List Of Woods Used In English Furniture Of The Eighteenth Century

ACACIA.—The wood usually designated by this name differs materially from the true Acacia, a genus of plants allied to the Mimosa;, one of the leading divisions of the great Leguminous order. The English Acacia is properly the Robinia pseudo-Acacia, a papilionaceous tree originally brought from North America. The wood, which is little used in eighteenth century cabinet work other than for friezing or inlaying, is dull yellow in colour, with brown markings. It is generally found on bandings of satinwood pieces of the last quarter of the eighteenth century, and of provincial origin ; on London-made furniture, tulip or bleached rosewood (palisandn') was usually substituted.

The Acacia Arabica, or gum arabic tree, an importation from India or Arabia, can only be cultivated in England under glass, and rarely grows beyond the size of a shrub. Nearly three hundred species of Acacia are known in Australia, but in the eighteenth century onlv the Robinia pseudo-Acacia was used in furniture, and then only very sparingly.


ALDER.—The Abuts glutinosa. An English tree which usually grows in wet and marshy soil. From its ability to resist decay and rot from the action of water it is frequently used for the piles of bridges, &c. Alder is sometimes employed for the rails of "stickback" Windsor chairs of the old-fashioned "hooped" pattern. Those of the later eighteenth century were usually made with elaborately carved central splats.

ALKANET (Arabic al-kanna, Henna).—Several varieties of English plants are known by this name. The Alkanna tinctoria is used to stain linseed oil to a deep red ; this was generally used in the eighteenth century to darken the colour of mahogany. Sheraton confuses the Alkanna tinctoria with the genus Anchusa, in the article in his Cabinet Dictionary. See chapter on "Original and Modern Polishes" in this volume. The usual trade term of " aconite root " is a misnomer, as alkanet has no relation to the blue monk's-hood.

AMBOYNA is the wood of Plerospertnum Indicum, one of the Byttneriads. It is a native of the West Indies. Amboyna is nearly always found, in eighteenth century furniture, used in veneers, either for covering whole surfaces, or for inlaid panels or bandings. It has a rich yellowish-brown colour with a very close " bird's-eye " figure.

Amboyna closely resembles Thuja, but the latter is somewhat darker, and the figure i1^ not so abundant.

arbor vitie.- See Thuja.

ASH. The well-known Fraxinus cxcclsior. The wood is very tough, capable of taking strong lateral strains without breaking. It is light yellow in colour, with irregular longitudinal brown markings. Ash is generally used for the seats of " hoop-back " Windsor chaiis. When polished, it somewhat resembles oak. Many of the provincial chairs of the Queen Anne type are made from ash. It is also sometimes used for the sides and bottoms of drawers.

BEECH : Fagus.- Of the natural order Cnpulifcrcc. The wood of the common Beech, Fagus sylvatica, is generally used in the manufacture of chairs of the kitchen type. Many of the later Sheraton period, especially those intended foi painting or gilding, were frequently made from beech. The wood is brownish-white in colour, with an unmistakable speckled grain. The tree often grows to a height of 100 to 120 feet, with a diameter from 4 to 8 feet. At Burnham Beeches, near Slough, are some beech trees of enormous size. Beeches are found in nearly every part of the globe.

BIRCH.—The name of the trees and shrubs of the genus Bctula. The Bctula alba or common Birch of England and the Bctula lent a or Mahogany Birch of North America were sometimes used in the furniture of the later eighteenth century, especially for carcase-work where the front surfaces were veneered with satinwood. Birch is frequently found with a beautiful rippled figure, and when polished it strongly resembles East India satinwood both in colour and figure.

BLACK WALNUT.—A name frequently applied to varieties of Juglans nigra. See Walnut.

BROWN EBONY—See Ebony i Cokomanoei.).

CANARY WOOD.—A term used in the eighteenth century for the wood of Persca indica or Pcrsea canariensis of Madeira. It is really an inferior kind of mahogany, light yellow in colour. It was extensively used for veneering and inlaying. See Mahogany.

CEDAR. BARBADOES: Ccdrcln odorata.—A tree of the natural order Cedrclacccv ; a native of the West Indies and tropical America. The tree reaches a height of 80 feet, with a trunk of great thickness. The wood is soft and inferior, although possessing an agreeable aromatic odour. It is generally used for cigar-boxes, and for drawer sides in the later eighteenth century cabinet-work.

