What types of wood do we use?

We need to begin by taking a closer look at the woods we actually use.

There are four main ways of buying wood:

  • as raw logs

  • as sawn wood or lumber

  • as processed products, for example plywood and other manufactured boards

  • as manufactured items, for example furniture components.

At school, you will mainly use sawn wood and manufactured boards.

Sawn wood

There are two types of sawn wood.

  • Softwoods come from coniferous trees; the most common types in Britain are pine (sometimes called deal), spruce and larch. Not all softwoods are soft – in fact, some, like Parana pine, are actually pretty hard!
  • Hardwoods come from broad-leaved trees; they include oak, ash and beech from the temperate zones, and a wide variety of tropical hardwoods such as mahogany, iroko, sapele, utile, meranti and jelutong. Not all hardwoods are hard – balsa is very soft.

Manufactured board

The most common types of manufactured board are plywoods, particle boards and fibre boards.

  • Plywoods are made from wood veneers that are cross-banded to give high strength. They often have a high-quality veneer on the face, with lower-quality woods internally. Plywoods come in a range of finishes and thicknesses.
  • Particle boards are made from reconstituted wood such as shavings, chips and sawdust (the most common type is chipboard). The wood is pressed together into sheets or blocks using natural or synthetic resin. Particle boards often have a veneer, for example melamine-faced chipboard is used a lot in furniture-making.
  • Fibre boards are usually made from reconstituted softwoods. The most common are hardboard and Medium Density Fibreboard (MDF). You need to take particular care when using these, as many contain dangerous and carcinogenic (cancer-causing) chemicals such as formaldehyde.
  • Non-wood waste products - There are also manufactured boards that don’t contain any wood at all. These can now be made from agricultural waste (such as straw), by-products of the textile industry (such as hemp), or recycled paper fibre.