Hardwoods, such as oak, have been the construction timber of choice for centuries – proven popular in places all over the UK – our churches, manor houses, cottages and are still at the forefront of most self-build projects, even now.
In this guide, we’ll explore the different types of hardwoods on the market and the reasons why they’re a much-loved contender when choosing the right material for your project.
Types of Hardwood
Hardwoods are naturally more durable as they come from slow-growing, broad-leaved trees. This means the timber has a higher density than softwoods, which gives them enhanced durability and strength.
Because hardwoods will last longer than softwoods, they’re suitable for a large range of applications including; construction, joinery, high-quality furniture and flooring.
Some of the most popular hardwoods to work with are American white oak and European Oak because they’re widely available across the UK and are highly durable. This type of wood is commonly used in general joinery, flooring, cladding and staircases.
To break it down for you, hardwood can be classified into three main types:
- Tropical hardwoods
Tropical hardwoods are essentially all hardwoods that are scientifically classified as ‘angiosperm’ – as their seeds are encased in fruits or pods. Just some include: Kapa, Cumaru and Sapele. They originate from the three main continents of Africa (West and Central), Asia and South America.
- Temperate hardwoods
Temperate forests are located in the Eastern United States, Canada, Europe, China, Japan and certain parts of Russia. These forests contain a great choice of timber from deciduous trees, coniferous trees and broad-leaved – so we have species like ash, cherry, oak and maple.
- European hardwoods
European hardwoods consists of mainly oak and beech. Oak has been a valued wood for furniture for centuries – there is a myriad of places in the UK that highlights the use of oak timber in construction and this is apparent even today, in any furniture store or kitchen showroom. Beech, on the other hands, is commonly used for painted joinery and furniture.
Traditionally, oak was of native origin, but as the population and demand has grown, European oak is now mostly sustainably sourced from the Forests of Croatia, France and Germany.
So now let’s take a look at the main benefits and put these type of hardwoods to the test:
One main advantage of hardwood is it is very easy to maintain and clean.
This is why it is a popular contender for flooring – a regular sweep and occasional mop will keep the floor looking beautiful for years and if required, a quick sand and varnish will have it once again looking good as new.
There is also the added benefit of comfort – not only is hardwood pleasant to walk on, it’s naturally warm. This is because wood is an excellent insulator, thanks to its thousands of tiny air chambers per cubic inch, which hold in heat.
Also, any scratches or dents in hardwoods can easily be fixed by sanding, varnish and waxing to restore its beauty, rather than having to replace the damaged area.
We’ve already established how hardwoods are more durable because of the slow-growing trees, although some differ in strength to others. Oak is widely used for construction, joinery and quality furniture due to its strength and durability.
The reason for oak’s, and other hardwoods, impeccable strength is because they are from slow growing trees, which means the trees’ cellular structure is more dense, compared to faster growing softwoods.
Another hardwood recommended for its high durability is Iroko (West African origin) and can be used for various internal and external joinery projects.
Hardwoods can be used with any type of style or décor because of the wide range of appearances they can bring and are available in a whole host of colours, depending on species chosen – from the lightly-coloured ash to the reddish-looking sapele.
Because of the natural patterns, no two hardwoods will be the same, providing you with a unique product – be it furniture or flooring.
For example, Black American Walnut (North America origin) is commonly used for internal joinery – such as kitchen surfaces – as it gives a beautiful marble-style finish. Additionally, oak has a wide range of appearances it can present – flat sawn, quarter sawn, clear, knotty or burry – we could go on!
Hardwoods generally have a bad press for being expensive – but you get what you pay for. If you opt for the cheaper, veneered alternative it’s simply not going last, whereas hardwoods like mahogany, oak and mango are extremely tough so they’ll be able to withstand the odd scratch and last for years to come.
In terms of wood flooring, the costs will vary depending on many factors. For example, a high quality wood, like oak, will be considerably higher than a laminate alternative. You can probably expect to pay in the region of £30.00 to £130.00 per square metre for real-wood flooring.
Although hardwood flooring is low-maintenance, over-time it can lose its shine so it may need waxing on occasion, which adds an extra expense. Also in terms of labour, if you’re not laying the floor yourself, you will need it to be professionally installed as it is laid in strips, adding an extra expense (an average job can vary between £400 and £800).
However, hardwood will last a lifetime – so just think of it as an investment. For example, hardwood floors can actually increase the value of a property – think about how old and used a carpet will look in just a few years. Wood floors, on the other hand, will last for years and with little maintenance, can be brought up to scratch, looking like new. And that beautiful hardwood coffee table you’ve got? That’ll outlive all of its flat-pack, softwood friends.
To Sum up
In contrast to softwoods, hardwoods are slow growing, which makes them less common and more expensive, yet they are unrivalled in strength and are far more visually pleasing – but what do you think?
Have you had any experience in using hardwood in your self-build you’d like to share? Or think we’ve missed a crucial benefit? Then don’t hesitate to let us know via Twitter – we could talk about this all day!