International Styles

Character of Wood

More than fifty varieties of wood and 400,000,000 feet of lumber are used in this country each year in making articles of wooden ware and novelties, a very large number of which are sold in this department.

The choice of the wood to be used depends on the purpose for which the article is intended. Some articles must be light, others stiff, others strong, others tough, others hard. The physical properties of wood vary with the species, the rate of growth, the locality, and the method of seasoning. Each one of these considerations has some definite effect on the final character of the wood.

The characteristics which must be considered are:

Hardness, Stiffness, Strength, Shrinkage, Toughness, Weight, Hardness.

Hardness is a wood's resistance to wear. This is an important quality, and one most necessary for a large number of household utensils. Chopping bowls and bread and meat boards must resist severe cutting blows; rolling pins must be hard.

The hard woods are oak, beech, birch, maple, walnut, ash, hickory, all of which belong to the broad leaf variety of trees. The soft woods are pine, spruce, hemlock, cedar, cypress, which belong to the "coniferous" or cone-bearing family. The hard woods are on an average two or three times as hard as the others, but some of the so-called hard woods are really quite soft, and vice versa.

The softer a wood is the easier it is to work, and therefore when there is no particular advantage to be gained by using a hard wood, a soft one is often substituted. For example, ironing boards, tubs, and other implements are often of soft woods, which are nevertheless hard enough for the purpose.


By strength is meant the ability of the wood to resist crushing, or pulling or breaking apart. This is another very important characteristic in selecting wood for such purposes as kitchen chairs. In general, hard woods are stronger than soft.


By toughness is meant a wood's ability to bend without breaking. This characteristic is known as resiliency, a most useful property, and especially desirable in handles.

The hard woods are about three times as tough as the soft. Among the hard woods the hickory is the toughest. This is the reason why hickory supplies the wood for more than two-fifths of all handles made. (See "Hickory", below.)

Among the soft woods pine is the toughest, and the alpine fir the least tough.


This characteristic is the resistance which a stick offers to a force which tends to change its shape.

Soft woods, in comparison with their weight, are stiffer than hard.

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