Wood 101

Lumber can come in any number of species, cut, and hardness. At Hardwood Lumber Company, we understand that as a consumer, these factors can be difficult to discern and can create a lot of confusion. 

Hardness Scale

It may be easiest to begin with the hardness scale that we at Hardwood Lumber Company, and anyone who knows anything about lumber will certainly use.


Most experienced woodworkers use the Janka Hardness scale, and as such, Hardwood Lumber Company is no exception. The Janka Hardwood scale is a scale based on the amount of pounds of force required to indent half of a .444″ (11.28 mm) diameter steel ball into the wood. In general, this is a good representation of hardness, as it gives a valid approximation of how easily the wood will be dented, dinged, and even how easily screws and nails will enter it.

How We Name Wood

We have a vast selection of wood species, and each of their names are unique. Many names include relevant information about the wood that a contractor may be looking for. Many wood species are named for their color or texture, some including key terms such as "hard", "soft", "knotty", "clear", "character", or "rustic". Each of these is a defining characteristic of the species whose name they make up.

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Hard means a wood species belongs to the "hardwoods" a group of wood species that generally rank high on the Janka hardness scale.

Soft means a wood species likely has a lower rank on the Janka hardness scale, but these species are still durable, however there are harder woods available.

Knotty wood species generally contain more knots in their grain and as such can have a different appearance than their clear counterparts.

Clear wood species have significantly less knots and have a flatter, more smooth appearance because of this change.

Character wood species are very fine pieces of wood that give beautiful representations of the grain with minimal knots.

Rustic wood species are much like knotty in that these pieces have more knots than their counterparts, though these species usually maintain a very nice rustic look that knotty does not have. 

 Styles of Cuts 

Lumber is generally sawn in one of three ways: Rift Sawn, Quarter Sawn, or Plain sawn


Rift Sawn is a style of cut that does not display any of the woods grain but instead highlights its rings, by only cutting boards of such an alignment that they display these rings in straight narrow lines. Due to the way rift sawn boards are cut, they are also the strongest structurally.

Quarter Sawn is a style of cut that displays the rings of the wood on the top and bottom, and the grain on the sides, this is due to the location of the cut. That is, that the cut is located in such a part of the wood that the grain is captured, but only on the sides of the board. This is a very structurally strong style of cut, though not as strong as rift sawn.

Plain Sawn is a style of cut that displays the grain of the wood on the top and bottom of the board with rings running the sides. This creates a lovely contrast in the board. Plain sawn is the most common cut for lumber and is what most people think of when they think of a typical board of wood.

Domestic Wood Species


Ash sapwood is light-colored to nearly white and the heartwood varies from greyish or light brown, to pale yellow streaked with brown. Ash is generally straight-grained with a coarse uniform texture. Ash machines well, is good in nailing, screwing and gluing, and can be stained to a very good finish. Ash has very good overall strength properties relative to its weight and has excellent shock resistance.

Beech sapwood is white with a red tinge, while the heartwood is light to dark reddish brown. Beech is generally straight-grained with a close uniform texture. Beech is classed as heavy, hard, strong, high in resistance to shock and good resistance to abrasive wear. 

Birch sapwood is creamy white to yellowish, while the heartwood is reddish brown. Birch has a straight, close grain and a fine, even texture. The wood of birch is heavy, hard and strong. Birch takes stain extremely well. 

Cherry heartwood varies from rich red to reddish brown and will darken with age and on exposure to light. In contrast, cherry sapwood is creamy white. Cherry wood has a fine uniform, straight grain, satiny, smooth texture, and may naturally contain brown pith flecks and small gum pockets. Cherry is easy to machine, nails and glues well and when sanded and stained, it produces an excellent smooth finish. Our character cherry butcher block countertops are made by mixing the heartwood and sapwood and may also have some pith flecks and small gum pockets.

Clear Alder wood is light tan or light brown with a yellow or reddish ting. The fine even texture and moderate density of alder wood makes it easy to work with. Alder sands and polishes easily, stains readily, and seldom splits.

Douglas Fir can vary in color based upon age and location of tree. Douglas Fir usually has a light brown color with a hint of red and/or yellow, with darker growth rings. Douglas Fir typically machines well, but has a moderate blunting effect on cutters. Douglas Fir accepts stains, glues, and finishes well.

Genuine Mahogany is also known as Honduran Mahogany. The heartwood can vary a fair amount from a pale pinkish brown, to a darker reddish brown. Genuine Mahogany grain can be straight, interlocked, irregular or wavy. Genuine Mahogany is typically very easy to work with, machines well, sands very easily, glues, stains, and finishes well. 

Hard Maple sapwood is creamy white with a slight reddish brown tinge and the heartwood varies from light to dark reddish brown. Hard Maple has a close fine, uniform texture and is generally straight-grained. Hard Maple is hard and heavy with good strength properties, in particular its high resistance to abrasion and wear. 

Hickory is the hardest, heaviest and strongest American wood. The sapwood of hickory is white, tinged with inconspicuous fine brown lines while the heartwood is pale to reddish brown. Hickory is coarse-textured and the grain is fine, usually straight but can be wavy or irregular. The wood can be sanded to a good finish. Hickory grain pattern welcomes a full range of medium-to-dark finishes.

Knotty Alder wood is light tan or light brown with a yellow or reddish ting. The fine even texture and moderate density of alder wood makes it easy to work with. Alder sands and polishes easily, stains readily, and seldom splits.

Knotty Pine sapwood is yellowish white to cream colored, while the heartwood is reddish brown to creamy tan. Knotty Pine has a mixed broad to tight grain. Knotty Pine is classed as soft and lightweight.

