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Sustainable Timbers
At Hannah Avery furniture we aim to be as environmentally friendly as we can whilst meeting the needs of our clients. There are a few considerations to take into account when choosing wood that is environmentally friendly. Firstly is the wood from a sustainable source? Fsc approved timbers are a good way of determining this. But there are certain woods, such as sycamore, which are perfectly acceptable to use whether they come from a sustainable source or not, as they grow in abundance and are therefore under no threat. Some tropical hardwood's such as ebony and rosewood have no known sustainable sources therefore the only real environmental option is to use reclaimed timber.

Another environmental factor to take into account is how many miles the wood has to travel. When taking this into consideration remember that it is not simply a matter of buying English hardwood's. If an English hardwood is not widely available it may proportionally take more miles for a few boards to reach you than American or European hardwood's from local timber merchants. For this reason we strive to support our local timber merchants where ever possible.

Below are a list of hardwood's that have either been used for our furniture or hardwood's that we have easy access to. This is not an exhaustive list, as we will consider any wood that you may want for your piece. Many of these hardwood's would never be found in a shop, particularly English hardwoods that are rarely used by most producers. At Hannah Avery Furniture we often use English woods as we believe it is important to support local trades we also believe that most English hardwood's have a far superior look than their American or European counterparts.

Timber Dictionary
African Ebony (Diospyros crassiflora)

African Ebony is a very dark wood. This hardwood can almost be jet black in some boards. African ebony is very expensive although not quite as expensive as Macassar ebony. It is also very dense and heavy so it is ideal for carving intricate detail. As with macassar ebony african ebony is unlikely to be found in anything but the details of fine furniture.

Price and Availability

African ebony is very expensive and it is unlikely that there are any sustainable sources. The only real source is reclaimed timber.

African Ebony sawn wooden board

American Ash (Fraxinus americana)

In the 90's pale woods became very popular for use in furniture. American ash became widely used in mass produced furniture as it is cheaper and more widely available than English ash. But, as with American oak, American ash it not comparable in appearance to English ash. The grain is fairly straight and their tends to be a wide range of colours across the boards.

Price and Availability

American ash is very reasonably priced and widely available from most timber merchants. There are many certified sources but it is under no threat.

American Ash sawn wooden board

American Oak (Quercus alba)

In the last decade oak has become very popular for furniture. But unlike the furniture of the past American oak has largely replaced English oak in furniture production as it is cheaper and more widely available. But it is not comparable with its English counterpart. The grain is much straighter and the stunning flecking in English oak is not found in American oak.

Price and Availability

American oak is significantly less expensive than English oak and is widely available from most timber merchants. There are also many sustainable sources.

American Oak sawn wooden board

American Walnut (Juglans nigra)

In the past English Walnut was the top wood for high quality furniture. English Walnut is a beautiful hardwood but is largely unavailable and due to the difficulty in growing large enough Walnut trees, is very unlikely to be from a sustainable source. American Walnut is very different to English Walnut. It is much darker and does not have the wild grain patterns that are characteristic of English Walnut. But it has become very popular recently. It has a beautiful chocolate colour and can easily be brought up to a stunning sheen. and can often be found with rippled effects.

Price and Availability

American Walnut as opposed to English Walnut has become widely available due to it's rising popularity and is often from sustainable sources. Although it is far less expensive than English Walnut it is still a fairly expensive wood.

American Walnut sawn wooden board

Beech (Fagus sylvatica)

Beech has traditionally been used for chairs and kitchenware. Beech is ideal for kitchenware as it is hygienic and does not affect the taste of the food. Traditionally when this hardwood was used for chairs it would have been stained as it is very pale and fairly boring with no strong grain patterns. But it is strong and very reasonably priced.

Price and Availability

Beech is widely available from most timber merchants. There are some certified sources but it is not under threat. It is also one of the cheapest hardwood's to purchase.

Beech sawn wooden board

Cherry (Prunus serotina)

Cherry is a very popular hardwood in America, being used as a substitute for mahogany in many furniture companies. Cherry has some very interesting wavy grain patterns but the grain is quite faint therefore it is generally stained when used in furniture. When milled cherry starts off a pleasant salmon pink colour with brown stripes but it soon dulls to a dirty pink colour, another reason why it is usually stained. English cherry is very similar than American cherry but it is very difficult to source and generally does not come in very wide boards.

