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What makes wood beautiful

Wood technologists employ appearance characteristics to identify woods. These give a board its distinct look and beauty. Learn what makes up the look of wood.

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What makes wood beautiful?

What makes wood beautiful?

If you've been working with wood for very long, you realize that each species has different characteristics and appeal. You probably know, too, that even a pair of boards taken from two logs of the same species may not look exactly alike. That's because color, luster, texture, grain, and figure all come into play for a species' visual appeal. And it's one or more of these characteristics that put a high value on the most favored hardwoods used for decorative purposes. Now you'll learn just what they are.

Color covers the palette

In hardwoods, color occurs naturally across a wide range. There are purples, yellows, oranges, almond tones, browns, cinnamons, and shades of red. And color plays a major role in determining the final use of the wood. East Indian rosewood's decorative color makes an attractive turned bowl. But a nearly colorless wood, such as birch, makes a good mixing spoon.

Wood has color due to infiltrates that interact with the cellulose of its cell walls and the lignin that bonds them together. These infiltrates are soluble materials (sometimes called extractives) that a tree draws from the soil where it grows. Various species react to the infiltrates in different ways, thus creating contrasts among them. But that's also why even within a species the wood's color can vary. Walnut harvested from the cool limestone bluffs of northeast Iowa, for instance, will differ in color from that grown in central Kansas.

Freshly sawn green wood from a tree also can change color when exposed to air and light, sometimes drastically. South American purpleheart turns from light brown to purple. Osage-orange is a bright yellow-orange when first cut or planed, but shortly turns brown. Some woods, such as teak, fade under strong light but darken by moderate light. The moist heat of kiln drying will change a wood's color, too. As an example, the lighter color of walnut's sapwood evens out in a kiln to match the darker heartwood.

Continued on page 2:  Luster in the light


Comments (4)
n6soo wrote:

Agreed, great article. I would like to see an expanded version in Wood in a future issue, perhaps with a discussion of how finish can enhance or alter natural appearances.

6/3/2010 11:27:15 AM Report Abuse
woodhaug wrote:

I just finished turning 6 black walnut feet for a 6 drawer low boy dresser. I did not have the size blocks so I glued uo 3 1 in pieces. Picking the best grain for the outside. After sanding and finishing they are beautifully figure legs. No pun intened. I don't know if one single piece would have given me such grain patterns.

6/3/2010 10:08:24 AM Report Abuse
jal219 wrote:

I love the difference in wood. Putting different woods together always give an appealing effect especially when stained.

3/5/2010 08:13:33 AM Report Abuse
jandsjacobson99 wrote:

Great article! I will be looking for that craftsman that can "literally" turn the sow's ear into a silk purse! I've heard of figuratively doing that, but never literally!

3/4/2010 04:12:46 PM Report Abuse

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