Wood Characteristics

Knowing the various characteristics of wood will help you to make the best choice. Here are the principal characteristics of this noble material.


Hard wood:
In popular language, what is commonly known as hardwood trees should instead be called caduceus trees.
Their leaves are usually flat and open, unlike the needles of coniferous trees. The wood harvested from caduceus trees is usually of high density, and is harder to work with and much more resistant than coniferous wood. Most exotic woods are hard woods.


Soft / resinous wood: 
In popular language, what is commonly known as soft wood should instead be called resinous wood. This is because the sap produces resin or gum-like residue. Resinous woods usually belong to the coniferous family of trees. 
Their needles remain on the tree year round, and their fruit is cone-shaped (hence their name ‘coniferous' trees). Cedar, pine, spruce and balsam are some commonly known conifers. Resinous woods are low density and therefore easier to work. The disadvantage is that they present a surface which is less resistant to shock and wear and tear.


Growth ring:
Layer of wood which grows on the outside surface of the tree trunk year after year, creating a circular pattern when the tree is cut transversally. Growth rings grow irregularly, can vary in size from one to many millimeters, are irregular in shape and size, and vary from species to species.


Botanical term used to categorize families of trees.


Motif found on the surface of a plank of wood, resulting from a combination of the tree's growth cycle, the type of wood grain, and the type of cut.


Orientation of wood fibres with respect to the main axis of the tree trunk.

There are eight types of wood grain:

  • Straight grain: Wood fibres run parallel to the axis of the tree trunk.
  • Cross grain: Wood fibres do not run parallel to the tree trunk.
  • Interlace grain: Wood fibres spiral on one direction then in another, alternating direction from year to year.
  • Spiral grain: Wood fibres form a spiral always growing in the same direction, in a twisting motion.
  • Wave grain: Wood fibres form a regular design which resembles small waves.
  • Loop grain: Fibres form an irregular wave pattern.
  • Irregular grain: Fibres are haphazardly contorted around knots and other movements in the pattern.
  • Diagonal grain: Figure resulting from a flat cut in a spiral grain, or from a defect in a straight grain.


How the wood cells reflect the light to give the appearance of a shiny surface. Fire grain species such a sycamore have more lustre than large grain woods such as oak. Quarter cut planks are usually shinier than those cut on a rift cut. The degree of lustre is not an indication of how polished finished wood can become.


Most woods lose their fragrance when dried. However, some species, such as cedar, retain their fragrance and can be used for specific purposes such a chests to protect clothing from insects. Be sure to select a species of wood that is fragrance-free when making food containers.


Texture is the difference between the size of the pores, and the quantity and width of the veins. Woods with large veins are considered rough textured, while those with fine veins are fine textured.

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