Price and Availability

American cherry and English cherry are both reasonable in price but American cherry is much more easy to source, being found in most timber merchants and is widely available from sustainable sources. English cherry will be found in specialist timber merchants on an irregular basis when it comes up. There are no sustainable sources as such, due to it's difficulty in growing. But there is no threat to English cherry.

Cherry sawn wooden board

Sweet Chestnut (Castanea sativa)

Chestnut is not a widely used hardwood but when found it is reasonably priced. Chestnut is very similar to oak but paler with a pinkish tinge. It also does not display the distinct medullary rays that appear in English oak. But it is generally more reasonably priced than oak and can display some beautiful clusters of small knots.

Price and Availability

Sweet chestnut is not widely available but can be found from specialist timber merchants. Even though it is not easily sourced it is under no threat and is generally fairly reasonably priced.

Sweet Chestnut sawn wooden board

Elm (Ulmus hollandica)

Elm has traditionally been used for chair seats due to its interlocking grain making it very unlikely to split. Elm has very distinct wavy grain patterns and beautiful clusters of tight knots. Unfortunately Dutch Elm disease wiped out much of this hardwood in Britain and consequently it is now very difficult to get hold of.

Price and Availability

There are only limited stock available but it can be found from specialist timber merchants. And due to its unavailability is fairly expensive. It is comparable to the price of American Walnut.

Elm sawn wooden board

English Ash (Fraxinus excelsior)

Ash is another typically English hardwood as the grain is fairly wild. In fact the grain is very similar to oak but the colour is significantly lighter. Ash is one of the palest hardwoods, comparable with Maple and sycamore and therefore looks very good against Walnut or Yew. In some trees the heartwood does not grow in the normal way and it appears much darker than normal ash and very stripy, this is normally referred to as olive ash and can have some truly beautiful patterns in it.

As with American oak, American ash is distinctly less interesting than English ash and the colours can vary greatly from one board to another. Unless the furniture in the shops states that it is English ash it will invariably be American.

Price and Availability

Ash is widely available from sustainable sources and very reasonable in price. Being much less expensive than English oak.

English Ash sawn wooden board

English Oak Quercus robur)

English oak is the classic wood for furniture. For a time it was considered old fashioned as stained oak furniture could be seen in many antique shops. But in the last decade oak has come back in a big way and natural oak furniture is very popular. Large stores have started to introduce much oak furniture to their ranges, but beware it is invariable American oak and in many cases the furniture mainly consists of veneered manufactured boards.

English oak far exceeds its American counterpart in look. American oak tends to be fairly straight grained whereas English oak has beautiful wavy grain patterns. A good way to tell if your furniture is English oak rather than American is the distinctive pale medullary rays which generally run diagonally across the grain.

Price and Availability

English oak is widely available from fsc certified sources. It is not the most expensive hardwood but neither is it the cheapest. Quartersawn boards display the distinctive medullary rays but are more expensive.

English Oak sawn wooden board

Macassar Ebony (Diospyros celebica)

Macassar Ebony is one of the most expensive woods in the world. Unlike Indian Ebony it is generally not jet black but has beautiful alternating black and brown stripes. It is very dense and heavy. Therefore for all these reasons it would be very unlikely for a whole piece of furniture to be made from this hardwood. Macassar Ebony would normally be found in the details of a bespoke piece of furniture or as a veneer. It is also fantastic for carving intricate detail due to its density.

Price and Availability

Macassar Ebony is phenomenally expensive and the trees are severely endangered, so it is very unlikely that there are any sustainable sources of this hardwood. Again the only viable source for a furniture maker is to buy reclaimed timber.

Macassar Ebony sawn wooden board

Maple (Acer saccharum)

Maple is one of the most expensive pale woods. But it is certainly superior in texture and grain then most of the other paler hardwood's. Maple is very hard and comes up to a beautiful lustre, when rippled maple is found it is stunning. Sycamore is a good alternative to maple but it is much softer so it can not take the same level of detail and can be difficult to finish to the same level as Maple.

Price and Availability

Maple is fairly expensive, comparable to American Walnut but it can be more expensive. It is also not widely available in England being mainly an American timber, but can be found in many specialist timber merchants. Maple is widely available from certified sources and is under no threat.

Maple sawn wooden board

Mahogany (disambiguation)

Mahogany has a very distinct deep red colour and beautiful grain patterns. Widely used for fine furniture over the centuries Brazilian Mahogany has now all but become extinct. It can now really only be sourced as reclaimed timber. There are African substitutes but they are softer than Brazilian Mahogany making them more difficult to carve fine detail.

