Wood Classification

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In the classification of plants, including wood, the biological classifications determined by microscopic inspection of the structure are written in Latin, which is the international language adopted, with the genus first (the class or kind of things contained in the particular plant family), then the species (the subordinate kinds within the genus), and lastly the family. Thus European oak will be Quercus (genus), robur (species), family Fagaceae. Within the same family grouping will also be beech, hornbeam, sweet chestnut, etc., but true oaks will always be Quercus although the species will differ, i.e. alba for American white, borealis for

American red and mongolica for Japanese. However, as timber species are usually discovered and put to use long before the botanist arrives to identify them, they will have been given common names arrived at either by adoption of the local or native nickname, the district of source, the port of shipment or some peculiarity of the wood itself.

The precise botanical classification is not of pressing importance to the cabinet-maker (and half an ounce of practical experience with the wood in question is worth a pound of academic knowledge), but it will at least warn him of what to expect. Thus Australian silky oak belongs to the family Proteaceae, and has nothing in common with true oaks (Fagaceae) except a fancied resemblance in the medullary ray structure; while on the other hand both Honduras mahogany {Swietenia macrophylla Meliaceae) and Cuban (Spanish) mahogany {Swietenia mahogani Meliaceae) will have more in common than African mahogany (Khaya grandifolia Meliaceae), sapelewood (Entandro-phragma septentrionale Meliaceae) and guarea {Guarea thompsonii Meliaceae) because in the latter group the genus differs. If, however, the designer or craftsman wishes to pursue his scientific enquiries further, he will usually find that there are classes of instruction in wood technology widely available, and increased knowledge of his material will never be wasted, since for all practical purposes the study of wood does begin at the bench and under the impact of the cutting-tool.

All trees are exogens. increasing their woody fibre by the annual addition of a new layer (annual ring) under the bark, and forming a typical cone-like structure of yearly increments. As producers of structural material they are conveniently grouped within two main classifications:

Softwoods - Coniferous or cone bearing, needle-leafed, usually evergreen, trees that provide the typical commercially-used softwoods.

Hardwoods - Deciduous or broad-leafed trees that comprise the so-called commercially-used hardwoods.

In botanical terms the words 'softwood' or 'hardwood' do not indicate their actual physical hardness or softness. A third classification includes palms and bamboos which are, strictly speaking, giant grasses. There are the inevitable exceptions, of course, for the very soft poplars and willows are broad-leafed and therefore classed as hardwoods, while the harder, needle-leafed larch remains a softwood even though it is deciduous, and yews and hollies are true hardwoods though they are evergreen. However, the classifications are near enough for all practical purposes.

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