Understanding Timber Types

Know your variants with our in-depth expert’s guide to hardwoods and softwoods.


To put it broadly, woods exist in two rough headings - softwood and hardwood.

Softwoods are generally the coniferous species such as pine, fir and cedar, which are a lighter wood and grow quickly. These have a much coarser grain and are mostly much less in strength than hardwoods.

For varying applications in woodworking, softwoods have their purpose despite being generally considered inferior to hardwoods in most scenarios. They are very economical due to their growth rate. In building they are used in abundance for framework, lining, cladding and more.


In contrast, hardwoods are significantly heavier and more stable, and are far stronger. Hardwoods are used more for things like piles/piers, footings, flooring, decking, furniture and architectural applications.

Know your different timber groups


Cedar is relatively soft, but very straight grained, and is very pleasing to the eye. Therefore, it is found mostly in outdoor settings, in furniture, cladding, window frames and architraves, and handrails. This is an ideal wood as it resists rotting in most environments and is usually inexpensive by comparison. The most common type of cedar is western red and is pinky-red in colour.


Australia’s most common species is eucalyptus. This is a hugely diverse family, with a large section of sub-species that all have very different properties. Common sub-species are Jarrah, Tasmanian Oak, blackbutt and spotted gum. These all are very different in colour and grain, being red, cream, pale brown and mid brown, respectively. These are a much loved variety by Australian architects and builders due to their beauty and durability, although prices range from inexpensive, to moderately expensive.


Fir is a reddish-brown wood and is imported from North America. Often referred to as Douglas Fir or Oregon, it is relatively soft, although with a straight grain, lightweight properties and reasonably good strength ratings. This is a very popular choice for rafters, and is not very expensive.


Hemlock is a North American evergreen found along the west coast of USA and Canada. A huge species, growing from 30 to 50 meters tall, it is widely harvested, and can be recognised by its flat, short needles, small oval-shaped cones and cinnamon-coloured grooved bark.


Pine is a vastly common species found all over the world. The main variants found in Australia are Cypress, Hoop and Radiata pine. Radiata is found commonly as a house-framing timber, but has a low resistance to decay and termites, therefore is usually chemically treated. Cypress, on the other hand, is valued for its resistance to termites and rotting, and has been used commonly for flooring. It also possesses a very sweet smell, which is favoured in furniture making. Hoop, the cheapest variant, is used mostly in plywood.


A pale coloured species with an attractively straight grain, ash is very easy to work. This makes it ideal for furniture work and is used a lot as a good substitute to white oak.


Beech is a Scandinavian variant which is a white to pale brown colour and used very commonly in many applications. Often, it is used in applications for painted furniture due to its bland grain. However, it is an attractively light wood, which is used in furniture, flooring, framing and feature work.


Birch is found in a few varieties and is found in the Eurasian region. Most notably, silver birch is used in landscaping a lot as it is a very attractive tree, however the most common are yellow and white birch. It is a relatively hard wood and used a lot for furniture and plywood. It is very inexpensive and light and used by many furniture giants in Europe.


Mahogany has long been known as a beautiful furniture wood, with its hard and solid properties, and deep red-brown tones. While it has historically been used a lot in furniture, such as in corporate boardrooms and antique furniture, it is not as common today due to the lack of sustainable farming. It has a straight grain with few knots, and is easy to work.


Maple comes in several varieties, however, falls under two main categories of hard and soft. Renowned for its hardness and highly attractive ‘tiger’ grain and deep shimmer when polished, maple is a species of choice for things such as gym floors, instruments such as guitars and violins, furniture and artisan feature work. However the soft variant is more common and varies widely in colour, with not as great qualities, therefore is used for things like pallets.


Teak is common to southern tropical Asia. Most commonly used in specialist applications such as custom pianos or marine environments, teak is not as common now due to ethical reasons. It is a very hard and waxy wood, and resists sun and rain well, however is very expensive now.


An American hardwood, Walnut has an attractive rich brown colour and a beautiful grain. Unfortunately, now fairly expensive and usually only available in fairly narrow boards, it is used extensively in furniture making, and as a veneered board for cabinetry and feature walls.

Walnut is a dark and chocolatey wood with a deep grain. A grain of choice for high-end automotive and furniture veneers, it is quite expensive and available in relatively narrow lengths, meaning it is a wood used mainly with skilled labourers, where grain-matching and veneering is made.