Poplar sapwood is creamy white and may be streaked, while the heartwood can vary from pale yellowish brown to olive green. Poplar has a medium to fine texture and is straight-grained. Poplar takes and holds paint, enamel and stain exceptionally well.

Red Oak sapwood is white to light brown and the heartwood is a pinkish reddish brown. Red Oak is similar in general appearance to White Oak, but with a slightly less pronounced figure due to the smaller rays. Red Oak is mostly straight-grained, with a coarse texture. Red Oak can be stained with a wide range of finish tones and has great wear-resistance.

Soft Maple is, in most respects, very similar to Hard Maple. Generally Soft Maple sapwood is greyish white. The heartwood varies from light to dark reddish brown. Soft Maple is usually straight-grained and has low shock resistance. Soft Maple is about 25 percent less hard than Hard Maple. The Soft Maple we use for our products is selected for a white color.

Walnut sapwood is creamy white, while the heartwood is light brown to dark chocolate brown, occasionally with a purplish cast and darker streaks. Walnut is generally straight-grained, but sometimes with wavy or curly grain that produces an attractive and decorative figure. Walnut works easily with hand and machine tools, and nails, screws and glues well. It holds paint and stain very well for an exceptional finish and is readily polished. Our clear walnut products are made with minimum sapwood.

White Oak sapwood is light-colored and the heartwood is light to dark brown. White Oak is mostly straight-grained with a medium to coarse texture, with longer rays than Red Oak. White Oak therefore has more figure. 

Exotic Wood Species


Acacia is an Australian wood that has a medium to dark brown heartwood with sharply colored sapwood. Acacia is a beautiful wood that hold a unique patterns and colors due to its wide range of species.

African Mahogany Heartwood color varies, ranging from a pale pink to a deeper reddish brown, sometimes having streaks of medium to dark reddish brown. African Mahogany tends to darken with age. African Mahogany is easy to work with, glue and finish. African Mahogany is a good substitute for Genuine Mahogany.

Black Limba is an African wood. Its heartwood is a light yellowish to golden brown, sometimes with grey to nearly black streaks, its sapwood is a pale greyish to yellowish brown, not clearly demarcated from the heartwood. Black Limba is one of the most uniquely colored woods we offer.

Brazilian Cherry is prized for its pleasing color, beauty and durability. It is used in fine furniture, cabinetry, flooring and stair treads. Brazilian Cherry is a wood with remarkable hardness making it an extremely popular and appealing wood.

Burmese Teak is southern Asian wood with heartwood that tends to be a golden or medium brown. Teak is considered the pinnacle of decay resistance, and is even rated as resistant to termites. Teak is so resistant to wear in fact that it is one of the primary woods used for boatmaking.

Canarywood is a South American wood that has pale yellow-orange to a darker reddish brown heartwood with dark streaks running throughout, and pale-yellow sapwood. Canarywood is a very unique looking wood that is bright while still maintaining the warmth that most wood species have.

Iroko is a tropical African wood with yellow to golden or medium brown heartwood, and pale yellow sapwood. Iroko has a coarse texture that can give it a unique appearance and pairs nicely with its golden colors.

Leopardwood is a Central and South American wood known for its unique grain and color. Its heartwood is largely dark reddish brown with gray specks mixed in to resemble the coat of a leopard. It is an incredibly unique wood that also maintains an incredibly durable composition, making it one of the strongest woods we offer.

Makore is an African wood with a pink or reddish brown heartwood and a yellow sapwood. Makore is a great warmer substitute for Mahogany as it looks similar and is even often referred to as "Cherry Mahogany".

Purpleheart is an African wood also known as 'Amaranth'. Its heartwood is largely greyish purple and becomes more purple through exposure as it ages. Purpleheart adds a beautiful splash of color as it is one of our most uniquely colored woods, few woods can even come close in terms of color.

Sapele is a tropical African reddish-brown wood that in many ways is very similar to mahogany. Sapele ranges from medium to fairly dark reddish-brown to purplish-brown. While Sapele is similar in color to African Mahogany, it is more durable than true Mahoganies. The strength of Sapele is similar to Oak.

Shedua is an African wood whose heartwood is varying shades of yellowish to reddish brown with darker brown, gray, or black stripes, its sapwood is a pale yellow. With a fairly typical texture, the wood is fairly easy to work with and requires far less sanding than many other woods for this reason.

Spanish Cedar heartwood is a relatively uniform light pinkish to reddish brown, Spanish Cedar colors tend to darken with age. Random pockets of gum and natural oils are commonly present in Spanish Cedar. Spanish Cedar is easy to work with both hand and machine tools. However, due to the low density and softness of Spanish Cedar it tends to leave fuzzy surfaces if not machined with sharp cutters. Extra sanding may be required to obtain a smooth wood surface.

Tigerwood is a Mexican and South American wood with heartwood that is typically a medium reddish brown with irregularly spaced streaks of dark brown to black. The grain forms much like the stripes of a tiger, which is where its name comes from. Tigerwood is another beautiful unique wood that is eye-catching.

Wenge is a Central African wood with heartwood that is medium brown, sometimes with a reddish or yellowish hue, with nearly black streaks. Upon application of a wood finish (particularly an oil finish) the wood can become nearly black. Wenge has a low natural luster, and a particularly course texture.

Zebrawood is a West African wood with heartwood that is a light brown or cream color with dark blackish brown streaks vaguely resembling a zebra’s stripes. Depending on whether the wood is plainsawn or quartersawn, the stripes can be either chaotic and wavy if plainsawn, or somewhat uniform if quartersawn.