Wood Types and Glossary of Terms
Maple The hardest and slowest growing of the New England hardwoods that we use. Maple takes "figure" well, Curly or Birds-eye.
Birch Honey-colored with a wide, shimmery grain. Among the softer of our native hardwoods.
Beech Sometimes referred to as the mother of the forest, beech is a strong and heavy hardwood.
Black Walnut Dark and rich. reminiscent of chocolate
Flame Birch honey-colored with a wide grain. Among the softer of our native hardwoods.
White Oak - Classic and stately. We only use Oak for trivets or non-food items because of its open grain.
Cherry- Like a fine red wine, Cherry gets richer and darker with age.
Birds-eye (Maple or other woods) has long been prized by artisans and fine furniture makers, and lately can be seen in dashboards of Rolls Royce automobiles. We don’t know what causes this figure. Birdseye almost always grows from the pith to the cambium - that is, from the center to the outside of the tree.
Curl or Flame - This figure is caused by compression of the grain—either at the base of an old tree or under a heavy branch. Often we see the ripples of the Curl showing right through the bark. Maple grows so slowly that this figure has years to compress—hence the close Curls. Since Birch grows much more quickly, the Flames are further apart. After much sanding and finishing with oil, this rippling shows up as iridescent stripes—almost holographic.
Some say that trees consistently wind-bent towards the south will have Curl on the south side and not on the north. I wonder, too, if Flame Birch is accentuated by the dancing of Birches in the wind or if "some boy’s been swinging them". It’s fun to imagine anyway.
Figure (such as Curl, Flame, Ambrosia, Spalting or Birds-eye) is caused by years of distortion and disturbance of the grain. Natural occurrences like lightning strikes with subsequent water damage, fire, insects, fungi, heavy weights (maybe another tree fell on it) or banding by vines—all these make for unique figure in wood. Combinations of figures can be striking.
Grain is seen as thin stripes in lumber, the lines made by cutting across the growth rings. Different woods have different and distinct grain patterns. Raised grain is that fuzzy feeling that wood gets after water exposure.
Growth rings are added each year as the outermost layer in the sapwood, just under the bark. You can tell the age of a tree by counting the growth rings.
Heartwood is the older--usually darker and more highly figured--central core of the tree. Even in a growing tree, this wood is no longer alive. It’s protected from disease and insect damage by the sapwood.
Live edge shows the irregular outer edge of the tree, with or without the bark.
Sapwood is the outer ring of wood that surrounds a tree under the bark. In a living tree, the usually lighter-colored sapwood carries sap from the roots to the leaves in the spring and back to the roots in the fall.
Spalting is caused by water damage. It begins when a tree is struck by lightning or another tree, or loses a branch. Then rainwater gets in, freezing and thawing throughout the year. Finally, mold meanders along the grain, causing wonderful, irregular black streaks. It’s not healthy for the tree, though, and eventually rot sets in. Much of our locally harvested wood contains areas of spalting. Then the tree, usually a Sugar Maple, must be taken down, providing crazy possibilities for our work.
Spoonwood is a term sometimes used by Native Americans for Mountain Laurel.
Sustainable Harvest means that the tree taken down will be replaced by another tree, whether naturally grown or planted, usually of the same type. Sustainability implies maintaining balance in the forest. By using local wood, we recycle wood that might just have been thrown in a landfill or burned for firewood.
Wormy is just what it sounds like. We usually fill the holes. The worms are long-gone, though. They don’t like the high temps of kiln-drying process.