The Real Wood Bible: The Complete Illustrated Guide to Choosing and Using 100 Decorative Woods

The Real Wood Bible: The Complete Illustrated Guide to Choosing and Using 100 Decorative Woods

by Nick Gibbs

Paperback(Revised Edition: Each wood rated for sustainability status)

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781770850132
Publisher: Firefly Books, Limited
Publication date: 01/31/2012
Edition description: Revised Edition: Each wood rated for sustainability status
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 330,869
Product dimensions: 6.75(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.81(d)

About the Author

Nick Gibbs is a carpenter and editor of Woodworker magazine. He has contributed to many books including The Flooring Handbook.

Read an Excerpt

Excerpted: Introduction and How To Use this Book


Most woodworkers have a "palette" of woods that they favor, experimenting with alternatives for a specific purpose, or perhaps because they come across or are given a new board or veneer, cabinetmakers choose stable boards for panels, ideally quartersawn, that will not bend and buckle, or they glue decorative veneer to man-made sheets. chairmakers select strong, long-grained woods for the legs and rails, but more decorative, softer lumber for the seat. Though carvers like ornate wood, and can carve almost anything with modern rotary tools, they prefer it to be even-grained to reduce the risk of tearing. Woodturners, though, will use almost anything, particularly if the grain and color are distinctive and will enhance the perfectly formed curves of their bowls and boxes.

Whether forced by the requirements of a particular project or just because of boredom with what is in the workshop, every woodworker comes to a point when it's time to try a new type of lumber. Today, thankfully, there is plenty to choose from. Veneers and turning blanks are easy to source and purchase by mail order, from a catalogue or over the Internet, and even boards can be ordered this way.

Each mood has its own distinctive characteristics, though of course many share similar colors, grain patterns or textures. Hardwoods are favored for their strength, decorative effects, wide range of colors and durability. Softwoods tend to be cheaper, and are often seen as functional materials for building and construction.


Somewhere out there is the perfect lumber that is easy and pleasurable to work while also being visually interesting, the ideal lumber will also

  1. have generally straight grain;
  2. be close-grained and hard for a good finish, or coarse-grained and easy to bring to a high luster;
  3. possess a few defects to add character without raising wastage rates to too high a level;
  4. have a distinctive color and figure (pattern).


Look through the list of woods in this book and you mill notice that some botanical and common names keep cropping up. There is an oak on almost every continent; indeed, that wood has been a giant of the lumber world for centuries. Other species that have dominated furniture making include the temperate hardwoods elm, ash and beech, and from the tropics, mahogany, teak and rosewood.

It is possible to argue that nearly all other woods are merely alternatives to these favored few, with lesser-known species gaining in popularity because of shortages or changing tastes. Woods of the genus Acer -- maple and sycamore -- are preferred for their close grain, ease of use and pale color, while cherry offers some of the qualities of mahogany but comes from a more trustworthy source. The huge number of tropical hardwoods now available perhaps reflects the attempt to find weather-resistant species to replace endangered woods such as teak, or furniture-quality species to replicate mahogany. Often they are poor imitations -- in terms of color, figure and ease of use -- of the originals, and that perhaps explains why temperate hardwoods like cherry have become so popular. Of course, tropical hardwoods are still favored in many cases for windows, doors and other joinery.

The most exotic species, such as rosewood and ebony, are now very expensive, and tend to be used only for decorative effects or as veneer. A by-product of the environmental movement has been the introduction of small quantities of previously unheard-of woods, many of them harvested by communal forestry enterprises in the tropics. Some of these are exquisite in color and figure, but as yet hardly used.


There are many factors to consider when choosing wood, If there is a strict budget to watch then price is a significant issue, and the degree of wastage may also be important. The structure of the piece way limit the range of options, depending on whether the design needs hardness, strength or a bit of give. A solid tabletop is best made from woods that are not likely to move, as are drawer components, which need to fit well for years.

Color may be important, either to match existing furniture, or to enhance the specific design. Stains and dyes can help, though many woodworkers prefer the integrity of an unadulterated finish. You may need to consider grain pattern and figure. Though it is often tempting to use the most decorative woods you can find,
sometimes intricate designs demand less sophisticated surface effects. In contrast, a simple design can be raised to new heights by a unique piece of lumber.

Texture can be used as creatively as color and figure. Coarse-grained species like oak and elm can be sandblasted or wire-brushed, and then limed or stained for dramatic effects, while highly polished rosewood is spectacular for more formal work. Species with contrasting colors, textures and patterns can be juxtaposes successfully, but usually needs some form of visual buffer between them, and great care needs to be taxes when attempting to form unlikely partnerships.


  1. Establish how much lumber you need, based on the design.
  2. Consider the eventual setting for the item in terms of style, color and texture. A plain, Shaker-style interior is likely to demand less conspicuous species such as maples, cherries, fruitwoods and birches. Most exotic hardwoods, especially from tropical forests, will suit a more formal, ornamental setting, while coarse-grained oak, elm and ash have a softer visual effect that works well in a less formal space.
  3. When necessary, choose woods by function: ash for bending, ebony for edge features or bandings, aromatic cedar for drawer bottoms (it will retain a fresh smell and deter bugs). You can fight a wood's natural inclinations, like trying to bend balsa, but invariably the results will on unsuccessful and the effort frustrating. Some woods do not take to glue so well, while others need special finishing treatments.
  4. Some species are available only in limited dimensions. You will not find many long, straight pieces of boxwood, though if is excellent for tool handles, nor wide boards of ebony, which turners adore. If a wood is not available in thicknesses greater than 1 inch it will not be easy to use for a tabletop. Of course, modern adhesives enable us to build up sections of almost any wood, as long as the grain is not so distinctive that the joins are obvious.
  5. Talk to fellow woodworkers and consult this book to find suitable species. Check if lumber is available from a certified sustainable source.
  6. Though woodworkers should always take the necessary safety precautions, find out the potential risks of using a particular wood. The dust of many woods can aggravate breathing and cause skin allergies or problems.
  7. Having narrowed down your options, start hunting high and low for what you want, beginning with your local supplier. It all else fails, check the alternatives listed for most species in the Wood Directory that forms the main part of this book.


When working with wood, always take precautions against accidents with machinery. Use ear protection and eye shields, and a mask or respirator to keep dust from your nose and lungs. Some species are hated for the noxious power of their dust, which causes respiratory and skin problems or exacerbates existing allergies.

Make sure to investigate the health hazards before using a particular wood. Specific species have not been noted as harmful because reports are anecdotal, and evidence linked to particular woods hasn't been found. It would be irresponsible so list harmful woods as some harmful species may inadvertently be missed. Woodworkers should be cautious and make a note of any effects they may suffer from wood they are using. See a doctor if symptoms a

Table of Contents

Buying Wood
Trees to Boards
Storing Lumber

Wood Directory

  • How to Use this Book
  • Wood Selector
  • Principal Woods
  • Secondary Woods
  • Special Effects


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