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Wood and its purpose

There are many reasons for using wood, for furniture, architecture and structural applications. There are advantages and disadvantages in most instances, but the most common is fast becoming the fact that wood is such a scarce commodity and a very valuable recourse for the earth and mother nature.

Wooded furniture and structures if you can find them of good quality today are fast becoming unaffordable due to the very nature of the need for trees. Wooden furniture should be valued and taken good care of.

Wooden furniture

Solid, good quality wooden furniture is not easily found today, and if it is, the cost is immense due to the fact that we need to try not cut down trees for furniture, but value its purpose in nature. The furniture that is still made from wood these days might be stunning and of high value, but could cause you a few raised eye brows.

The fact is that there really is a wide variety of very old and antique stunning furniture out there, and they are fast becoming very highly sought after. Soon everyone will be holding on to the old and ugly. Wooden furniture is a matter of taste, some people just love it, while others will not be seen dead with a piece of old furniture.

Wood in architecture

Many long standing and amazing houses have been designed and built from wood. Interior wooden paneling was very popular in architecture, and many of the traditional styles that we love, had wood everywhere. We just have to look at the popular Tudor style for an example of this and how stunning wood can be used in an interior. They have elaborate plaster ceilings and grand, carved chimney pieces. The walls are all mostly just wooded panels.

Stuart and early Georgian were much the same with elaborate wood carvings and huge picture frames hung everywhere. The other common feature for wooden architecture was dado rails and picture rails, and the skirting boards were done in ornate, carved wood techniques.

Insulating properties of wood also make it a good option for housing as it keeps the cold and noice out while giving you a warm quite feel.

Wood for structure

Most of our houses have been built with wooden beams in the ceiling which form the structure for holding the roof onto our houses. They have been using wood in our house structures for many years, as it is cost effective and perfect for its application.

There are quite a number of places where wood is used for structure and sometimes so obvious we dont think about it.
The sixties was the time of the parquet floor, and if you did not have a wooden floor your house was not good enough.
Our built in cupboards and kitchens are wood. The kids play house, the jungle gym, all made from wood!


The beauty of the wood is determined by its grain, i.e. the pattern formed as the tree grows and forms rings. Each year the tree forms a new ring.

The grain of the wood is most important in the identification of woods. The grain gives the wood a fine or coarse texture which is what give the wood charater and its beauty.


The way the wood get sawed makes all the diffarence to how the finished product will turn out. The grain of the wood will have a various apperances if cut differently.

There are two main methods of sawing wood, i.e. quarter sawing and plain sawing.

The term "quarter-sawing" comes from the early practice of longitudinally dividing a log into quarters and sawing each quarter into boards by cuts that run towards the centre of the log. Quarter-sawing frequently produces the better graining, and such lumber has less tendency to shrink and warp.

In some woods, particularly oak and mahogany, the medullary rays produce a striking pattern obtained by quarter-sawing the lumber.

Plain Sawing is wooden lumber that is not cut towards the centre of the log, this is also called flat-grained lumber, and the grain on the top of the board appears elongated, oval or V-shaped. Usually plain-sawed lumber is cheaper than the quarter-sawed, because it can be cut with less waste, and in some kinds of wood, such as ash, chestnut or elm, it has a better figure.


The classification of wood divides them into hard and soft, referring to a botanical difference rather than to any definite degree of hardŽness. The two groups differ in cell structure, appearance and general properties.

Hardwood trees have broad, flat leaves that falloff after maturity. The Softwood trees have needle or scale-like leaves which they retain all year; they are the evergreens. Most hardwoods are stronger and less likely to dent than the softwoods; they also hold nails and screws more securely. There are some, such as poplar and aspen that are actually softer than some of the so-called softwoods.


Oak (Most commonly used furniture wood)

This is one of the most important of all woods for interior use. It may be sawed, either plain or quartered, the latter being generally preferred for fine work, because of the stroking pattern produced by the medullary rays. Plain oak is less expensive, because there is less waste in its production, and it is used for the less important features, or where durability rather than beauty is the chief consideration. Oak is generally divided into two groups, namely white and red. Suitable for floors, wall panels, plywood, furniture and veneer.

