Ohio's Appalachian hardwoods are unique in their variety, quality and beauty. Ohio's forests contain well over 100 different hardwoods and 25 different softwood tree species. Historically, humans have used wood and wood products for shelter, fire, and in war, making wood an integral part of our civilization. We use wood because it is easy to work with, inexpensive, durable, and readily available. Early settlers relied heavily on old growth yellow poplar to make barn siding. Old growth yellow poplar made excellent decay resistance siding for log homes due to the naturally occurring tannins in the wood. Yellow poplar boards were easy to hand hue and resisted warp and shrinkage. Today, yellow poplar is still used for siding due to its availability, low cost, paintability, and resistance to warp and shrinkage, as seen in the photo below.
Choosing the Right Wood
|Home built using yellow poplar lumber milled on a portable sawmill from trees grown on a farm in southern Ohio. Photo: Courtesy of Gary Haynes.|
Physical and mechanical properties between wood species can vary greatly due to the internal structure of each tree. These include size of cells, thickness of cell walls, and chemical composition. Even trees within the same species will vary due to age, growth rate, site conditions, and internal stress within the tree.
The lumber from each species of wood has characteristics that will determine its adaptability for various uses. Of these, resistance to decay, ease of working, weight, hardness, color, grain, and resistance to splitting are particularly significant. When selecting lumber for a specific project, consider how the characteristics of the wood species will meet the requirements of the job. For example, joists for a shed should use a wood with good stiffness and bending strength. Since many sheds are not heated, wood with good dimensional stability and the ability to hold nails should also be considered. Once the requirements for the project have been identified, select a wood species with the most appropriate attributes.
Often the job requires wood that is decay resistant. Keep in mind that the heartwood found in the center of the log contains less moisture and higher concentrations of decay resistance chemicals than the younger sapwood. This makes heartwood more appropriate for uses such as fence posts. Young trees have a higher percentage of sapwood than older trees; therefore, small poles and saplings would be almost worthless as posts if used untreated. On the other hand, sapwood, because of its light color, greater flexibility, and lighter weight, is preferred to heartwood for items such as tool handles and siding.
|Portable sawmills are often used to saw trees into lumber from small woodlots. Photo: Courtesy of Gary Haynes.|
If you plan to use wood from your own woodland, the trees must be felled, transported to a sawmill, cut into boards, and dried. If you don't have your own sawmill you can hire a portable sawmill to come to your property to saw and stack your lumber. There are also many small sawmills that will do custom orders. Look in your local yellow pages or talk to your local Extension educator or service forester for suggestions. A listing of large and small sawmills by county is available online at oardc.ohio-state.edu/ohiowood.
For many projects, properly air-dried lumber is sufficient. However, wood used in dry, heated environments will either need to be kiln dried or allowed to dry in a similar environment before being used. When air-drying alone, lumber can take several years to get to a 15%–20% moisture content depending on thickness and species. If you don't want to wait or don't have the storage capacity, lumber can be purchased at wholesale prices if you order in bulk, or you can take your lumber to one of several custom dry kilns in the state.
Building codes vary from state to state, county to county, and even from township to township. So before building any structure, check with your local building inspector. If grading rules exist you will need to hire a professional grader to inspect any non-graded lumber or buy graded lumber for load bearing members. If there is no grading requirement, check with your insurance company to make sure you can get homeowner's insurance for your house if it does not use graded lumber. Ideas and building plans can be obtained from the Midwest Plan Service (MPS) and the Northeast Regional Agricultural Engineering Service.