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CEDAR or CEDAR OF LEBANON. -Usually known, technically, as Pencil Cedar. Of the natural order of the Conifercc ; genus Cedrus Libani. The wood is very soft, pinkish in colour, and agreeably aromatic. The boards are sometimes largely impregnated with sap, the wood then being white and worthless. This is probably due to the tree being felled when young, as cedars attain a great age, the grove at Lebanon having some trees which are said to be two thousand years old. Pencil cedar is much used for the sides and bottoms of small drawers in the later work of the eighteenth century. Cedars were iirst introduced into England in 1(140 by the Earl of Pembroke and Montgomery, and were planted at Wilton Park, near Salisbury.

CHESTNUT is of two kinds, that of Castanea vesca or Spanish Chestnut, and .Esculus hippocastanum or Horse Chestnut. The latter is generally used for furnituie, also for the backs of hair-brushes. The wood, when unpolished, is nearly as white as sycamore, and when highly figured closely resembles it, but the grain of chestnut is coarser than that of sycamore. Chestnut is frequently used in cabinet-work of the later eighteenth century as a substitute for satinwood, and is frequently mistaken for it.

EBONY.—Includes woods of the natural order Ebenacece. Diospyros ebenits grows in Madagascar, Mauritius, and Ceylon. The last-named is light in colour with rich dark brown stripes, and is generally known as Coromandel. Diospyros ebanaster, Diospyros melanoxylon, Diospyros Mabalo, Diospyros tomentosa, and Diospyros Roylei are other varieties, all of which are nearly, if not quite black in hue. Ebony is close-grained and exceedingly heavy. It is rarely used other than in veneers.

ELM : Ulmus.—A genus of trees of the natural order Ulmaeccr, natives of temperate climates. The English elm, Ulmus campcstris, grows to a height of 60 to 80 feet. The wood is fairly hard, with a broad serrated grain, and is very durable in damp places. It is generally used for coffins, and the seats of Windsor chairs. It is light yellow in colour, and takes a good polish. Elm is sometimes used for constructional work in eighteenth centurv furniture. The broad-leaved, or Wych Elm [Ulmus montana), varieties of which are known as the Giant or Chichester Elm, is indigenous to Scotland. It is a tree of quick growth, and forms protuberances of gnarled wood 011 the trunk, which are finely knotted and richly veined. These were usually cross-cut into layers, and used for veneering, especially on early Oueen Anne cabinet-work. These pieced veneers are usually referred to as " pollarded elm."

HOLLY is found in many parts of Europe, Africa, Asia, and South America. The English variety, the Ilex Aquifolium, yields a beautiful white wood, usually with a very small speckled grain. It is generally used by marqueterie cutters, either in the natural state or dyed in various colours. It is also used for inlaying in the form of lines or

stringing, but is rarely employed in veneers, other than for marqueterie. It was a favourite wood, for inlaying in small panels, with English joiners from the earliest Tudor times. An imported variety, the Holly Oak, Qucrcus Ilex, is sometimes used for lathe beds. It is darker in colour than the English holly, and much harder and heavier.

KINGWOOD is the wood of ilrya cbcnus, a native of Brazil. It is sometimes known as American ebony or bois-violet. It is somewhat lighter in colour than rosewood, and more strongly marked. It is generally used in cross-cut veneers, and usually for bandings, although some rare pieces of Queen Anne cabinet work are to be found entirely veneered with this wood.

LABURNUM.—The wood of Cyticus laburnum. The tree was first cultivated in England about 1597. The heart-wood is hard and durable, varying from a yellow streaked with brown to a dark reddish brown. It is sometimes used by turners for lathe chucks. Laburnum was extensively used during the reigns of William III. and Anne for veneering, usually in " oyster pieces," i.e. veneers cut transversely from saplings.

LIGNUM VIT/E is the wood of Guiacum officinale, a native of Cuba and the West Indian Islands. In colour it is a dark brown, streaked with black, and strongly marked. It is only used, in furniture, in veneer form. The wood is fairly easy to work when freshly cut, but it rapidly hardens on exposure to the atmosphere. Lignum vit;e is generally used for skittles, bowls, and croquet balls. When thoroughly seasoned it is extremely hard, but is very liable to crack and split.

LIME-TREE or LINDEN : Tilia.—Genus of the natural order Tiliacece, natives of Europe, Northern Asia, and North America. The wood of the Tilia Europcea is white and very soft, being practically without cross-grain. It is much esteemed by carvers, and was extensively used by Grinling Gibbons for nearly all of his important work. The American Lime, Tilia Amcricana or Tilia glabra, is known here as American Whitcwood or Basswood. It has a pronounced greenish tinge, is remarkably free from knots, and grows to a great size.


