Different Types of Wood
Have you ever sat down and thought about wood? Like, really thought about it? Yeah, I didn't think so. But wood plays a tremendously important role in our lives, and a pretty basic part in keep all of the buildings we go through standing. So what is wood?
Wood is actually part of the tree called the secondary xylem, which is one of the mechanisms for moving water from the roots to the rest of the treat. Think of it like you think of our cardiovascular system. As the tree grows outward, more and more layers this xylem are laid on top of it, creating the "rings" that we think of when you do a cross section of a tree. Woods main function, as far as we're concerned, is in what we do with it after we've cut the tree down. There are many different functions of wood after this. The typical uses for us are in construction and as burning fuel. When it comes to burning fuel, the type of wood is not particularly important, as long as the wood has been given time to dry out sufficiently. Wet wood doesn't burn well. It is this pyromaniac's experience that the best burning wood is dry cedar, but get any wood dry enough, and it'll go up in flames.
Most important to our purposes, however, are the constructive uses of wood. So, if you're building something, here are the different types of wood and their uses in a given situation:
Hard wood is formed exclusively by deciduous trees, which is to say tree that loses all of its trees in the wintertime and then grows them back in the spring. Since this wood is not "staying alive" so to speak during the winter, it has be be harder and more durable. So this wood is best used in construction situations that are more focused on function than aesthetics. This isn't to say it's ugly wood, it's just sturdier. The other caveat is that this makes it more difficult to work with. Hard wood requires a pilot hole for any screws or drills, and it tends to put more wear and tear on your tools. Hardwood is less susceptible to water damage than softwood, because it is used to getting wet when it's dried out and "dead." Generally, the projects you want to use hardwood floor are indoors on construction projects such as flooring, furniture, cabinets, etc.
Maple - Maple can be hard or soft. It's relatively cheap and easy to work with, and it's a very stable type of wood. If you can, try to avoid working with hard Maple, just because it's really, really hard.
Birch - Birch can be yellow or white, and is pretty hard. It's better to paint than stain. Birch is usually quite cheap.
Cherry - Cherry is a softer hardwood, and can be anywhere from brown/red to white. It is excellent for furniture making, but is kind of expensive because it's in such high demand.
Ash - Ash is whitish/brown and relatively strong. Unfortunately, there's been an outbreak of the Emerald Ash Borer, which is an insect that's been destroying the trees, so many places have restricted the transport of ash wood. If you live in one of these places, you might as well try something else, because the price of ash will be through the roof.
Mahogany - Mahogany is a beautiful brown/red wood that looks good when it's stained. It is rather expensive and somewhat soft.
Oak - Oak is available in two varieties, red and white. It's a relatively strong type of wood, and it is popular among carpenters.
Soft wood is any wood that comes from a coniferous tree, which is to say an evergreen or pine tree that holds onto its leaves or needles all year round. Since these trees don't shut down for winter, their wood doesn't have to be as durable as that of a deciduous tree, so it's softer and easier to work with. Because it's so much softer, it absorbs moisture easily, and as such, can be easily warped and ruined. It is also more likely to expand or contract according to the temperature of the air around it, but once treated, soft woods are excellent for outdoor projects. Soft woods also tend to be the best for most carpentry projects.
Cedar - Cedar is known for it's strange coloring and smell. It's white with streaks of red and the odor is what you're smelling when you sniff a bowl of potpourri or a hamster cage. It stains extremely well and looks great as outdoor furniture. It's a very soft wood, but it doesn't easily rot. Best used in outdoor projects.
Fir - For a soft wood, Fir's are pretty hard. It has a brownish/red tint to it, and it's usually used for building or furniture. It's not a very good looking piece of wood, so avoid it for decorative projects, but it gets the job done.
Pine - Pine is a very soft form of wood that makes it perfect for carpentry and any sort of aesthetic projects. Look into what kinds of pine there are in your area, and talk to someone at a lumberyard or hardware store if you can't decide.
Redwood - Redwood is reddish. Shock. It's relatively cheap and easy to find, and is extremely durable in outdoor projects.
There are many hundreds of other types of woods that can be used for different situations, but their availability largely depends on where you are geographically. Some sorts of novelty woods like balsa wood - for model airplanes or boats or the like - are readily available at hobby stores or hardware stores, but other more exotic types of wood are straight up impossible to get in certain places. The best idea is to talk to someone at a local hardware store or lumberyard and get their opinion on what the best type of wood would be for your project.