- MWPS, 122 Davidson Hall, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa 50011-3080, Order Toll Free: 800-562-3618, FAX: 515-294-9589, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Website: https://www-mwps.sws.iastate.edu/
- Natural Resource, Agriculture, and Engineering Service, Cooperative Extension, 152 Riley-Robb Hall, Ithaca, New York 14853-5701, Phone: 607-255-7654, FAX: 607-254-8770, Email: NRAES@cornell.edu, Website: nraes.org
Lumber milled from Ohio's woodlots are great sources for woodworking and wood frame building needs, as well as many other uses. The species selected depends on the intended use. When considering need, your decision should be based on selecting the species with the most desirable properties for the job. For example, black locust makes great fence post since the heartwood is highly resistant to decay and has good bending strength and excellent nail holding capacity. White oak is an excellent material for water tanks and silos due to its strength and impenetrability to liquids due to a crystalline structure in the wood's membrane called tyloses. Table 1 describes the usual requirements for various building components. Keep in mind that lumber quality and strength can vary, and it is important to select pieces of lumber that do not have defects which can alter the property of interest.
|Table 1: General Wood Requirements for Common Farm and Home Uses|
|Concrete Forms||Good stiffness, easy to nail and cut, resists bending, warping or splitting during installation and reuse.|
|Exposed Platforms and Porches||High decay resistance, good stiffness and strength, good wear and splinter resistance.|
|Feed Racks and Feed Bunks||Hardness and freedom from splitting, medium decay resistance, ease to work.|
|Fence Posts||High decay resistance and little or no sapwood for untreated posts, good bending strength, straightness, and high nail holding.|
|Flooring and Steps||Good decay resistance, wear resistant, and resists warping and shrinking.|
|Framing, Joists, Rafters, etc.||High strength properties in stiffness, hardness and bending, good nail, screw and glue holding properties, free of warp and medium weight.|
|Gates and Fences||Good bending strength, decay resistant, paints well, holds nails, resists weathering, free of warp and splitting, lightweight.|
|House Trim||For exterior uses look for woods that are decay resistant with good painting and weathering characteristics, is easy to work and resists warping and shrinking, good nail holding ability and easy to work.|
|Poles and Posts for Pole Barn Construction||High stiffness and strength, free of crook, minimum taper, good nail holding qualities, decay resistance. Pressure treat poles and posts in direct ground contact.|
|Posts and Beams for Post and Beam Barn Construction||High stiffness and strength, easy to work, moderate weight, and free of crook.|
|Roof Boards||Good nail or screw holding properties, easy work, low shrinkage, high stiffness and free of warp, free of splits.|
|Scaffolding||High bending strength, high stiffness, high nail holding, medium weight, and free of compression failures and cross grain.|
|Shelving||Good stiffness and free of warp with good finishing properties.|
|Siding||Good paintability, good weathering qualities, is decay resistant and resistant to warp and shrinkage.|
|Storage Bins, Tanks, Vats, etc.||High decay resistance and low shrinkage.|
|Studs and Plates||Medium stiffness and strength, good nail holding, medium free of warp, and moderately easy to work.|
Although Ohio's forests contain many different species of trees and shrubs, there are only twelve groups of hardwood species that make up the core group of hardwoods grown and sold in North America. These species are commercially important due to the volume in which they occur in the forest and their wide variety of uses. Table 2 outlines the unique characteristics and uses of these species. For help identifying the trees in your woodlot, two excellent references are Ohio State University Extension's Leaf Identification Key to Eighty-Eight Ohio Trees and The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees, Eastern Region.
Ohio forests and wood lots also contain many other types of hardwoods, each with their own unique traits and uses. These species allow the woodworker or builder to take advantage of interesting colors, grain patterns, and other traits for woodworking or building projects. Table 3 contains a list describing some of the less dense (soft) hardwoods found in Ohio. Sassafras is one of those species. Even though it is very lightweight and soft it is surprisingly decay resistant. Table 4 lists the more dense (hard) Ohio hardwoods. Osage-orange is one of the hardest/densest of American hardwoods and while very difficult to work is easy to dry and is excellent for turning.
