White Ash (Fraxinus Americana) is very strong, has a distinctive grain pattern and is a superb wood for bending. While it has few natural defects, it does have a tendency to splinter and will yellow with age. It is both hard and heavy, is open-grained and somewhat coarse but it normally takes a fairly good finish. It is the traditional wood used for baseball bats (although it is gradually being replaced by hard maple). Again, sustainability is not a problem.
American Beech (Fagus grandifolia) is a very strong, hard wood with excellent characteristics for steam bending. It is used extensively for furniture because of straight grain and the relative inexpensive cost. It has little figure and tends to have a fair amount of natural movement so it is seldom used in wide boards. It takes a sharp edge, is good for turning, glues well and has few natural defects. Because it has little distinctive figure, it is often painted. There is no threat to availability.
Yellow Birch (Betula alleghaniensis) is generally a finely textured, straight-grained wood that is widely found in North America, especially in the Great Lakes and northeastern regions of the United States. It is also known as white birch, silver birch, and gray birch. Widely used in the production of plywood, it has a pleasing, distinctive smell that is found to be pleasing to many woodworkers. It bends well, of moderate weight but is vulnerable to insects and decay. It is widely available, relatively inexpensive and not endangered.
Black Cherry (Prunus serotine) has gained widespread popularity for its rich, red and reddish-brown color which deepens with age and exposure to sunlight. It often contains pith flecks and dark spots but they are covered quickly in the finishing and aging process. The heartwood of cherry is used most as the sapwood tends to be creamy white. The grain tends to be straight although some curly figure can be found. Quarter sawing can occasionally reveal a slight lacewood figure. Cherry is plentiful and is a prized Pennsylvania wood.
While Sweet Cherry can be found, it is not used widely as the lumber has a tendency to warp and distort. The trees do not grow very large and are more commonly found in gardens. Sweet Cherry has limited availability and a wood I do not use
White Oak (Quercus alba) is widely used because it is easy to work, has great strength with straight grain, consistent texture and few natural defects. Commonly used in furniture and cabinets for the traditional golden oak look, it does lack distinctive figure. The wood is quite heavy and is often used for outdoor furniture and fences because of its natural durability. It is open grained but takes a fine finish. Generally available throughout the United States and Canada, sustainability is not a problem.
Red Oak (Querus rubra) tends to have a darker color but less figure than other oaks. While less popular with woodworkers than white oak, it is more economical. It has good strength and is often used when bending is required. It is a bit coarser than white oak and more susceptible to chipping when working sharp edges. Grown throughout North America, it is easily available.
Hard maple (Acer saccharum), also known as sugar maple, is plentiful and harvested primarily from Glacial and Appalachian regions. A very dense, heavy wood, the sapwood is used primarily and is praised for its’ light, creamy color and fine texture. The grain is usually straight but can also be found in “curly”, “bird’s eye” or “fiddleback” figurations. Widely available.
Soft maple (Acer rubrum), also known as red maple, is only slightly softer than hard maple with similar characteristics. It is similar to silver maple and big leaf maple. It takes a good finish but lacks the luster of hard maple although it takes clean, sharp edges. Found primarily along the Eastern Seacoast of the United States, it is not endangered.
Black Walnut (Juglans nigra) is a popular wood used for furniture and cabinet making as well as for special applications such as carvings, clocks and gun stocks. Grown across North America, it is usually straight grained with dark brown heartwood that often has a tint of purple. It works rather easily and can be finished to a warm matte or a glossy shine. It glues well and is a very stable wood. There is no shortage of walnut and it is easily available from sustainable sources.
Bocote (Cordia elaeagnoides) has distinctive grain with dramatic patterning. It is hard and quite strong but is surprisingly easy to work for such a hard wood. It has fine to medium texture and is generally stable but has limited availability in widths and thicknesses. It is susceptible to splitting and checking and as such requires slow drying. Although not endangered, it is an expensive wood.
Lacewood (Platanus acerifolia) is most commonly found in London Plane, although it is a name that describes the tight mottling that is found in the quartersawn boards of several species. In the lacewood I work it has varying depths of red. Strong and quite stable, it remains generally available through specialty sources. Tends to be available in boards and is expensive.
African Padauk (Pterocarpus soyauxii) is very strong, hard and characterized by a distinctive red color that may have dark streaks. It wears well and is occasionally used for flooring although it is expensive and use is often limited to furniture or smaller woodworking projects. It is normally straight-grained although it can also be interlocking. It finishes well, capable of high luster and excellent color. It is surprisingly easy to turn for such a hard wood
Purpleheart (Peltogyne species) is, as the name says, purple and the color is generally consistent although it can have occasional dark streaks and may turn brown with age. It is very hard, heavy and fairly stable but is slow to dry and occasionally splits and checks. Some people find that dye can be extracted from the wood for coloring textiles. It is not listed as a threatened species but is expensive and difficult to find in large sizes.
Indian Rosewood (Dalbergia latifolia) is generally dark brown but can have pink and cream streaks. Colors are widely varied; it is medium to coarse in texture, very hard and generally quite strong. It is a stable wood that has interlocking as well as straight grain. Generally available in plantation grown lumber but widths and thicknesses are limited. Quite popular for furniture and ornamental turnings, it is also used as veneer for interior doors and cabinets.
Zebrawood (Microberlinia brasszvillensis) is a wood with alternating patterns of light and dark wood that vary in density and color. Because of interlocking grain, working zebrawood is more difficult than many other hardwoods. Medium heavy with good strength, it is only available in limited widths and thicknesses. It is widely used for decorative effects, turning projects and veneer. It is somewhat limited in availability but not yet a vulnerable species.