Natural wood is a beautiful addition to any space. It makes for great cabinets, furniture, floors, and general accents, lending a natural charm. There are several characteristics of wood that contribute to this effect, and recognizing which of them you want to highlight or deemphasize is an important part of using wood in your design. Here we focus on just a few.
Color is one of those characteristics of wood that is most flexible, since it can be changed with relative ease by applying stain or even paint (though the latter won’t look like natural wood). However, if you prefer your wood to have an undoctored color, you have many, many choices. Consider the dark red-brown tones of Cuban mahogany or golden brown hue of teak. You have your pick from the pale creaminess of American beech to the deep and rich black of ebony and everything in between.
“Grain” refers to the arrangement or pattern of the fiber of a piece of wood. Wood grain comes down to how the wood is cut, and there are many, many variations. For example, straight grain describes planks that have been sliced parallel to the trunk’s center pith. It is common for fir, pine, white cedar, and redwood to have a straight grain.
On the other hand, cross or interlocked grain can sometimes be found when annual growth spiral fibers grow in different directions. You might see this kind of grain in elms, beeches, gums, and sycamores. Within the same species of wood, the grain can be entirely different. That’s one thing that makes grain one of the most versatile characteristics of wood. That being said, not all species offer different grains, so consider carefully which elements you value most before making your purchase.
What Is Grain Matching?
When building with wood, it is important to account for the grain and how you want it to fit together. There are two general schools of thought for working with grain: grain matching and non-grain match. Grain matching involves cutting adjacent doors or drawers from the same piece of material, so that the grain is uniform either vertically or horizontally on a cabinet or between two units. Grain matching creates a seamless pattern, which is especially striking for woods with bold grain patterns (maple, hickory, walnut, etc.).
Choosing not to match the grain (either from door to frame or between cabinets) is generally less expensive and makes replacing drawers or even entire cabinets much simpler since aligning the grain doesn’t matter. This strategy can also highlight color differences and create visual interest.
Knots are one of the characteristics of wood that add visual interest and variety to your wood. They have their pros and cons, and the weight these carry usually come down to personal preference.
What Are Wood Knots?
Wood knots are evidenced by the rings or holes along the grain of a piece of wood. The imperfections may mirror the surface of a stump. Knots indicate where a branch met the tree’s trunk, interrupting the grain of the rest of the wood. Sometimes they may indicate where a dead branch fell off and the tree adapted by forming new wood around the wound.
Are Knots Normal Characteristics of Wood?
Knots are a perfectly natural part of many wood varieties, though they are less common in some species. Generally speaking, trees that grow faster are less prone to have knots than trees that grow at a slower pace. Whether or not you want knots in your wood is up to you. Many people love the way knots look, since knots cause the wood around them to curve or bend in bands of color, weaving around the knot.
Others are less keen on them because knots adversely affect the strength of the wood. The extent to which this occurs is dependent on the number of knots, their size, and where they are in the wood. Knots weaken wood more seriously under conditions of stress that runs perpendicular to the grain or when the wood is pulled as opposed to compressed.
Whether or not you choose a wood with knots depends too on the aesthetic you are going for. If you want to create a rustic look in your space, knots are one of the characteristics of wood you may choose to emphasize. Other styles, like modern or select, use wood with few to no knots.
What Type of Wood Has Knots in It?
Every piece of wood is different, though some species are more prone to develop knots than others. The knots in alder wood are generally very small, under a quarter inch in diameter, and are commonly referred to as pin knots. You are likely to find knots in different varieties of pine, abundant in white oak and fainter or even peach-tinted in red oak. If knots are one of the characteristics of wood you favor, consider varieties referred to as “knotty,” i.e. knotty pine or knotty cedar.