MAHOGANY.—The timber of Swietenia Mahagoni of the family of the Cedrclacecr. Native of Central America. Mahogany is said to have been introduced into England bv Sir Walter Raleigh in 1595, but does not appear to have come into general use until about 1720. There are many varieties in use at the present day, those from Honduras and Madeira iPcrsca indica) being inferior to that from Cuba. The mahogany of the eighteenth century is nearly always of the latter variety, generally referred to as

" Spanish." " Spanish " mahogany varies considerably. Some kinds are very hard, dark in colour, free from figure, and with a close, white-flecked grain ; these are generally used for the tops of high-class dining-tables. Other kinds are known as "plum pudding " or " ocean-figured," " fiddleback " (similar in figure to well-marked sycamore) and " curl." This latter is rather a species of freak in the growth of the tree, and the rich effect is often enhanced by cutting veneers at an obtuse angle with the line of the trunk. Curl mahogany is rarely found in English furniture of prior date to 1750. Mahogany, when polished in the natural colour, is usually of a golden-brown shade, but it is generally stained with a solution of bichromate of potash in water, when every degree of red, nearly to black, can be obtained. This method of staining does not appear to have come into vogue before about 1830, and should, therefore, never be found in untouched specimens of eighteenth century furniture.

  1. —The genus Accr. The Great Maple, Acer pscudo-platanus, is usually called the Sycamore. Acer striatum, from North America, furnishes a white wood, much used for inlaying by marqueterie workers. The well-known " bird's-eye " maple, which is extensively employed in panelling, especially for interior work in ships, is the wood of the North American Accr saccharinum or Sugar Maple.
  2. —The genus Quercus. There are about 250 species, nearly all of which yield excellent timber. The common, or British Oak, Quercus robur, is almost exclusively found in eighteenth century cabinet-work, with certain exceptions in the case of the periods of James II., William III., and Anne, which have been noticed in the first volume. English oak is of a yellowish colour, toning to a rich brown, and often nearly to black, with age. When cut at right angles to the medullary rays, towards the heart of the trunk, the boards often exhibit a speckled, or " silver " figure, which is greatly prized in Tudor and Stuart panelling. Other varieties of Quercus are used at the present day, generally known as American, Austrian (or wainscot), Riga, and Bavarian oak. All the varieties, when exposed to wind and rain, unprotected by polish or varnish, rapidly acquire a silver-grey shade. This can be noticed in oak pale-fencing.

OLIVE WOOD is the timber of the genus Oleaccce. The common Olive, Olea Europeva, is a thorny shrub in its wild state, but through cultivation attains a height of 20 to 40 feet, and attains a prodigious age. Olive wood takes a beautiful polish, with oil and continual friction. It is of a greenish-yellow, with black cloudy spots and veins. Olive wood, especially when pollarded (q.v.), was frequently used for veneering the fronts of the later long-case clocks of the eighteenth century. Some specimens of this wood, when highly polished, have the appearance of greenish-yellow horn.

PADOUK. The wood of Ptcrocurpus indicus, a native of Burma. Padouk is somewhat lighter in colour than rosewood, and more strongly tinged with red. The grain is very similar, but has a peculiar silkiness of texture. Padouk is very hard and heavy. It appears to have been first imported into England about 1730. Occasional pieces of the early and middle Chippendale periods are found, made entirely from this wood. Its toughness admits of delicate fret-cutting, impossible in mahogany.

PEAR-TREE.—The Pyrus Communis is a native tree of Britain, and grows extensively south of Yorkshire. The wood is close-grained, similar to boxwood but darkei in colour and not quite so hard. It has 110 figure. Pear-tree is sometimes used for the carcase-work of small articles of furniture, and in rare instances for the frames of chairs. In the latter case the wood is usually stained black and polished. Pear-tree is also used in thick veneers on Queen Anne cabinet work.

PINE: Pinus.—A genus of trees of the natural order Conifcrcr. The genus is usually held to include all kinds of Fir, Larch, and Cedar. Pines are widely diffused over the whole of the Northern Hemisphere. The wood of the Scotch Pine, Pinus sylvestris, is the variety usually found in eighteenth century cabinet-work. It is white and rather soft, straight in grain, easy to work, comparatively free from knots, and stands well, without shrinking, warping, or cracking. Pine, of the quality used at this period, is practically unobtainable at the present day.

PINE, PITCH.—See Pitch-pine.

PITCH-PINE: Pinus rigida.—A native of Savannah, in the Southern States of America. Is very strong and durable. The wood is yellow in colour with a light brown streaked grain. It is strongly resinous. Pitch-pine is sparingly used in eighteenth century furniture.