As old as Greek and Roman Period. Of special importance in Medieval (English) Period. Other periods dominated by oak furniture were the Greek Period, Renaissance Period. Tudor Period, Elizabethean Period, Jacobean Period (heavily carved), Spanish Period as well as certain Russian Period.

The wood of the oak tree has a bold textured surface used for panelling as well as furniture. White oak available as well as red oak.

Properties of Oak
  • Very hard
  • Durable
  • Beautiful grain, somewhat coarse, lends itself to carving
  • Can be used for panelling
  • Resistant to the vagaries of climate
  • Adaptable to many kinds of finishes
  • Heavy
  • Colours and polishes well.

Walnut (European and American walnut)

Walnut has always been popular because of the endless variety of patterns in the graining. It is not as hard as oak but harder than mahogany. In 500 B.C. seeds of the walnut tree were planted in. Eastern Europe and 1,500 years later, during the Renaissance, the walnut became very popular. Queen Anne of Britain preferred walnut furniture and this influence furniture designers in New England (America).

Normally a light to very dark chocolate brown. Usually used for furniture as well as for veneer finishes and panelling.

Good insulating can make a temperature control system much more effective. Some materials are better insulators than others. Porous or aggregate materials such as wood and concrete blocks are poor conduction of cold into the home. At the same time it prevents the warmth generated by the heating system from escaping. In warm weather just the opposite is true Žinsulation keeps coolness inside and prevents heat from entering. Insulation is really quite inexpensive but can make a major difference in the size of heating and cooling bills.

Properties of Walnut Wood
  • Hard, can easily be worked with
  • Natural resistance to shrinking and warping
  • Strong
  • Medium grain
  • Takes a wide variety of finishes
  • Durable
  • Good gluing qualities

Cherry Wood (United States, Europe, Asia)

A durable hardwood of a reddish-brown colour, which is produced only in small quantities, the trees being usually too small for lumbering. It is often used to imitate mahogany, which it greatly resembles, and is used for marquetry and inlay. Can also be used for veneer work.

It is very cheerful with a warm appearance. Greek and Roman craftsmen used this wood for inlays in fine furniture pieces. In the 16th and 17th Century while oak and walnut were most popular in Italy and France and the rest of Europe, Cherrywood was still only used for inlays. In 1760, Louis XVI introduced cherrywood to France. (In New England cherrywood was originally thought to be a type of mahogany because of its pinkish-brown colour.)

Properties of Cherry Wood
  • Strong
  • Durable
  • Carves and polishes well

Blackwood (Australia, Tasmania and the Cape)

The colour varies from light to reddish brown to nearly black. The dark wood can easily be confused with stinkwood. It has a very even texture, while the grain is straight and sometimes even wavy and plaited because of the year rings.

Properties of Blackwood
  • Hard Strong
  • Easy to work with
  • Can be polished to a high lustre

Stinkwood (Stinkwood or Cape Laurel)

It is an indigenous South African tree. Today it is a very scarce and expensive wood. The colour varies from golden brown to black. The darker wood is the heavier. It has a fine texture and the grain has often a spiral form. Suitable for any type of furniture.

Properties of Stinkwood
  • Fairly hard
  • Difficult to work with
  • Liable to bugs
  • Can be polished to a high lustre
  • Colour varies from a light goldish colour to brown and almost black
  • Darkens when polished
  • Fine texture with spiral patterned grain


Teak contains natural oils which protect it from moisture. It is a high quality wood that is almost maintenance free in any climate, and it does not need to be varnished or oiled to protect it. It is also resistant to rot, termites and insects. It works easily and is very durable. Today teak is usually treated with an oil stain, this is more to protect the colour of the wood, as over time, the sun can bleach the colour. Teak lends itself well to s~mmetrical designs and the patterns of Scandinavia and the Orient. Today it is mostly used for marine use, as well as outdoor furniture as it is weather resistant. Outdorr furniture, benches and patio furniture are often made from Teak. It is also widely used to make chests, cabinets and tables.

