FDMC Best Pratices in Woodworking Technology and Business

Wood Explorer

American elm (Ulmus americana) and slippery elm (U. rubra), two of six species of elms that are found in the North America, are known together as soft elms. Rock, winged, cedar and September elm are known as hard elms. The hard elms are 25 percent heavier, and correspondingly stronger and stiffer, than the soft elms

Butternut (Juglans cinera) is a tree that is more valuable for its sweet oily tasting nuts than for its lumber. In fact, the genus name “juglans” means “nut of Jupiter.” The nuts (oval shaped, compared to the round walnuts) are very tasty, having a sweet, buttery taste, hence the common name.

Cherry lumber is sawn from the black cherry tree (Prunus serotina), which is a member of the plum family. The cherries are very small, but are edible and sometimes are made into a beverage called rum cherry. Black cherry is reported to be a very effective herbal cough remedy. In fact, black cherry is used in many commercial cough products.

Whenever we do a little reading about the way things were in our industry in the "old days," meaning the 1920s and 1930s, we find out that one of the major species back then was sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua)

Zebrawood (Microberlinia brazzavillensis), also known as zebrano, is a West African tree, found mainly in Gabon and Cameroon. The Latin species name is derived from a city in the Congo, Brazzaville.

Medium-weight, strong, southern and eastern hardwood, Yellow-poplar has been used for every use from fine musical instruments to pallets and construction 2x4s, from veneer to particleboard and OSB.

Osage Orange (Maclura pomifera) derived its common name from the Osage Indians in Oklahoma and Texas and the orange-smelling fruits. The Latin name comes from William Maclura, an American geologist (1763-1840), and from the grapefruit-size, heavily wrinkled, spherical pomes or apples (inedible for humans) it produces. Many a farm child has used these fruits for baseballs!

Ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) has many names including western yellow pine, blackjack pine (my favorite), and pino blanco. Growing throughout the western mountains of the U.S., Mexico, and Canada, it was believed at one time to be critical to the survival of the spotted owl, so harvesting in the 1990s was severely curtailed.

Hard maple is a wonderful, expensive, nearly white wood used for almost every application imaginable both today and even prior to the colonization of the U.S. Uses include cabinets, furniture, bowls, bowling alleys, bowling pins, flooring, piano frames, dulcimers, spinning wheels, cutting boards, tool handles, veneer, pallets, particleboard, paper, firewood, and even railroad ties. What is this ubiquitous wood that we call maple?

Southern yellow pine (SYP) consists of four major species: loblolly, slash, longleaf and shortleaf. They grow abundantly throughout the 13 southern states. In fact, over 15 billion board feet of lumber are produced every year when the economy is strong. Some of the growing sites have been harvested five times over the past 200 years. The soil nutrients are in the needles and small twigs, so soil depletion is not an issue when logging these lands, as long as the small items are returned to the site and soil.

Coigue (Nothofagus dombeyi), a member of the southern beech family, is sometimes marketed as Chilean beech. The wood appears similar to our native and European beech, except for the absence of the ray fleck. It has a bit more pink or reddish coloration than North American beech. A nearly identical species is called rauli (Nothofagus procera). Note that the genus name Nothofagus means “false beech.”

Lightweight, light-colored wood.

Western juniper (Juniperus occidentalis) is a small, short (35 feet is a fairly tall tree), branchy tree found in the high plains in eastern Oregon and northern and eastern California. The tree can live for a 1,000 years, so the stem is often several feet (up to 13 feet) in diameter. This growing region is characterized by low rainfall.

Lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta) grows in the Rocky Mountains, from Alaska to northern New Mexico, in the Black Hills and on the Pacific Coast. Poles of this tree were used by Native Americans for structural supports for teepees and lodges; hence the common name of lodgepole.

