As wood-producing countries promote lesser-known species to ease high demand on traditional species, the choice of wood becomes increasingly varied. Years of research and testing mean that performance characteristics are available for most commercial species. These may be listed under a number of categories including weight, shrinkage and movement, kiln drying behaviour, wood bending strength, natural durability, amenability to preservative treatment and working properties. This data enables a comparison between species and provides the means to select the most suitable species for specific end uses.
Look for less familiar species that will offer performance at lower cost. Compare softwoods and hardwoods. If durability is an important item, compare costs of naturally durable species with less durable ones which have been preservative-treated. A naturally durable species may be suitable for use externally without a surface coating. For exposed exterior use don't be too fussy over colour matching, it will all weather to a uniform grey eventually. Internally most species tend to darken in colour. Don't exclude sound knots unless they will adversely affect performance. You can help to keep down the cost of wood by placing as few restrictions as possible on the supplier.
Work with 'modern' technology. The use of finger-jointed and laminated wood results in a much more stable end product, removing imperfections and enabling larger sections to be created. Again colour variation can be an asset; some of the hardwood species look better when laminated. It is difficult to convey the appearance of species with words; even within species there can be variations. Publications with colour photographs can assist in selection.
Sources: Which Wood, British Woodworking Federation, 0171 608 5050. cd- rom: Woods of the World Timber & Wood Products, 01732 377516.
Timbers - Their properties and uses and Wood - Decorative and Practical, trada, 01494 563091