Wood Species

Wood Basics

Looking for a wood counter and not sure where to begin? How about a short background about each wood? Before that, it might be helpful to explain a little bit about Trees. First thing to know, all trees are different. Even if two cherry trees are the same height and from the same field, once they have been logged, milled, and planed they will look different, from the shade of the lumber to the mineral deposits in the surface.

Second thing to know, most trees have two distinctive tones in their wood- the heartwood, that grows in the center of the tree, and the Sapwood, which grows around the outside. Without going into too much of the science, Heartwood is a portion of the tree that has become nearly inactive, and does little to help the tree grow. The sapwood, which is new growth wood around the outside circumference of the tree, does almost all of the tree's daily function. Faster growing trees usually have lots of sapwood, while slower going trees have less. It is called "sapwood" due to the large quantity of sap that is usually found surrounding the wood.

Lastly, the way the logging process goes, there are many different cuts that creates different grain patterns for the woods. The common method is called "Plain Sawn" which usually amounts to waving grain patterns. Another common style is the "Quartersawn" style that results in exposing the wood's edge grain along the face of the board.

Quartersawn (Above)Plainsawn (below)
Image from the USDA Forest Service
Plainsawn White Oak (left) Quartersawn White Oak (Right)


(1,260 lbf 5,600 N)

Birch trees have a distinctive exterior two toned bark that makes them easy to identify. They only grow to around 60-80 feet tall, which is a shorter height for trees that are harvested in the timber industry. Typically speaking, when the industry refers to Birch, the Yellow Birch species is what they are referring to. While not truly yellow, the name is to differentiate itself from Red birch which has a very pink hue.

The planks themselves are a spontaneous blend of heartwood and sapwood. Birch trees tend to have a large quantity of light sapwood with pockets of heartwood streaking or dimpling it. Most counters will feature some heartwood, however it is not implausible to get a piece without; here at Sprague Woodworking, we try to avoid a distracting amount of heartwood in this species. Upon request, it is possible to get more of the heartwood or sapwood in the project if desired.

Mature birch: by M J under Pixabay license

Birch and maple share a color pallet, however after finishing with similar products, the Birch tends to come out a bit more white in tone, whereas the Maple tends to have a bit more of a golden tone. This makes Birch our lightest wood in terms of "whiteness".

Some pieces of birch have an oscillating grain pattern than give it an appearance of being rippled. This is called curly birch, and is a desired characteristic to some. We cannot guarantee this type of pattern, but it can often occur in a counter manufactured at SWW.

995 LBF, (4,430 N)

The cherries that the typical cherry tree grows are not the type bought in stores, while they do share quite a similar appearance; the berries from the Black Cherry tree (or, Prunus serotina scientifically) are quite bitter. The trees themselves mature to heights between 50 and 80 ft. They grow with relative ease, and, when viewing a map, can be seen in any state on the east coast, going inland until the eastern boarder of Oklahoma. (see below)

The countertop coloration of cherry has a distinct orange-red blend. Over the lifespan of a cherry top, they redden to a darker red tone. The heartwood of cherry is usually consistent in color, but if you are looking for contrast, having sapwood in your cherry top will add some natural golden streaks into the top- it looks especially sharp in the cherry butcherblock.

Of the products commonly sold at Sprague woodworking, cherry is the softest counter surface. Cherry has distinctive grain patterns and mineral pockets, occasionally giving the boards in the plank style a unique freckled look. As the softest wood, it is also absorbs finish the best and tends to need less maintenance over the long term as a result.

(1,450 lbf 6,400 N)

Hard Maple, also known as Sugar Maple, or White Maple, is perhaps the most iconic and well know tree for its use in tapping. In the Timber industry, this tree is sought after for it's incredibly thick and white Sapwood. The heartwood is a deep brown hue and is usually a small portion of the entire tree, located at the core of the tree. Maple trees can be up to 50ft wide in diameter, and up to 120 ft tall, although most grow to around 80 ft.

Maple countertops tend to have a white-blond hue, ranging from a lightly toasted marshmallow to a thin syrup color. Each board varies, but normally there are small mineral deposits in the wood that look like little streaks. Those streaks add an extra layer of variation to the maple that warms the space. In the event of excessive mineral streaking in a board, it is usually harvested for multiple projects to avoid an overabundance in any one counter surface.

Image Credit: Bruce Marlin CC 4.0

In countertop production, we utilize the lightest tones in maple to produce a palette cleansing look, perfect for many kitchen designs. In plank or butcherblock style, maple countertops are very durable. We highly reccomened the butcherblock for cutting surfaces, and they are very often seen in professional kitchens. Maple is the go-to for wood cutting surfaces as the wood has the perfect hardness to withstand years of knife-work, with minimal dulling of the knife edges.

