rees have formed a part of the Earth’s landscape for more than 300 million years— since before dinosaurs first roamed the planet. In that time they have developed a remarkable diversity of species, numbering more than 1,000 varieties in the United States alone. Trees come in many sizes and shapes, from the stunted spruces of northern Canada to the sublime, towering stands of California’s giant sequoias. Wood’s diversity is also apparent in the wide array of colors and grain patterns available to the woodworker, from the bold vermilion hue of padauk and the inky blackness of ebony to the intricate, swirling designs of walnut burl.
The 78 species of wood shown in this directory were chosen with the needs and interests of the cabinetmaker foremost in mind. The basic cabinetmaking woods are here—species such as oak, pine, cherry and ash. But there are also a number of less familiar exotic woods too, from afrormosia to ziricote. Some you may have only read about; others you may be seeing for the first time. In either case, the photos and information may inspire you to new adventures in your upcoming woodworking projects.
The directory is arranged alphabetically according to a wood’s most commonly used name. Sometimes a wood may be known by several names; to avoid confusion you may need to use the botanical name when buying a particular species (“spp.” indicates that the wood comes from several species belonging to that genus). The woods in this chapter were photographed with a clear lacquer finish to highlight their color and figure. For this reason—and because of the inevitable variations within species—the unfinished wood that you buy may look somewhat different.
Hardwoods are indicated with an (H); softwoods with an (S). However, do not take the terms too literally. Some softwoods are actually harder than some hardwoods. For more information on the differences between the two groups, see page 24.
The workability category gives information about the ease or difficulty of working with a particular wood. Some species may be tough to plane unless you reduce the angle of the blade, while others may require you to pre-bore for nailing.
Rather than providing a specific cost per board foot—which can fluctuate—for each wood, price is listed on a relative scale, from inexpensive to expensive. Usually, the pricier woods are chosen for a special part of a piece of furniture. You might select a piece of cocobolo, for example, to make a drawer pull, or an inlay of ebony to add a decorative touch to a chair leg.
All the woods shown are commercially available in North America; for species you cannot find locally, check woodworking magazines for mail-order sources. However, some species are becoming increasingly rare, and a few tropical hardwoods are in danger of extinction. Trade in many species is severely restricted, and for this reason, woodworkers often must seek alternatives to using traditional woods. Fortunately, there are many, and their number is growing. Some have long been available: pau ferro, for example, which is strikingly similar to the costly, endangered Brazilian rosewood. Others— so-called “good woods,” grown and harvested with a view to conservation and sustainable growth—are recent arrivals in North America. These lesser-known species, imported primarily from Central and South America at present, originate from sources that are monitored in order to be certified as well-managed. Four of these woods are featured in this directory: bayo, chactacote, chontaquiro amarillo and tornillo. (You can learn more about these woods and where to buy them through the Woodworkers Alliance for Rainforest Protection in Coos Bay, Oregon; the Rainforest Alliance in New York; or Scientific Certification Systems in Oakland, California.)
You may want to avoid the problems of scarcity by building your projects with more plentiful woods or plywood, then covering them with a beautiful veneer. Another alternative is recycled wood, scavenged from old buildings, shipping crates or pallets. With effort and imagination you can transform many workaday items into handsome pieces.