Woodworking Newsletter
Vol. 1, Issue 1
October 2006
Wood as a Material

Osage orange, spalted maple and black locust (left to right)It can be argued that woodworkers tend to concentrate more on the tools and techniques of woodworking than on the actual material the wood.

Yet knowing more about the wood you use in your projects is a key part of improving your craftsmanship. It can also help you make a great project even better.

Heartwood and Sapwood
Heartwood is actually the dead wood found in the center of the tree. Sapwood is the living wood that carries the sap through the trunk. It is located around the circumference of the tree, and is lighter than the richly colored heartwood.

heartwood and sapwood of a spalted maple When ordering or selecting wood, specify exactly what you want or carefully inspect the wood on both sides to ensure you get what you expect. Keep in mind that boards with both sapwood and heartwood can be treasures that add a special accent to your project. Their different grain patterns provide variation, adding visual interest to what you make.

Grain and Figure
Grain refers to the orientation of the annual rings of the tree. The contrasting colors common in ash or oak make a distinct grain pattern, while the relative uniformity of poplar's annual rings makes quite a plain grain.

The way in which a board is cut from the tree determines the orientation of the annual rings, which significantly affects the grain's appearance. There are two typical methods of cutting boards. Quarter-sawn oak, for instance, is relatively uniform in appearance, whereas flat-sawn oak displays a much more obvious grain pattern. Whether one or the other is right for a project depends on your preference.

distinct grain pattern of a Russian olive Figure refers to distinctive patterns on the surface of the wood. Birdseye and curly maple both exemplify distinctive figure, which is a result of how the wood grows. Burls, which are woody growths on the trunk of a tree, also provide intricate figures on the wood. Figured lumber often sells for a premium.
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