You’ve had your eye on a project for a while, saved up and thought through the design. Now it’s just a case of choosing the right wood. Where do you start? Well, we’ve put together a small guide on the questions we ask ourselves before a project to help you select the perfect material.
There’s a huge number of timbers out there (often with differing names depending on where you are) so we suggest selecting based on the following criteria:
As useless as a chocolate teapot. We’ve heard the phrase and whilst it might seem like a light-hearted joke, it’s the first place to start. Wood has natural variation in terms of grain structure, chemical composition and hardness. Therefore, different species are better choices in specific applications.
Take an example of the humble garden bench. It needs to be durable to the elements and strong enough to potentially seat four people. That means choosing a long-lasting timber; something resistant to water, rot and insects. So maybe a teak, larch or cedar? The timber durability chart (pictured aside) is a great way to get a rough idea of how timber ages in the elements and shows just how variable wood can be.
If you’re looking for something indoors, a whole world of possibilities open up. Wood can be categorised as either hardwood or softwood. Whilst the definitions for each can be a little misleading, it generally holds that a hardwood is harder than a softwood. So, a solid oak (hardwood) table is likely to fair better against accidental bangs and bruises than an equivalent thickness pine (softwood) table.
It’s only once you see the array of timbers available that you become aware of the range of colours out there! Not only can the colour vary from white/cream through to an almost pure black but the patterns within the wood can differ wildly. The grain in a piece will change form one tree to another but generally you can be confident on how a species should look. For example in the image below, this walnut has a distinctive chocolate colour and subtle waves of colour variation. Compare that to beech, a wood often used in kitchen utensils, where the appearance is uniform in colour and texture. It is worth bearing this in mind when sourcing the timber for a project. There might be an element of risk in how the board looks once cut to size.
Little gets mentioned about where the wood is sourced but it’s becoming a major factor in modern life. Fast fashion is battling with environmental conscience. It may be worth bearing in mind that your oak could be shipped all the way from North America or sourced within the same county and these two ‘identical’ products are likely to have significant differences in structure.
Ethical sourcing isn’t just about environmental factors but the conditions required to manufacture the timber. Are workers provided fair wages and a safe work environment? Ask the merchant where their timber is coming from and how they source it. All reputable suppliers will pride themselves on knowing where they source their materials from. We hope this becomes the norm.
Price reflects the three previous choices. A choice board of American Walnut for a dining table may be three times the price per cube metre than European Beech. The rarity of the wood alongside the distance it travel to the merchants will play a large part.
Throw in the popularity from consumers, current interior trends, and the market rate is set. This can create a chicken and egg scenario. Know your budget and it helps decide which woods are feasible. Know what you want and be prepared to pay.
Whilst that can be a little frustrating there are ways to work around this problem. We’ll offer solutions to that another time…