The Woods We Use
I am thankful to be able to work these beautiful woods — arguably as fine and beautiful as any in the world.
For any one interested, I give a description and comparison of the woods we use. The terms are defined on the Our Medium page. All of the woods are up to the tasks we assign them and all take an excellent, glassy-smooth finish, so unless you have some unusual circumstances, I recommend that you choose a wood by its color and your intuition. The comparisons are mainly for the general interest of the curious.
We do not stain our furniture. The penetrating oil brings out the natural figure, color, and character of the wood. Each piece will be a careful composition of these elements, all its own.
The page on The Forest Stewardship Council addresses the health of the forests that yield our wood and our commitment to a sustainable harvest of wood.
Cherry, Prunus serotina
Specific Gravity: .50
(Weeks rocking chair in cherry)
Cherry grows in the Midwest and the eastern United States. A few scrappy cherry trees earn a meager living here in the Texas Hill Country. Occasionally we harvest one, dying or blown over. But the best environment for cherry is far from here in the vicinity of Pennsylvania, Virginia, and New York where the trees reach 80 feet in height with long clear trunks. Our cherry comes from the Allegheny Mountains of Pennsylvania and is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council to have grown in well managed forests. The lumber is supplied to us by Kane Hardwoods and is, without fail, superior. Cherry accounts for 4% of the hardwood harvested in the U.S.
The wood is moderately dense, moderately hard, and moderately strong. The texture is very fine; the grain is closed. Cherry is very stable in use. The grain is occasionally wavy or curly, but usually straight. The large boards we receive and their straight grain make for easy matching into pleasing displays of figure. The heartwood is reddish brown, somewhat light when fresh, but shortly becoming richer and darker in reaction to ambient light. The sapwood is a slightly yellow cream color. We sometimes match symmetrical splashes of sapwood into our compositions. Cherry often has random dark streaks and flecks, caused by pockets and deposits of pitch and minerals.
Walnut, Juglans nigra
Specific Gravity: .55
(Weeks rocking chair in walnut)
Walnut grows in the Eastern United States and is the nation's most valuable hardwood tree. A few grow here in the Texas Hill Country, usually associated with pecan in bottomlands or waterways. Occasionally we work some local walnut. But the trees do far better in the central States where most of the commercial walnut mills are located. Walnut trees occasionally reach 70' in height, but are usually shorter and often branching. The best logs go to veneer mills. Because of its habit of growing alone or in small scattered groves and the special distribution system that has developed to capitalize on its high value, we do not have a source for FSC certified walnut. Walnut makes up 1.9% of the hardwood harvested in the U.S.
Walnut is dense, hard, and strong. Its texture is fine and smooth. The pores are large enough to see in the early wood of its annual growth, making it open grained. The wood is very stable in use. The grain tends to grow straight in clear sections of log, but because the best logs go to veneer and smaller, crooked, and branching logs go to lumber, we experience much meandering of grain and many irregularities in the relatively short, narrow boards produced. This makes matching challenging and results wilder. The heartwood is a deep, dark brown with a purple cast. The sapwood is off-white to light brown. As with cherry, I like the contrasting walnut sapwood worked into the visual composition of color and figure within the furniture forms.
Our walnut is selected to our specifications by Irion Lumber, a mill in Pennsylvania, and is extraordinary.
Maple, Acer saccharum
Specific Gravity: .63
(Weeks rocking chair in maple)
The sugar maple, or hard maple, tree likes cold, wet weather. We cannot accommodate it here in Texas. It grows in the Eastern U.S. and Canada, doing best in the mid-Atlantic and Lake States. The trees average 80’ at maturity. The harvest of hard maple is 4% of the nation’s production of hardwood. The maple we use grows in the woods with the cherry we use, is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, and is supplied by Kane Hardwoods.
Maple is very dense, very hard, and very strong — renowned for all three and for its resistance to wear. The texture is very fine. There are no discernable pores: closed grain. Maple is susceptible to movement due to changes in humidity. Such movement or dimensional change is often a function of density, more dense — more movement. We do not recommend maple for very dry or very humid conditions or for places where the conditions swing between the two.
The sapwood of maple is creamy off-white. We do not use the brown heartwood. (Or at least we don’t use it where you can see it.) Like cherry, maple frequently has dark mineral streaks and specks. Most maple trees are straight grained, but some are spectacularly not so — resulting in curly maple and birdseye maple. We occasionally build a curly maple rocking chair or put some birdseye maple splats in walnut or cherry rockers.
Mesquite, Prosopis spp.
Specific Gravity: .70
(Weeks rocking chair in mesquite)
The mesquite tree likes hot, dry weather. We can accommodate it here in Texas. It grows in the southwestern United States and deep into Mexico, but its best color and texture seems to be here in Texas, south and west of a line from Corpus Christi through San Antonio. The tree is usually a thorny shrub, occasionally developing a trunk of useable size, but always short, (15-20'), crooked, and branching. Useable wood is rare and expensive.
Mesquite is very dense, hard, and weak. Dense and weak is an unusual combination; although there is a lot of mesquite wood fiber per volume, the fibers are short, compromising toughness. We make special laminations and careful selections to insure the performance of our mesquite rocking chairs. The texture is fine. Small pores are visible: open grained. The wood is very difficult to dry, probably a result of the aridity of its homeland. (Nothing in the brush country wants to give up its water.) But once dry, the wood is very stable. The grain is not straight — an understatement. Like the tree, the grain turns, twists, winds, wanders, rambles, and corkscrews. In a load of lumber, a long board is six feet long, and a board with two clear faces is almost unheard of. The size of the lumber, the wild grain, and the numerous defects make matching difficult and the yield very low. The heartwood of mesquite is a remarkably beautiful, rich red brown with an unusual depth. The color gets even richer in reaction to ambient light. The sapwood of mesquite is bright yellow. It is susceptible to infestation with powder post beetles — very susceptible, even in homes. We prefer that no mesquite sapwood ever spends the night on my place, and we never put it in furniture.
Genuine or Honduras Mahogany, Swietenia macrophylla
Specific Gravity: .47
(Weeks rocking chair in mahogany)
The range of Genuine Mahogany includes the tropical forest areas of Central and South America. Mahogany is often listed as the world's premier furniture wood. The trees have been under pressure ever since the first logs went back to Europe and dazzled the cabinetmakers, and the species is endangered in many areas. Therefore, there is ample reason to be concerned about purchasing mahogany wood and products. The mahogany we use is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, guaranteeing that it is grown in healthy forests and harvested at a sustainable rate. The best way to protect mahogany is to buy it — certified, so that governments and landowners are motivated to certify their forests and manage them well.
Mahogany is moderately dense, moderately hard, and strong — stronger than its density would suggest. The texture is fine. The pores are open. The wood is very stable and is resistant to decay. We use mahogany for the porch rocking chairs because of this stability and decay resistance. It has historically been used to trim boats and yachts. The grain is usually straight but sometimes wavy, giving the "ribbon stripe" effect. The heartwood is a medium reddish brown, surprisingly light when new, but darkening considerably in a short time. We get very little of the lighter sapwood.