There are two main types of woods, softwoods and hardwoods. The easiest way to tell the two apart is by their leaves. Hardwood trees have broad leaves like the oak and will normally lose their leaves in the fall. softwood has are coniferous and keep their needle shaped leaves throughout the winter. The term hard or soft wood has nothing to do with what the wood looks or feels like.
All trees have two growing periods every year. In the spring they have a growth spurt that is light colored and toward the end of summer they have another that shows up as a dark ring. This is how people can tell a trees age.
Softwoods tends to grow faster than hardwoods and have wider bands of early growth than the dark slow growing hardwoods. Hardwoods are more dense than softwood also.
Hardwood trees also allow branches more time to grow in all directions in order to expose more leaves to sunlight. This puts a lot of stress on the wood resulting in beautiful patterns you see in some woods. There is also a downside to this as the more stressed the wood is the harder it is to have straight boards cut. This happens because as the stress of the wood releases the board tends to move and warp.
This is why you see so much white pine used. It has very few knots and stress points making the wood great for gleaning long, straight boards. That is why so much early american furniture was built from this softwood.
One of my favorite parts of woodworking is dealing with the colors of wood. Every piece of wood has its own color, figure and pattern. The color of the wood is caused by the gums, resins and tannins exposure to the air. Wood changes color over time and pattern on the board can come from many sources such as insect damage, winds, disease, freeze and even drought. The pattern can also be affected by how the wood is cut down.
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