|Table 2: Common Hardwoods|
|Ashes||Furniture, handles, boxes, baseball bats, cooperage, boat oars, ladders, chairs, fork and shovel handles, agricultural implements, ship building||Strong, hard, straight, close grained, tough, excellent elastic properties, prone to fungal and beetle attack||Kiln and air-dries easily, dimensionally stable||Easy to work, good nail and screw holding properties, glues and finishes well, excellent steam bending properties|
|Basswood||Food containers—boxes, tubs, pails and baskets, bee hives and honey sections, slack cooperage, toys and novelties, great for carving||Soft, low strength properties, uniform texture, poor durability—can be treated||Easy to dry, high shrinkage||Easy to work, poor nail holding properties, glues well, easy to carve, poor staining, but holds enamel and paint well|
|Beech||Food containers, baskets, butcher blocks, chairs, flooring, handles, novelties, woodenware, turnery, clothes pins||Hard, heavy, strong, uniform texture, grain can be interlocked, attractive quarter-sawn, wears well under water||Extra care needed—high shrinkage, prone to warp and splitting||Difficult to work with hand tools, machines well, hard to nail, prone to split, holds nails and screws well, good finishing properties, can be steam bent|
|Birches||Flooring, furniture, door, cabinetry woodenware, butcher blocks, firewood; Traditionally—(sweet birch sap) birch beer||Wavy grained, strong, poor durability, high impact resistance||Dries slowly, high shrinkage||Machines and finishes very well, holds nails and screws well; Yellow birch—bends well, extra care is needed for gluing; Sweet birch—good for turning, tends to split|
|Cherry||Cabinetry, furniture, tool handles, novelties, musical instruments, woodenware||Excellent strength properties, attractive quarter-sawn, poor durability||Dries easily, weigh down to avoid warp||Easy to work, machine and turn, holds screws and glue well, finishes very well, turns darker with age|
|Hickories||Best wood for handles—axes, hammers, ladder rungs, golf clubs, agricultural parts, archery bows; Traditionally—spokes, wheel rims and buggy shafts||Hard, heavy, strong, excellent elasticity||Prone to split, check and warp, high shrinkage||Excellent workability with sharp tools, prone to split, finishes very smoothly, excellent bending properties|
|Furniture, paneling and cabinetry, flooring, wood with figure prized for decorative cabinetry and musical instruments, turning||Poor durability, very strong, very hard||High shrinkage, prone to blue stain, sticker quickly and allow good airflow||Machines and finishes well, good glue, nail, and screw holding properties, prone to splitting, excellent bending properties|
|Turned articles, kitchen utensils, toys, novelties, crating, pallets, inexpensive cabinets||Poor durability, strong, hard||Prone to blue stain, sticker quickly and allow good airflow||Easy to work, turns and finishes well|
|Red Oaks||Cabinetry, furniture, veneer, flooring, millwork, pallets||Strong, poor durability||Dries fast, end coat to avoid checking||Machines well, can be steam bent|
|White Oaks||Fine cabinetry, millwork, flooring, ships, heavy construction, bridges, liquor barrels and other containers||Very durable, attractive quarter-sawn, very strong, impermeable to liquid, hard with straight grain||Dries slowly, prone to checks and splits, high shrinkage||Machines well, tannic acid causes discoloration so avoid metals containing iron fasteners|
|Yellow Poplar||Furniture, cabinetwork, sash, doors, shelving, boxes, crates, baskets, pallets, veneer, woodenware, carving||Lightweight, weak, brittle, moderately strong||Easy to dry, dimensionally stable||Easy to work, very paintable, nails easily, but holds nails poorly, glues well|
|Walnut||Cabinetwork, gunstocks, furniture, novelties, molding||Strong, lightweight, figured grain, absorbs recoil||Dries slowly, very stable||Easy to work, good nail and screw holding properties, finishes well with filling|
Although Ohio's forests are mostly known for their hardwoods, less than 5% of Ohio's forested land contain softwoods. Table 5 describes the four most commonly found softwoods and their uses. Eastern white pine is the most common and is almost always grown in plantations. While Eastern white pine is a very valuable commercial species in most of the Northeast, markets are currently very limited in Ohio, with most logs being converted into paper pulp. Eastern red cedar has some very good local markets and is most often used for outdoor furniture, birdhouses, and cedar chests.
