AUSTRALIAN TIMBER SPECIES
Know your maple from mahogany and your softwood from your hardwood with our comprehensive timber types glossary that will take the confusion out of your next project.
Choosing the right timber for your home, whether you're planning on building or furnishing your home, can be a difficult task - there's just so many types to pick from! Contrary to popular belief, not all timbers are created equal, so we've created this handy guide to different types of timber to help you find one that's right for you.
Whether you're after new timber flooring, or are not sure which type of timber to specify for your new dining chairs, different types of wood will naturally possess different types of qualities. Some timbers are harder, or softer, than others, and the range of shades available across all kinds of timber are countless.
AT A GLANCE
Hardwoods are mainly used for flooring, decking and timber furniture, while softwoods are used for framework and cladding.
There are timbers for all budgets - ash, oak, teak and walnut are usually the most expensive, while softwoods are more economical.
Keep in mind the timber's resistance to termites and decay.
Consult the staff at your hardware store or timber yard, to make sure you have the correct timber for your project.
In broad timber terms, there are two different categories of woods - softwood and hardwood.
Softwood comes from coniferous species such as cedar, fir and pine. They grow quickly and the wood is lighter, has coarser grain and is not as strong as most hardwoods.
While in general softwoods are considered inferior to hardwoods for many purposes, they do have their place in the woodworking world for specific jobs - and because they grow quickly they are very economical. In building, they are commonly used for the framework of houses and areas such as lining boards and cladding.
Hardwoods by comparison are heavy, strong and stable. They are used predominantly for piers, flooring, decking and in most timber furniture.
DIFFERENT TYPES OF TIMBER
The most common type of cedar is western red. As this name implies, it is pinky, red in colour. It is relatively soft but straight grained and is mostly used for outdoors for furniture, deck handrails, wall cladding and window frames because it resists rotting in moist environments. Relatively inexpensive.
The most common species in Australia is eucalyptus. Within the species there are a huge variety of sub-species that have vary different properties, including colour and grain patterns. Common ones include Tasmanian Oak (cream), blackbutt (pale brown), spotted gum (mid brown) and Jarrah (red). Prices vary from inexpensive to moderately expensive.
Often referred to as Douglas Fir or Oregon, this reddish brown wood is imported from North America. While fairly soft, it has straight grain and a high strength-to-weight ratio (moderate strength, low weight) and is a popular choice as a rafter material in Australia. Moderately inexpensive.
Pine comes in several varieties, but the main ones found in Australia are Radiata, Cypress and Hoop pine. Radiata pine is a very common house-framing timber but it has low resistance to decay and termites unless chemically treated. Cypress pine is prized for its anti-termite properties, which made it a popular flooring material in Australia for decades. Hoop pine is used mainly for plywood. Inexpensive.
Ash is a white-to-pale brown-coloured wood with a straight, attractive grain. Easy to work, it is commonly used in furniture production where it is a good substitute for white oak.
A white pale to brown wood timber, beech is native to Sweden, Denmark and Norway, where it is used for everything from firewood to furniture and flooring. Due to its fairly bland grain, beech is often used for furniture which is designed to be painted rather than using more expensive oak or ash.
Birch comes in two varieties - yellow and white. Very common in Russia and Nordic countries, birch is a fairly hard timber used for furniture and plywood. It is one of the most economical hardwoods and is used extensively by Swedish giant Ikea and by Alvar Aalto's Finish furniture company Artek.
One of the great furniture woods, mahogany is reddish-brown-to-deep red in colour. While very common in antique furniture, it is not common today as it is not sustainably grown. It has a straight grain and is of medium hardness, so it's easy for joiners to work.
Available in two varieties - hard and soft. Hard maple, commonly referred to as Rock Maple in Australia, is an extremely hard and pale-coloured timber, making it the wood of choice for gymnasium floors. Soft maple is lighter in weight and is used mostly in making boxes and pallets because of wide colour variations.
Used for centuries throughout Europe, particularly in England, oak is still one of the most sought-after woods for furniture. Available in red and white, the latter is preferred because it has a more attractive figure than American red oak and is resistant to moisture, which allows it to be used for outdoor furniture. English oak is regarded as superior to American white oak.
Teak is a tropical timber native to Burma, Thailand and Bangladesh. There are many ethical reasons not to use teak unless it is either recycled or from plantation sources. Used extensively on boats and in outdoor furniture, teak has a slightly waxy feel and a golden-brown colour. Slow-grown teak is probably the best timber there is to resist sun and rain, but it is now very expensive.
An American hardwood, Walnut has an attractive rich brown colour and a beautiful grain. Unfortunately, now fairly expensive and usually only available in fairly narrow boards, it is used extensively in furniture making, and as a veneered board for cabinetry and feature walls.