Properties of Teak
  • Weather resistant
  • Maintenance free
  • Straight grain
  • Medium coarse texture
  • Dark brown with yellowish stains
  • Durable
  • Does not shrink

Maple and Birch wood

These can be called the favourite twins of cabinet makers in the Colonial Period. They were popular because of their grain and their smooth whiteness. The natural light colour of birch made it very popular with Hepplewhite in the 18th Century.

It was also used for Biedermeir furniture produced in Austria and Germany during the first half of the 19th Century. In the 20th Century birch became very popular in the Scandinavian Countries. Birch was mainly used by the Early Americans for furniture because of its lustrous sheen. Its smooth texture can resist stains and it can be finished in many beautiful ways .

A variety of species are known, of which yellow birchwood is the best known. The natural colour of the wood is a pale golden brown, but it can be bleached or stained to simulate other woods, e.g. walnut and mahogany. It is a relatively cheap wood and the durability of this wood makes it a good choice for doors, floors, structural parts of furniture, plywood and veneers.

Properties of Birch and Maple wood
  • Strong
  • Even texture
  • Durable
  • Straight grain, some varieties have curly figures usually reserved for veneers
  • Takes paints and stains extremely well
  • Can be used to simulate other woods
  • Can be polished to a lovely glowing lustre
  • Usually hard wood
  • Little shrinking and warping
  • Maple can appear pale, creamy and delicate
  • Maple from Vermont can appear amber if linseed oil is used on it
  • Maple can also be used as fashionable trim for plain furniture
  • Both Birch and Maple are very durable



"South African Pine" as it is commonly known is a collective noun for a variety of pines in South Africa. Peregrine Pine types are known as white and yellow pine. Yellow pine is stronger and harder than white pine. South African Pine is a soft wood and cheaper furniture is often made of pine.

Properties of South African Pine
  • A light to dark yellow colour
  • Soft wood
  • Straight grain
  • Adaptable to furniture making
  • Characteristic knots
  • Often varnished for protection
  • Inexpensive

Rattan (Cane)

Rattan is pliable and elastic which makes it perfect for durable, light~eight, casual furniture for informal living. The rattan palm produces tree trunks about the circumference of a walking stick, this is why it is called cane. The tree provides long strong strips of wood which can be bent and cut to fashion tables, chairs and couches and other accessory furniture.

This material characterized by a tough outer shell over an inner bark and pithy core, is used for crafting some of the finest casual furniture. The outer bark or peel is removed and cut into narrow strips that are often used to wrap the framwork and joints of cane furniture. The narrowest strips are used to weave chair seats and backs, furniture side panels and accessories. The natural nodes, or growth marks, are carefully retained to add to the beauty of the finished furniture. It bends easily and holds its graceful curves well. It can be joined with nails, screws or glue and accepts a finish well.

This type of furniture is particularly popular in warmer climates and used in informal settings for informal living. The Oriental designs or mati are used for more formal settings. Rattan should always be placed so that it is protected against too much sun, which discolours it and dries it, as well as prolonged exposure to damp, which weakens the cane, causing it to rot.

How to judge cane quality
  • Poles should be free of dark blemishes, this may indicate rotting
  • Growth nodes should be uniformly spaced about 30 - 45 cm apart
  • Joints should be tightly and smoothly wrapped with genuine peel bindings
  • Cane peel bindings should be glued and nailed to eliminate possibility of loosening or unwinding
  • The finish should be smooth and fuzz-free
  • Check to make sure cushions are comfortable, of good quality fabric, and well constructed


It is similar to Rattan and comes from the rush-like stem of the Willow tree. It is used to weave lightweight patio and garden furniture, suitable for indoor and outdoor or informal attractive furniture. Medieval Europeans and Colonial Americans designed attractive chairs from these runs. Adam and Hepplewhite also used wicker for their chair backs. Items of furniture can be left unfinished or a light coloured high gloss finish used to increase strength and durability.