Price and Availability

Brazilian Mahogany is very expensive even from reclaimed sources. African mahogany by contrast is fairly inexpensive. As stated before there are no sustainable sources of Brazilian Mahogany and limited sustainable sources of African Mahogany

Mahogany sawn wooden board

Olive Ash (Fraxinus americana)

Olive Ash is a term given to English ash where the heartwood does not develop in the normal way but appears as dark stripes alternating with paler stripes. It is the same species as English ash but has been given this name as the wood takes on similar appearance to Olive wood found in the Mediterranean. This unusual growth creates the most beautiful and interesting patterns and the rippling which often occurs in olive ash is very distinct.

Price and Availability

Olive Ash is a little harder to source than normal ash as you do not know when the effect will occur in the wood. But timber merchants which supply English ash will certainly come across this effect in some of their boards, so with careful selecting olive ash boards can normally be found. Timber merchants generally do not charge more for olive ash boards than ash boards therefore the price is very reasonable as with English ash.

Olive Ash sawn wooden board

Poplar (Populus alba)

Poplar is a rather uninteresting wood and particularly soft for a hardwood. It is very pale with some unattractive dark green and purple patches. But it is very stable, having a very low shrinkage rate. it also has a very even texture making it an ideal timber for painted furniture and joinery. It is also very reasonably priced.

Price and Availability

Poplar is widely available being found in most timber merchants. There are many certified sources and it is very reasonably priced.

Poplar sawn wooden board

Rosewood (Dalbergia nigra)

Brazilian Rosewood is one of the most highly prized woods for furniture. It has the most stunning grain patterns and colouring and is beautiful to carve, taking some of the most intricate detail. Unfortunately due to the mass exploitation in the sixty's Brazilian Rosewood is largely unavailable now and phenomenally expensive. But small quantities can be obtained from reclaimed sources. Therefore when found in bespoke contemporary furniture it is mainly found in the fine details.

There are alternatives such as Indian Rosewood but they are not comparable to their Brazilian counterpart and are largely not from sustainable sources themselves.

Price and Availability

As stated before Brazillian Rosewood is largely unavailable and very expensive. The only real way of obtaining it is from reclaimed sources. The species is severely endangered now so it is uncertain that there are any sustainable sources.

Rosewood sawn wooden board

Sapele (Entandrophragma cylindricum)

Sapele has a similar appearance to Mahogany although the grain is generally fairly boring and would never be mistaken for the later. It is generally used for joinery today, doors and window frames as it is very hard wearing inside and outside and is comparably very stable in changing environments. It also provides a very even base for painting. Therefore its best use in furniture is for painted outside pieces.

Price and Availability

Sapele is fairly reasonable in price and widely available from most timber merchants. Sapele is sourced in Africa but there are many sustainable sources.

Sapele sawn wooden board

Sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus)

Sycamore is one of the palest commercial timbers and is fairly soft and light weight for a hard wood. The real gem in Sycamore is the stunning rippled effect than can be found in some boards. Unfortunately most rippled sycamore is sold for veneer and therefore it can be very difficult to source in solid form.

Sycamore is sometimes used as a cheaper alternative to Maple but it does not have the interesting grain patterns of Maple and is far softer. Therefore it can not always take the same level of detail.

Price and Availability

Sycamore is fairly easy to source and a very reasonable price. But rippled sycamore is very difficult to find and can be more than twice the price of normal Sycamore. Both are likely to be from a sustainable source.

Sycamore sawn wooden board

Wenge (Millettia laurentii)

Wenge is an unusual tropical hardwood. It is characterised by its thin alternating black and mid brown stripes making it's appearance rather dramatic. It is also very hard. Wenge is not that well known but it is rising in popularity. Unfortunately it is endangered and there are no known certified sources. It is also fairly expensive, although for a tropical hardwood it is very reasonable being much less expensive than the other black hardwood's such as Rosewood and Ebony.

Price and Availability

Wenge is very expensive compared with oak and American Walnut and there are no known certified sources. But due to its rise in popularity it is becoming increasingly easy to source.

Wenge sawn wooden board

Yew (Taxus baccata)

Yew is a typically English wood as wild grain and interesting knots typify this timber. Colouring in the hardwood can range from orange to cream to purple. Yew is very hard and and heavy and looks stunning when combined with Ash or Oak in a piece of furniture.

Price and Availability

Yew can be easily sourced from specialist timber merchants and can be found from sustainable sources. It is comparable in price with English oak although it can at times be more expensive.

Yew sawn wooden board

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