Here at Oregon Woodworks we’ve chosen to use Douglas Fir for our main shelf kits for various reasons that ultimately led to it being the best choice for our circumstances. This decision was made after looking at many different qualities for various species of wood. What type of wood to use is a decision all woodworkers make when starting a project whether it is for a hobby or something that is being manufactured at scale. To give you some greater insight on this we’ve outlined some of those characteristics below!
Hardwood vs. Softwood
Wood is oftentimes broken down into two categories, hardwood and softwood. Hardwood comes from deciduous trees and softwood comes from conifers. This term has nothing to do with the density of the wood itself, but instead is referencing the seed type. However, more often hardwoods do have a greater density than softwoods. This is not always the case, but where the density is higher for hardwoods, it is thought to happen because they typically grow more slowly than softwoods due to losing their leaves every year. Softwoods have a more consistent growth rate allowing the wood to be more uniform overall. For a more scientific look at this distinction look here.
Wood Color and Texture
Between hardwood and softwood, visually you can see a difference. Hardwood typically has deeper, richer, and more visually interesting colors and patterns in the grain than softwood does. Softwood is lighter in color and has a grain texture that is less intricate. Even then, the more exotic species of wood typically have more interesting grains and higher densities from most domestic hardwoods. This makes them harder to work with and more coveted overall for accents. It is rare to see full pieces of furniture made from those woods.
Availability and Sustainability
This distinction brings us to the next characteristic looked at by woodworkers; the availability and sustainability of the wood. Softwoods are typically prevalent and easily accessed due to their faster growth, this makes them cheaper. Here at our facility in Oregon we are situated in a perfect spot for easy access to Douglas Fir in particular. This is a softwood and allows us to produce an affordable, unique product that still has the unique wood grain of each individual cut. If we were in a different location of the country, then the wood chosen may have been different given what was available.
As hardwoods grow more slowly they have less availability and are typically more expensive. For some types of hardwood this makes its use unsustainable. Though for some woods the slow growth is compounded by its destruction in certain areas of the world. More information on habitat destruction for those woods can be found at the World Wildlife Fund here.
Other Wood Properties
While wood shares the basic characteristics of color, grain, and strength, some woods can bring a little more to the table. A great example of this is Cedar. Cedar has been known for centuries as a wood that deters bugs, especially moths with its scent. It is this characteristic that led to it being used in “Cedar Chests”. These are containers that precious items are typically kept in, mainly textiles to ensure they are unharmed in storage. Cedar also has good resistance to harsh weather conditions and longevity when used in outdoor settings making it a common siding option.
Another special property is the specific density of some woods. Balsa for example has an extremely low density, this allows it to be perfect for certain applications such as model building or for use in applications where low density is ideal such as on rafts or wooden surfboards.
We hope you take away from this article something new that you didn’t know about wood before. We here at Oregon Woodworks are passionate about the materials we work with and wood, we think, is arguably the most important!