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Rustic Furniture Wood Types & Finishes

Wood Types

Eastern White Pine - a light wood with a straight grain that is easily workable. This softwood has a soft to medium density that makes it easy to work with for carpenters, home building and outdoor builders. Its creamy white straw-like color has occasional orange colored growth rings giving it a beautiful contrast and traditional outdoorsy look.

Western Red Cedar - Its fibers contain natural compounds that act as preservatives, making the wood extremely long lasting. These compounds provide natural resistance to moisture, insects and decay. Basically, anything you build with it will last longer and require less maintenance. Lightweight and easy to work with, Western red cedar is pitch and resin-free making it ideal for accepting and holding a wide range of stains and finishes. Western red cedar actually removes greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere.

Lodge Pole Pine - Used in furniture making due to its superior strength versus weight ratio. It is generally quite straight making it easy to work with. May have varying shades of blue discoloration called “blue pine” which is sought after for this particular characteristic.

Northern White Cedar - The wood has a characteristic, pleasant aromatic odor of the “cedars”. It is even-grained, finely textured, and has the lowest density of any commercial domestic wood. A cubic foot of air-dry wood weighs about 19 pounds. The heartwood is resistant to decay and subterranean termites. Drying of northern white-cedar is easy. It has little tendency to shrink or warp. The wood is easy to work with hand tools and has average machining qualities. It glues well, holds paint well, and stays in place with little dimensional change.

Barnwood - Wood re-claimed from old barns and out buildings. Ideal for use in furniture for its durability and unique rustic look.

Re-claimed Teak Wood - Teak wood taken from old houses, palaces, bridges and railroad tracks and re-purposed into furniture. Teak wood is naturally durable and can withstand extreme weather conditions. Many teak furniture pieces are handed down from generation to generation. Teak will not break down, bend or break and naturally repels termites.

Hickory - A North American tree that’s known for its tough yet springy nature, it is used to make some of the most durable rustic wood furniture. Rough hewn Hickory – with its characteristic gnarls and burls makes it a great choice in rustic decorating for anyone who’s as concerned with function as they are form. If your taste in rustic decor leans toward the dark, rich and inviting, hickory is the wood for you. The wood can also be sanded and polished to a smooth finish. The hickories are considered difficult to machine and glue, and are very hard to work with hand tools, so care and skill is needed.

Walnut - Walnut, also known as "American Walnut" or "Black Walnut" is an excellent choice for "dark wood" furniture. The heartwood is a rich brown. Knots larger than "pin" size are normally avoided. The outer sapwood is lighter, varying from the light brown to a much lighter cream or white. Large walnut trees are becoming scarce, so the available walnut wood has more sapwood. Some people love the character that the sapwood adds. When it can't be hidden on the inside, bottom, or back of the piece, sapwood may be stained so it isn't as obvious. Some walnut is steamed in the kiln before it is dried, which makes the sapwood turn brown, like it eventually would as the tree grew longer and the sapwood matured to heartwood. Walnut is quite hard and durable - resistant to dings. The slightly open grain of walnut can be filled for a smooth polished finish, or walnut can be left "open" so the texture of the wood projects through the finish. The natural brown color can be relatively light. Leaving the wood natural, not only does the beautiful grain show through, but the furniture can be repaired more easily if it were ever required.

Aspen- Aspen does not split when nailed, it machines easily with a slightly fuzzy surface, and turns, bores, and sands well. It takes paint and stain well to produce a good finish although care is required where the surface is fuzzy. It has low to moderate shrinkage and good dimensional stability. Aspen is a true poplar, and therefore has similar characteristics and properties to cottonwood and European poplar. .

White Oak- White oak is similar in color and appearance to European oak. The sapwood of American white oak 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.

Finish Types

Unfinished or Ready To Finish - Furniture that is fully constructed and bare or in its natural state.

Stain Finish - A color pigment used to add color to your furniture. Choosing a stain color is a completely personal preference, but consulting your local hardware expert on the available options is always a good practice.

Varnish - Nearly all modern varnishes contain a few basic components: oil, resin, and a solvent. By modifying the types and amounts of these components, a whole range of mixtures can be created that vary in price and are specifically suited for either indoor or outdoor use. Fortunately, there are only so many ingredients that manufacturers have to choose from. The most common recipe ingredients are:

Oils – Linseed Oil or Tung Oil
Resins – Alkyd, Phenolic, or Polyurethane
Solvents – Mineral Spirits, Naptha, or Paint Thinner

When a varnish is made, the ratio of oil to resin can have a dramatic effect on the way the varnish will behave. For instance, using a small amount of oil and a large amount of resin will produce a very hard but somewhat brittle finish. Obviously, this is not suitable for outdoor applications since we need an outdoor finish to be flexible. So what makes more sense is to create what is known as a “long-oil varnish”, that is, a formulation that contains a greater percentage of oil. The extra oil results in a softer, more flexible finish that will not crack when the wood expands and contracts. Again, asking the experts before starting a varnishing project is recommended.

Outdoor Spar Varnish– General term for varnish with a UV protectant that is suitable for use on outdoor furniture.

Indoor Satin Varnish - General term for varnish that is suitable for use on indoor furniture. It keeps interior wood protected from knocks and scratches, extending furniture appearance for long periods of time.

Water-Based Stain– Water-based stains dry quickly, have low odor, and have a much larger assortment of colors, from the traditional wood tones to colored stains, like red and blue.

Oil-Based Stain– Oil based stain ideal for use on outdoor furniture. Oil-based stains, on the other hand, take longer to dry and are used for more intricate projects that require detail and finesse; however, oil-based stains require proper ventilation and only come in the traditional wood tones.

Polyurethane - Essentially a plastic in the form of a liquid until it dries, polyurethane is available in both water and oil-based options, and comes in varieties from satin to glossy. Water-based polyurethane is popular because of its low odor and low toxicity. It goes on clear without adding a slight color that oil-based versions can, and it dries much faster. As with shellac, water-based polyurethane won't hold up well to heat and chemicals. It's good for bookcases, desks, side tables and picture frames — anything that won't be exposed to extremes. Oil-based polyurethane is slightly more durable than water-based, especially when it comes to handling heat, so a kitchen table is a good candidate. It adds a slight color tone and will bring out the richness of wood.

Lacquer– lacquer is derived from the resin of a specific tree commonly referred to as a varnish tree. This resin is harvested from the tree's sap, and is then refined and mixed with lacquer thinner to create the common woodworking finish. Lacquer is commonly used with some paints to give a strong, durable painted finish.

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