|Table 3: Soft Hardwoods|
|Woodworking, fuel||Light, weak, reputed to resist insects, but not fungi, attractive quarter-sawn||Easy to dry||Easy to tool, glue, and finish|
|Aspen||Furniture, interior trim, pallets, boxes, crates||Low strength, high resistance to wear, light, poor durability||Dries satisfactory||Easy to work, surfaces tend to be "woolly," good nail holding properties|
|Black Ash||Excellent for cabinetry and steam bending, interior trim, chairs, tables, other furniture, basket weaving||Weaker than white ash, low abrasion resistance, very poor durability, showy figure||Easy to air dry||Easy to work and glue, prone to split, finishes well with clear varnish—fill for smooth surface|
|Black Willow||Millwork, furniture, cases, boxes, picture frames, Venetian blinds||Very light, interlocked grain, poor durability||Extra care needed—prone to warp||Very difficult to machine, glues and finishes well, carves well|
|Box Elder||Furniture, boxes/crates, charcoal, cooperage, woodenware, woodworking (wood stained red by fungus)||Light, weak, decays rapidly||Dries quickly without degrade or checking||Easy to work|
|Butternut||Furniture, interior trim, paneling, and craving; Traditionally—church altars||Weak bending and compression strength||Easy to dry, low shrinkage||Easy to work with sharp cutting edge, finishes well|
|Cottonwood||Boxes/crates, packing cases, shavings, inexpensive furniture parts, poultry cages and bee hive sections, kitchen cabinets, food pails, butter tubs, posts, poles||Tough, strong, poor durability without treatment||Extra care needed—prone to warp||Easy to work, takes stencil ink well, poor nail and screw holding properties, glues and paints well|
|Hackberry||Woodworking, carving, farm implements, boxes, crates||Heavy, weak, decays readily when exposed||Difficult to dry||Easy to work, stain, and finish|
|Mulberry||Fence post, excellent for furniture when properly cut and dried||Light but very durable||Easy to dry||Easy to work, prone to splits, screws and glues well|
|Ohio Buckeye||Woodenware, occasionally lumber, fuel, woodworking (wood stained with gray streaks)||Light, for its weight strong and tough, decays rapidly when exposed||Easy to dry||Easy to work, difficult to split, finishes smooth, good paintability|
|Sassafras||Woodworking, fences, house sills, furniture, boxes, and slack cooperage, (inner bark) candies and tea; Traditionally—ox yokes, (inner bark) dye||Light, brittle, very durable||Dries very easily, prone to checks||Easily worked and finished, extra care needed—for nails, holds screws and glue well, dimensionally stable|
|Table 4: Hard Hardwoods|
|Items requiring heft and strength—mallets, tool handles, wedges, and other small items, small craft items, turnery||Extremely dense and smooth, poor durability||Extra care needed—prone to warp||Extra care is needed for gluing, easy to finish|
|Boxes, crates, basket veneers, flooring, rollers, mallets, ties, cigar boxes, caskets, sashes, doors, blocks, gunstocks, bowls, furniture; Traditionally—ox yokes||Very tough, interlocked grained, without luster, poor durability (can be treated)||Extra care needed—prone to warp||Difficult to split and nail, dulls tools, glues well, good finish|
|Common Persimmon||Turnery, golf club heads, shuttle blocks, bobbins, shoe lasts, handles, spools||Heavy, strong, heartwood is highly decay resistant||Difficult to dry||Difficult to work, finishes to high polish, poor gluing, good nail holding, good shock and wear resistance|
|Eastern Hophornbeam||Carving, turnings, excellent firewood; Traditionally—splitting wedges, tool handles, mallet heads, wagon axles||Heavy, very strong, excellent abrasion resistance, very dense||Very slow to dry||Difficult to cut or plane, drilling pilot holes is necessary to nail or screw|
|Elm||Cooperage stays, hoops, baskets, shipbuilding, boxes, crates, flooring, veneers, toys, woodenware, furniture||Heavy, tough, attractive quarter-sawn||Extra care needed—prone to warp||Difficult to split, excellent bending properties, hard to polish, sawn surfaces can be "woolly," dulls tools, nails, screws and finishes well|
