These are the ( almost always ) deciduous trees –  the indigenous,  native trees,  of each country that produce our hard woods.  For building materials and furniture making, and often food as well, in the form of fruits and nuts. In Europe these are essentially  oak, ash, elm, walnut, chestnut, olive, hazel, almond, cherry, all fruit trees. Some of which are more useful than others for building, or more suited to particular roles in joinery,  due to the nature and inherent characteristics of each.  The seeds are always enclosed in a case or ovary – for example acorns, walnut, chestnuts- conkers, plums.

The largest trees  and strongest  hard woods  – oak and  chestnut are  used for structures, and these  are the  traditional materials for buildings and for boats. The actual size and dimensions of each house or boat was always determined by the size of the trees that grew locally, that could be felled and transported. In many tropical countries this is still the same.

They can be  used in their natural state for all external joinery, cladding, garden furniture, boat building. Unprotected oak, for example, silvers as it weathers – an attractive look, especially for garden furnishings, doors and windows. ( Cedar cladding, in boards  or shingles, is the only softwood that does the same.)  If you want to keep the colour, then it needs to be sealed – oiled, and to have the  sealant re-insated on a  regular basis. Protective varnishes and hygroscopic paints offer protection when it’s advantageous, and especially to young timber.

Hardwoods become stronger with age – it’s very difficult to drill a hole in a solid,  old,  oak beam, or even to cut through or plane down very old timbers.  Old, wide, floorboards in oak, but more often in chestnut or elm, are to be cherished and sought after. 

Green oak  is used for timber framing and ceiling beams. As it will move and perhaps distort a little as it dries it  must be correctly joined and engineered to enable it to both  provide a solid structure and show its’ character. We have sometimes  added green oak beams  into an existing build in such a manner  that they aren’t implicit to the structure and can be allowed to twist and age – to look older than they are, without detrimental effect on the building.

As hardwood ages,  the colour changes and mellows, so that any early furniture and panelling that we see – oak tables, benches, chests, settles or room beams are  a rich dark brown. Some timbers go through a less attractive stage on the way – oak for example can be a little on the yellow side for a while, before it reaches a lovely mellow golden tone. Other ways to treat / protect/ adapt wood is by chemical reaction – namely ammonia (fuming)  and sodium hydroxide ( lye and caustic soda to grey, with a similar effect to fuming )- chlorine based for bleaching  calcium hydroxide – lime to whiten.

( Douglas fir is the only softwood –  evergreen, pine family –  timber that can be used for joinery instead of a hardwood – in particular for doors and windows. Cedar shingles can be used for tilling and for cladding, along with other pines.  Softwood, however must always be sealed or painted ).

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