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Common Timbers, Their Uses and How to recognize them


Douglas fir (Native to NW America)

Colour is reddish white to pale white/yellow with heartwood a darker shade. Growth rings are distinct can be regular or varied. Some homegrown Douglas is available but most comes from NW US or Canada. Fairly durable.

Uses: Good for construction and beams of large dimension- also floors, windows, interior finish, packaging, veneer, plywood poles and cladding.

European, Japanese and Hybrid Larch (Native to Europe, Japan)

Pale yellow in colour with heartwood red-brown to brick coloured. Straight grained with hard knots. Durable. Home grown and from Europe.

Uses: boats, floors, fencing, piling, cladding, exterior construction and transmission poles

Norway spruce (White deal)(Native to Europe)

White to pale yellow/brown. Sapwood and heartwood are similar. Growth rings are not so prominent. . Non-durable. Norway spruce comes from both home grown and European sources.

Uses: Construction, joinery, plywood, particleboard and pulpwood, veneers, packing

Sitka spruce (White deal) (Native to NW American coast)

Colour is whitish or pale yellow with little distinction between heartwood and sapwood. Straight even grain and heavy sections can be difficult to dry uniformly .Non durable. Most supplies are home grown as it is the most commonly grown conifer.

Uses: Construction, internal joinery, pallets, firewood, for panels, pulpwood.

Scots pine (Red deal) (Native to Europe-Irish strain died out)

Sapwood is straw coloured, heartwood is pale reddish brown. Annual rings are clearly marked. Non-durable. Sources both home grown and central and northern Europe.

Uses: Good grade construction, joinery- windows, furniture and turnery, transmission poled and piles, wood pulp.

Lodgepole pine (Native to NW America)

Colour is pale yellow with brownish tinge. There is little differentiation between sapwood and heartwood. Grain is straight with good texture but prone to knots. Growth rings distinct with dark latewood Though a NW American species, supplies are home grown but decreasing as planting was confined to poorest land. Non-durable. Supplies are homegrown.

Uses: Construction, joinery, pallet wood, panels, fencing, pulp.

Western Hemlock (Native to NW America)

Whitish to pale yellow wood with little distinction between heartwood and SAPWOOD. Straight even grain. Heavy sections can be difficult to dry Non-durable and preservative resistant. Supplies largely imported. A small amount home grown.

Uses: Construction, internal joinery and pallets.

Western Red Hemlock (Native to NW America)

Sapwood whitish, heartwood dark chocolate brown to salmon on weathering becomes silverfish. Durable hard wood harder than most hardwoods. Straight even grain. Very durable. Acidic wood can corrode some metals when damp. Mostly imported with very limited amount home grown.

Uses: External timber and cladding, posts and poles, shingles, boat building, packaging and veneer.

Yew (Native)

Heartwood varies rich red to from pale brown with attractive grain. Very durable and harder than most hardwoods. Growth rings are narrow and clearly defined with fine texture. Supplies are from home sources also from ancient bog yew.

Uses: Because of its strength and elasticity wit was used for longbows. It is now used for turnery, carving and furniture.


American Alder(NW America)

Coluur is pale to red-brown.. Texture is even with little differentiation between heart and sapwood. Not durable but finishes well. Source imports.

Uses: Furniture (kitchen cabinets) internal joinery, moldings.

Common Black Alder (Native and Europe)

Pale pinkish in colour, darkens when exposed to light. Sourced in Ireland and Europe.

Uses: As for American alder, also plywood and fencing

American Cherry (East US)

Colour is pale pink darkening on exposure. Sapwood is lighter. Straight grained and durable. Imported

Uses: Quality joinery, cabinet, furniture, paneling and veneer

Wild Cherry (Native)

Sapwood is pale, heartwood pinkish brown. Fine textured finishing well. Growth rings are not prominent. Can split on nailing.

Uses: As for American cherry but also suitable for carving and turnery Sourced in Ireland and Europe

Beech (Native and Europe)

Pale red/brown/yellow in colour with no sapwood/heartwood difference. Growth rings evident with ray tissue, which show as flecks. Perishable. Home grown and imported from Europe.

Uses: Mainly furniture an also interior joinery, construction and flooring. Woodware, tool handles, turnery and plywood.

Birch (Native and N. Europe)

Wood is pale or light brown frequently with dark streaks and flecks. It has high density with good wearing properties. Non-durable. Sourced locally (quality can be questionable) and Europe.

Uses: Plywood and veneers, also for flooring, furniture, kitchen utensils and turnery.

Maple (N America)

Wood is Pale coloured, close-grained, eventextured. Sapwood is white with a reddish tinge; heartwood is light tan or darker. Grain is straight. Non durable. Imported.

Uses: Flooring, furniture, cabinet making, kitchens, paneling, boats interior construction

Sycamore (Naturalised, grown in Ireland, Europe)

Sapwood is creamy white can change over time to pink brown. Heartwood varies, rich red to pale brown. Grain is usually straight but can be wavy. Texture is fine and moderately hard. Timber is moderately durable. Sourced home grown and imported.

Uses: Sycamore has a wide variety of use, flooring, furniture, veneering, suitable for domestic items and tableware. Wavy grain fiddle back is used for veneers and violins.

Ash (Native)

Wood coloured white to light brown with usually no distinction between sapwood and heartwood. Growth rings are distinct with enhanced appearance due to a band of pores; Straight grained, tough and flexible; Normally sourced in Ireland.

Uses: Furniture, sports goods and tool handles: also flooring, plywood framing and veneer.

European Oak (Native and Central and w Europe)

Both species of oak, sessile and pedunculate are similar. Sapwood is pale cream; heartwood is tan to deep brown. Growth rings are very pronounced due to different size early and latewood cells.. Rays give distinctive flecked appearance; Tough and hard and durable. Homegrown oak has more character due to uneven growth. Usually home sourced.

Uses: construction, furniture, joinery, paneling and flooring. Also used for boat building and fencing

American Oak (white and red) (East /mid US and managed stands)

Sapwood is white or lightish brown, heartwood or pale tan/yellow or red depending on species. Grain is straight open. White oak has more pronounced rays, is less coarse, and is more durable than red.

Uses: Furniture, joinery, construction with white also used for external cladding and red for musical instruments

Spanish Chestnut (Europe, Naturalized in Ireland)

Yellowish moderately coarser grained wood: Similar to oak but weaker. Can develop cracks due to spiral grain. Durable. Supplies from Europe and limited from Ireland.

Uses: Flooring and furniture. Also used for fencing.

Walnut (East to Midwest US)

Sapwood yellow brown, heartwood light grey to deep chocolate to purple black. Grain is straight to wavy. Features occur from growth irregularity. Durable. Supplies (limited) are imported.

Uses: Fine furniture, cabinets, paneling, gunstocks, and fine veneers.


We still import a certain amount of tropical timber though northern hemisphere hardwoods are replacing this.

Iroko (Tropical Africa)

Probably the commonest tropical import. Heartwood is yellow darkening on exposure. Sapwood is narrow, pale and clearly defined. Texture is coarse but even; very durable. This species is often misnamed mahogany, which is no longer available.

Uses: Interior and exterior joinery, windows, stairs, lab benches and fire doors, piling.

Utile (West and Central Africa)

Sapwood is light brown; heartwood is pink brown to dark red brown or purple. Grain gives a broad stripe, texture medium. Durable. Source from Ivory Coast sustainably managed forests.

Uses: Furniture, joinery, paneling, turnery, internal construction, plywood.