|Kentucky Coffeetree||Fence posts, furniture, ties, construction material, poles; Traditionally—(roasted seeds) coffee substitute||Durable, heavy, tough, strong, coarse grained||Difficult to dry without splitting||Easy to work, glues and finishes well, holds nails and screws, prone to splits|
|Locust, Black||Fence posts, handles, boxes, ship construction, crates, woodenware, poles, novelties; Traditionally—wagon wheel hubs||Very hard, strong, heavy and heartwood durable||Dries slowly, prone to warp||Difficult to work with hand tools, machines well, very smooth finish, high polish, hard to nail|
|Osage-orange||Superior fence posts and ties, musical instruments, turnery and novelties; Traditionally—wagon wheels hubs, Native Americans—bows, war clubs||Very hard, heavy, tough and resilient, most durable of all North American species||Dries well||Difficult to work, dulls tools, difficult to nail, holds screws well, glues easily, avoid finishing with oils|
|Sourwood||Turnery, handles, machine bearing; Traditionally—sled runners||Heavy, excellent wear resistance, very close grained, poor durability||Prone to warp||Easy to work, glues satisfactorily, sands and finishes well|
|Sweet Gum||Furniture, interior finishing, boxes/crates, woodworking—beautiful figured grain, prized in Europe||Strong, stiff, interlocked grain, poor durability||High shrinkage, thin stock prone to warp||Very easy to work, plane and sand, holds nails and screws well, satisfactorily gluing, poor steam bending|
|Sycamore||Butcher blocks, boxes, crates, truck slats, brush backs, slack cooperage, furniture, fruit and vegetable baskets, interior finish, woodenware||Moderately strong, decays rapidly when exposed, attractive ray flecks when quarter-sawn||Extra care needed—prone to warp||Turns with ease, finishes smooth with sharp tools, nails, screws, and glues well|
|Table 5: Common Softwoods|
|Eastern Red Cedar||Chest linings, interior woodwork, souvenir novelties, buckets, shingles, small boats, posts and poles, (leaf oil) medicine, (wood oil) perfume; Traditionally—pencils||Highly aromatic, heartwood durable||Easy to dry, low shrinkage||Easy to work, carves and whittles well|
|Eastern White Pine||Millwork, sashes, panel doors, interior trim and paneling, log homes, cabinetry, furniture, match sticks, pattern making, general construction, roof boards, sheathing, crating; Traditionally—war ship masts, (needles) tea to prevent scurvy||Softest and lightest of the pines, weak, poor durability, low abrasion resistance||Quick and easy to air dry, low shrinkage, prone to blue stain, sticker quickly and provide good airflow||Very easy to work, planes well, glues easily, accepts fasteners, dimensionally stable, stains well, good for carving, poor for turning|
|Shortleaf Pine||Interior and exterior finishing, general construction, veneer, packing shavings, cooperage, mine props||Pines in the Southern yellow pine group are good for general construction with high strength properties, durable when treated||Moderately easy to work, hard to nail|
|Virginia Pine||Rough construction; Treated—posts, poles, pilings||Prone to warp with alternate wetting and drying||Moderately easy to work, hard to nail, knotty|
- A Guide to Useful Woods of the World, Second Edition, by James H. Flynn and Charles D. Holder, eds., Forest Products Society, Madison, Wisconsin, 2001.
- Leaf Identification Key to Eighty-Eight Ohio Trees, Bulletin 899, by David K. Apsley and Kathy L. Smith, Ohio State University Extension, Columbus, Ohio, 2002.
- Lumber From Local Woodlots, NRAES-27, by Robert L. Edmonds and Stanley W. Knowles, Northeast Regional Agricultural Engineering Service Cooperative Extension, Ithaca, New York, 1988.
- Ohio Trees, Bulletin 700, Agdex 300/30, by L. C. Chadwick, William F. Cowen and F. W. Dean, Ohio State University Extension, Columbus, Ohio, 1990.
- The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees, Eastern Region, by Elbert L. Little, National Audubon Society, Inc., New York, 1993.
- Understanding Wood: A Craftsman's Guide to Wood Technology, by R. Bruce Hoadley, The Taunton Press, Inc., Newtown, Connecticut, 2000.
- Wood Handbook: Wood as an Engineering Material, USDA Forest Service, Forest Products Laboratory, General Technical Report—113, Madison, Wisconsin, 1999.