Understanding Wood Grain and How It Impacts Furniture Design

March 14th, 2024 Blog

pretty, colourful rural but modern kitchen with wood furniture

There isn’t simply one thing called “wood” craftsmen use to build furniture. Different types of trees produce very different types of wood, and even with each variety, the grain pattern can be quite distinct based on what part of the tree is used.

Wood grains are formed based on how the orientation of wood-cell fibres. Let’s take a deeper look to help understand how wood grain impacts furniture’s design and what determines the grain’s appearance.

Age is Everything

As kids, we learn that trees develop a ring for each year the three is alive. The trunks get wider, and with each additional year, you can see another ring develops. Of course, these rings are only visible when the tree is cut, and the inside of the trees can be seen in cross-section.

The oldest part and most central part of the tree is called the “plinth.” Plinth wood can be softer and a different colour than the surrounding wood. Moving outwards, surrounding the plinth is the “heartwood,” made up of dead cells and functions merely to structurally support the tree.

Around the heartwood is “sapwood,” which carries minerals, water, and plant sugars between the roots and the leaves. Next, near the surface is the “cambium,” a thin layer of living cells that manufacture the wood as it grows.

The cambium grows quickly in spring, producing a light-coloured tone called “springwood.” In summer, it produces a darker wood more slowly, known as “summerwood.” The dark and light alternations between these tones form the annual rings mentioned above.

These considerations explain why, even if you buy mahogany furniture, it may look considerably different depending on what part of the tree the wood comes from.

Varying Characteristics of Different Trees

So far, we’ve looked at why wood from the same types of trees may look different. Let’s check out a few reasons why wood from different trees may vary considerably and how you can read this story in the grains.

Cherry Wood

As its name suggests, cherry wood comes from the cherry fruit tree. It’s popular because of its durability and versatility.

Cherry wood comes in dark brown, white, and blonde, and there are often dramatic red undertones, recalling the fruit that grows on these trees. Cherry accepts multiple types of finishes and steams readily, so it’s great for curved designs.

Cherry has a smooth, closed-grain pattern, but it can vary considerably even within the same piece of wood. We think the unique characteristics of cherry wood are great for solid wood office furniture, bedroom furniture, dining room tables, and lots more.

Maple

Maple is a tough, tough wood. Furniture made from it can last generations. It’s heavy, durable, and not too expensive. It’s great for flooring, cabinetry, and kitchen accessories because it’s naturally non-toxic.

Hard maple, or “sugar” maple, grows more in southeastern Canada, as opposed to soft maple. Maple sapwood tends to be clean, white, and defect-free. It’s usually three to five inches thick. Many prefer maple sapwood to heartwood, which is usually of one colour, light red to dark brown.

The grains in maple are generally straight and consistently textured, but it can also have a “bird’s eye” or curly pattern, also known as “fiddle back.”

Aesthetics aside, the type of grains can impact the wood’s durability and strength. Straight, even grains tend to make for stronger, tougher wood, but how the wood is cut also impacts strength and appearance.

Vertical cuts, or cuts along the grain, create stronger wood. This is true for all woods, not just maple, but it gives you an idea of how many factors are at play when you buy handcrafted wood products.

Pine

Pine is generally thought of as a practical, versatile wood, which is true. It’s low-density and lighter than its counterparts. But pine wood comes in many varieties, and some may be comparable or even stronger than red oak!

Don’t fear that a piece of pine furniture will age quickly — wood furniture trends come and go, but pine is timeless. Woodcraft makes a variety of pine furniture for a couple of reasons. It’s generally inexpensive, not because it’s lower quality, but because it’s found in greater abundance. Plus, in terms of appearance, the irregular grains and knots can add a dynamic, striking touch.

Pine is a softwood, so it’s a little more susceptible to dents and knicks. However, it’s one of the more durable softwoods, and many people think that the imperfections in a piece of pine create genuine character and a personal touch.

With a little love and tending to, you can keep your pine furniture looking beautiful for years.

Oak

Oak trees live for 200 years, and some last for thousands! It’s a very strong, heavy, durable wood. Because it grows so slowly, it tends to be much denser.

Oak’s signature open-grains and wavy markings make it a popular choice. People who don’t know much about wood can often identify oak on sight because of the grains.

It’s a ring-porous wood, like pine, known for its unique swirling or striped pattern. If you give oak a light finish, it really accentuates its grains and distinctive markings. Oak furniture can withstand lots of daily wear and tear, making it perfect for building furniture used daily, like dining tables, coffee tables, and more.

Mahogany

Finally, mahogany wood is known for being luxurious. It’s extremely durable, has tremendous rot resistance, and ages like a fine wine. There are several different types of mahogany, but its unique, recognizable grain pattern is its calling card.

Sometimes, other wood is passed off as “mahogany” to increase demand. Woodcraft would never do that, of course! We only mention this to demonstrate how in-demand mahogany is.

Wood grains may look different to the naked eye, but they may also indicate the wood’s level of strength and flexibility. Woodcraft is proud of the beautiful, artisan pieces we make, no matter what wood they’re from. Hopefully, considering the aesthetic and practical implications of grains will make you appreciate the level of thought and craftsmanship behind all wood furniture a little more.