher, stronger or of darker colour than another piece of the same species or even of the same tree. The reason for these special differences lies in the fact that wood is not a homogeneous material like metal. Within the same tree different parts vary in quality. The heartwood is generally heavier and of deeper colour than the sapwood. The butt is superior to the top wood, and the manner in which the wood was sawed and dried will affect its quality. Knots, splits, checks, and discoloration due to incipient decay are defects worth considering. Wood that looks lustreless is usually defective, because the lack of lustre is generally due to disease. Woods that are hard wear best. Hardness can be determined readily by striking the wood with a hammer and noting the sound produced. A clear, ringing sound is a sign of hardness. The strength of a piece of wood can be judged by its weight after it is well dried. Heavy woods are usually strong. A large amount of late wood is an indication of strength and the production of a clear sound when struck with a hammer is also an evidence of strength.

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