Sprague Woodworking does not specially order Bird's eye or Tiger/curly maple for general production as the finished result is impossible to predict. The grain patterns of each individual board can vary quite a bit, as shown below.

1,820 LBF, (8,100 N)

There are around 20 species of Hickory trees on the planet, 12 of which are native to North America. One of the largest and most dominant species of Hickory tree on the East coast is the Shagbark Hickory, which grow over 100 feet tall and are known to live over 350 years old. As the name implies, the tree's bark is shaggy, somewhat jagged and strips easily after the tree has gone through the logging process.

Once milled, Hickory has a distinct contrasting tones with it's heart and sapwood. The heartwood is a deep brown with varying streaks weaving thorough it, giving the wood a vibrant aesthetic appeal. Since hickory grows to be very large, it has an increased amount of sapwood, which is a yellow/blonde tone. The combination (below) lends to a unique appearance that catches the eye.

Hickory is the Hardest wood sold at Sprague Woodworking, making it a strong candidate for counter surfaces. Due to this hardness, hickory tends to react to moisture more than other woods, causing minor checking and cracking. Here at SWW we like to fill those with colored epoxy for support. Coupled with its visual appeal, this checking makes for a warm and rustic look in any kitchen.

(1,360 lbf 6,000 N, 1,290 lbf 5,700 N)

The Oak tree is a prolific organism with over 500 different species around the world. The general woodworking classifications of these species fall into two categories: Red and White Oak. In North America, there are roughly 10 of each species that are harvested in the timber industry. While they have minor aesthetics differences, it is difficulty to tell any one of these apart. At Sprague Woodworking, we follow the standard classifications of the industry by offering both Red and White Oak.

Both Oak categories we offer are nearly identical in every characteristic other than color. As the name implies, Red oak has a red cast to its shade that the white oak lacks, it is a subtle difference that is hard to notice unless both species are presented.

Oak is porous and hard, making it a great choice for stain colors as it absorbs and displays the color of the stain better than most other woods without needing extra coats that can make a top look painted.

Image Credit: Wikipedia cc 2.0
Reclaimed Oak Waterfall Counter with Dark Walnut Stain
Red Oak Plank with an Undermount Sink (above)White Oak Butcherblock (Below)
A Sapele tree in the Congo. Photo Credit: Robert Sharp

(1,510 lbf 6,700N)

There are many Mahogany species around the world, trending towards warmer, humid, climates. Most forms of Mahogany are in a degree of conservation- making it hard to source all types. At Sprague woodworking, we offer African Mahogany, and Sapele. All Mahoganies range between a buttery orange and a deep red/brown hue akin to clay or brick. By and large the wood tones are consistent within each tree's species. African Mahogany tends toward a more orange color with lighter tones, while the Sapele is a darker red/orange with pockets of darker hues.

The quarter-sawn look in Mahogany has a vary stylish ribbioning pattern that makes the countertop seem multi-layered. This look is very common in the butcher-block style due to the utilization of the wood's edge grain as the counter surface.

African Mahogany (Above)Quarter Sawn Sapele (below)

1,010 lbf (4,500N)

The Eastern Black Walnut tree is the typical source for Walnut related lumber. While there are other harvested trees with a similar heading, these trees have the darkest naturally occurring color, which is a very desirable characteristic in the furniture industry. The trees grow to be 110ft on average at maturaty. The trees grow differnetly depending on locale, often when near other foilage and trees, they will sprout upward to capture as much sunlight on their leaves as possible, whereas when alone in an area with little competition, the branches tend towards the horizontal, and the trees grow more in circumference rather than height.

Raw walnut lumber has a washed out tone, almost a purple shade, when dry, but deepens to an almost chocolate brown when wet, or when a varnish/finish is applied. Another distinctive characteristic of Walnut is it's golden sapwood tones that have a naturally occurring contrast with the rest of the heartwood tones. These dark tones are what make walnut shine as a counter; the contrast a walnut countertop provides makes it a perfect centerpiece.

Red Oak Plank with an Undermount Sink (above)White Oak Butcherblock (Below)

Janka Scale

The Janka hardness test is a value assigned to woods based on resilience to denting and wear. Included here are the counter surfaces that we regularly use, however if you have any interest in learning more information regarding other woods, or the test itself, the Wikipedia article is enlightening.

Janka ratings (Highest to Lowest)

Hickory (1,820lbf, 8,100N)

Sapele Mahogany (1,510lbf, 6,700N)

Maple (1,450lbf, 6,400N)

White Oak (1,360lbf, 6,000N)

Red Oak (1,290lbf, 5,700N)

Birch (Yellow) (1,260lbf, 5,600N)

Walnut (1,010lbf, 4,500N)

Cherry (995lbf, 4,430N)

Taken from the Wikipedia page