PLANE-TREE.—The sole genus of the natural order Platanacccc. A native of Eastern Europe, although it has been acclimatised in Southern England. The wood of the young tree is yellowish-white; that of the old, a medium brown. It is close grained and takes a high polish. Plane-tree varies considerably as regards figure, from quite plain to a fiddleback, "ripple," or "lace" markings. The figured specimens usually masquerade under fancy names, such as "lace-wood," "silk-wood," and the like.

POLLARDING is the cutting off of the whole crown of a tree, leaving it to send out new branches from the top of the stem. The new branches are never equal in magnitude to the original ones, although more numerous, and when pollarding is often repeated, the trunk presents a series of amputated stumps which is very unsightly. Pollarding

is usually practised in districts where fuel is scarce. The stumps often exhibit abnormalities in grain, and these portions are generally cut into veneers and pieced together by the cabinet-maker where an interesting or unusual surface appearance is desired. Pollarded woods, especially of walnut, oak, ash, elm, yew, and olive, were extensively used during the early part of the eighteenth century. The wood usually known as " pollard oak " is not a pollarded wood at all. The term is a misnomer.

PURPLE-WOOD or PURPLE-HEART. -The heart-wood of Copaifera pubiflora and Copaifera bracteata. The wood is usually imported in logs from 8 to 12 inches square, and about 10 feet long. It was formerly extensively used by gunsmiths for ramrods. Purple-wood is seldom found in eighteenth century furniture excepting in the form of lines or edge banding. When freshly planed up the wood has a pronounced purple colour, but when exposed to the air, even if polished, it rapidly darkens to the hue of rosewood. Purple-wood is tough and heavy, although somewhat open in grain texture. Purple-wood is a native of Brazil.

ROSEWOOD.—Several kinds are used in cabinet-work ; some very light and streaked with dark lines, others varying nearly to the shade of ebony. The darker kinds are generally from two or three species of Dalbergia Nigra, the lighter from Genuta canari-ensis, Convolvulus florid us and Convolvulus Scoparia, all natives of Brazil. Rosewood is seldom used in eighteenth century furniture other than for inlaid panels or banding ; it came into vogue as a constructional wood during the first years of the nineteenth century and towards the middle was extensively used. The wood is hard and heavy, and when freshly planed has an agreeable aromatic odour. Rosewood is closely related to the Dalbergia Sissor—Bengal Sissorwood—and Dalbergia latifolia, the East Indian Rosewood.

SABICU or SAVICU. The wood of Lysiloma Sabicu, a genus of Mimosecr, akin to Acacia. The wood of Acacia formosa, a native of Cuba, was sparingly used in the eighteenth century for furniture of the early Chippendale type. It is very hard and tough, dull red in colour, similar to plain mahogany stained with bichromate of potash, and with a close, short grain. Sabicu was used for the stairs in the Great Exhibition of 1851, at the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park, before its removal to Sydenham. It is said that after six months of constant traffic, the stairs hardly exhibited any signs of wear. A set of chairs, of Sabicu, inlaid with mother-of-pearl, are to be seen in Sir John Soane's Museum in Lincoln's Inn Fields.

SATIN WOOD—One of the most popular woods used for the furniture of the later eighteenth century, by Hepplewhite, Sheraton, and their schools. Two kinds were known and used, namely, East and West India Satinwood respectively, but the former

does not appear to have been imported until nearly 1S00, and was therefore unknown in the work of Hepplewhite.

East India Satinwood, Chloroxylon Sienetenia (Greek chloros = green, and xulon = wood\ is named after Gerard van Swietan, physician to Maria Theresa of Austria (17001772). See Mahogany. The tree is a genus of the Ccdrelacc«-, which includes the tropical American mahogany, the yellow wood of New South Wales (Oxlcyu Xanthoxyla), and the red-wood of Coromandel (Soymida fcbrifitga). There are nine known genera and twenty-five species, including the Bastard Cedars of Barbadoes (from the wood of which cigar-boxes are made) and Australia, the latter known as Curana, Samaria, Acuyari, and Mara.

East India Satinwood is a native tree of Ceylon and the Coromandel coast. It is usually somewhat darker in colour than the West Indian variety, and is found varying from a plain texture to the richest rippled figure. Occasionally it has a broad mottled figure resembling that of fine Spanish mahogany. It can always be distinguished from the West Indian wood by its colour and the peculiar greasy appearance it acquires when polished. West India Satinwood is usually plain in texture, sometimes with a slight cedar or pine figure, and is generally of a lemon-yellow colour when freshly planed. It tones, with age, to a rich golden yellow. The wood is hard, close-grained, and heavy. West India Satinwood, Ferolia Guianensis, is a native tree of Guiana. The difference between the two kinds of satinwood should be closely studied, as the knowledge is often valuable in distinguishing between genuine and spurious eighteenth century work. Modern satinwood is frequently stained with coffee to give the work an appearance of age. The shavings from West India Satinwood burn with a sweet odour which is absent in the East India.