Copaia (Jacaranda copaia) is probably more commonly known in North American trade as para para (or in Brazilian Portugese, pará pará). However, the common name of lumber from this tree varies from country to country. In fact, in Panama, it is sometimes called “elephant’s foot” as the corrugated trunk near the ground looks somewhat like an elephant’s foot.

Tight grain, high-density is weaker than most red oaks, but machines better. It is not as red, has a tighter grain and drying is difficult.

Santos mahogany (scientific name: Myroxylon balsamum) is also called balsamo (English) and palo de balsamo (Central America) in the lumber business. Although this wood is not related to Honduran (or true) mahogany or to African mahogany, it is a rich dark mahogany colored wood and is actually a bit harder then Honduran mahogany. The wood has interlocked grain, which gives it a strong ribbon-like pattern.

Jack pine (Pinus banksiana) is found in northeastern North America, ranging from Nova Scotia to the Rockies, south to Minnesota and eastward to Maine. It grows further north than any other pine in North America The U.S. Forest Service estimates that 99 percent of the jack pine in the U.S. is in the Lake States (Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin); in Canada, most is in Ontario. Other common names include blackjack pine, scrub pine and pin de Banks.

Mesquite includes three common species in the Southwestern United States: Prosopis glandulosa, often called honey mesquite and Texas ironwood; P. pubescent called screwbean mesquite; and P. velutina, called velvet mesquite. References, suggestions and data herein are for honey mesquite, but also apply to all the mesquite species in general. (In Central and South America, a similar species (P. juliflora) is called mesquite.)

Wenge (Millettia laurentii) is a tree found mainly in Tanzania and Mozambique. Another name for the wood is African rosewood. The tree is short, seldom reaching over 50 feet in height. The diameter of the mature tree is 30 to 36 inches. The bark has been valued for a reddish sap called kino. Kino is high in tannin content and is very astringent. Note: A very close relative in appearance and strength is panga panga (Millettia stuhlamnnii).

Giant chinkapin (Chrysolepis chrysophylla), sometimes called golden-leafed chinquapin and golden-leafed chestnut because of the minute golden scales on the leaf bottom, is a western hardwood and is an evergreen. It grows in the coastal mountain ranges from southwestern Washington south to central California at elevations of 0 to 6000 feet. It also occurs inland in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of Central California. The tree is able to withstand months of low rainfall. Giant chinkapin is the only commercial chinkapin in North America; the others are ornamentals.


Koa (Acacia koa) is a legume tree native to Hawaii. It is found on all the big islands and grows from near sea-level to the tops of the mountains, although it prefers the moist sites between 3000 to 6000 feet. It has been reported that trees form areas of heavy rain produce straight grain, while those at higher elevations produce more figured wood. Koa is the best known wood from the Islands.

Black Locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) is a member of the legume family; it is able to “fix nitrogen” in the soil. It is native to the Appalachian Mountains, from Pennsylvania to Alabama. However, in the last century, it has spread to almost every state. With a widespread, shallow root system, it is ideal for thin soils where it will prevent soil erosion; it is often used for strip-mine reclamation projects that are barren due to mining debris and acid soils.

Blackgum, also called black tupelo, tupelo gum, or just tupelo, is a tree that loves to grow in water and water-soaked soils. In fact, the genus Nyssa is the name of a water nymph. The tree grows throughout the eastern states, from Maine to Texas. Tupelo, Miss., (Elvis’ birthplace) was named after this tree. A close relative is water tupelo (Nyssa aquatica) which has nearly the same characteristics. Honey from water tupelo is thought to be the best honey in the world. It is very high in fructose sugar.

American holly (Ilex opaca), the state tree of Delaware, is a fantastic tree, with brilliant red berries and dark green leaves that are popular decorations during the Christmas season. When the Pilgrims, who landed in Massachusetts days before Christmas in 1620, saw the American holly and its red berries they were joyfully reminded of the holly in England that is inseparably connected with the merry-making of Christmas time. The tree has leaves, so it is a hardwood, but the leaves stay on for three years, which make it an evergreen.

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