SNAKE-WOOD is the heart-wood of Brosium Arbletii, called also Piratincra gitiansis; an Arctocarpad, native of Brazil. The tree often grows to a height of 70 feet. The wood is generalty used in veneers, for inlaying and banding. It is of a pale yellow colour, with serrated markings of a darker yellow. Snake-wood is only found in the cabinet-work of the very late eighteenth century.

SYCAMORE.—Acer pseitdo-platanus ("the maple called plane-tree) was first introduced into England in 1551. It grows extensively in Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Italy, and Western Asia. The name " Sycamore " is very ancient in England ; it is mentioned by Chaucer, but probably refers to the woodbine. Sycamore is almost pure white when freshly planed, but turns yellow when exposed to the air. It is found sometimes quite plain, but more often with a rich " fiddleback " figure ; this latter is generally used for the backs of violins. Sycamore is frequently used in the natural state

for the insides of drawers, pigeon-holes, and the like, in the smaller cabinet-work of the later Hepplewhite and Sheraton period. When used in veneer form it is usual!}' stained a greenish grey bv immersion in water impregnated with oxide of iron. When so treated it is generally known as " hare-wood " or " hair-wood."

TEAK.—The name is used for two kinds of timber. One is known as Indian ; the other as African Teak. The fust is Tcctona grandis of the natural order Yerbenacecr. It grows in Malabar, and elsewhere in Hindustan, Ceylon, Further India, Java, See. The second is Oldficldia Africana, of the natural order Euphorbiaccce. The timber of both is very similar, reddish-brown in colour, strong and durable in texture, and with a greasy appearance when freshly planed. Teak is usually polished, as it has a very disagreeable odour in the natural state. When polished without staining, it is of a deep brown colour.

THUJA or THUYA.—An African tree, the Arbor vitce, closely related to the Arbor vitce of America, or Thuja Occidentalis. The latter is an evergreen shrub in English gardens, although it reaches the size of a tree in tropical America. Thuja, when polished, is of a rich golden-brown colour, with a small aureole figure, centred with minute " bird's-eyes." The variety used for furniture is of African growth. Thuja is nearly always used in veneers. It is frequently found in small inlaid panels in Queen Anne cabinet-work.

TULIP is the wood of PhysocaJyimna floribunda, the only known species of the Lagcrstromiece. The tree has tough oval-shaped leaves, and pannicles of purple flowers very similar in appearance to the English wistaria. The wood is yellowish-brown with longitudinal stripings of a pinkish-red. It is usually cut across the width and used for cross bandings. It is seldom employed excepting for inlaying or friezing. The tulip tree is a native of Brazil.

YEW: Taxus.—A genus of the natural order Taxaccce, generally regarded as a sub-order of Conifcra. The common yew, Taxus baccata, grows to about 30 to 40 feet, with a trunk of great thickness. It is a native of Middle and Southern Europe, and of Siberia. Many fine specimens are to be seen in English parks. It attains an age of three hundred to four hundred years. The wood was formerly much esteemed for making bows. It is very hard, tough, and elastic, the heart-wood varying from orangered to a deep brown. It is generally used in early eighteenth century work, for " oyster pieces." Yew is also sometimes used for constructional work, but is very liable to warp and twist. The wood of the Japan Yew, Podocarpus macrophyllus, a tree of a genus closely allied to Taxus and a native of Japan, was formerly esteemed in cabinet-

work. It has also the open yew grain, and was frequently used for " stick-back" chairs of the better class, during the eighteenth century.

WALNUT is of several kinds, but principally of two species. The first, Juglans regia, is a native of Ghilan, in Persia, and the North-Western Himalayas, and some parts of China; the second, Juglans nigra, is the American walnut. The first includes the English, Italian, and French walnut; the second, that of America, and certain varieties from Holland and Germany closely resemble it. Juglans regia was first introduced into England about 1565, and became the fashionable wood for furniture during the reigns of Charles II., James II., William III., and Anne. Walnut was also used during the two latter reigns in the form of oyster pieces for the veneering of the doors of the square cabinets which were so fashionable at that period.

ZEBRA=WOOD.—Of Omphalobium Lambertii, order Connaraccee. Native of Guiana. Sometimes known as pigeon-wood. Zebra-wood is usually of a tawny brown colour with vivid stripes of very dark brown. It is generally cut into veneers, for crossbandings. Occasionally some of the smaller pieces of the later Sheraton period are veneered entirely with the wood, but the effect is generally more striking than artistic.

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