Northern Elm) is traditionally the most common softwood used
in the manufacture of furniture in Northern China. The sapwood
tends to be yellowish-brown in tone, whereas the heartwood
is typically more of a chestnut brown color; both possess
a striking, wave-like grain. This wood dries with difficulty,
and is of medium density and hardness, making it an excellent
medium for furniture manufacture.
Elm wood is used in many
Chinese furniture pieces for its durability and wide grain.
Light yellow to brown color.
occurs in the camphor laurel, Cinnamomum camphora, common
in China, Taiwan, and Japan.
Camphor is used in Chinese
furnishings not only for its beautiful grain, but also because
it acts similar to cedar in deterring moths (hence its wide
use in storage trunks.)
One of the oldest spices,
Chinese cinnamon (cassia), is produced in the bark of C.
cassia. Another species is used medicinally and in the manufacture
Southern Elm was a popular
furniture-making wood in the Suzhou region. It is distinguished
from its northern counterpart by a more refined ring porous
structure that is apparent in the tangential surface, and
by small medullary rays that are visible as fine reflective
flecks across the radial surface. Southern Elm is also comparatively
denser and stronger.
Southern Elm is widely
distributed throughout China with concentrations found in
Jiangsu, Zhejiang, and Anhui provinces as well as Korea
and Japan, where it is commonly known as keyaki. The arbor
reaches 30 meters in height and the trunk, 1.5 meter in
The sapwood is distinguished
from the slightly darker heartwood, which varies in tonality
from yellowish brown to coffee-brown. Jiangsu craftsmen
traditionally divide jumu into three types: yellow ju (huangju),
red ju (hongju), and blood ju (xueju). Factors including
the age of the tree are thought to account for these variations
in color as well as ranging densities (63-.79 g/cm3). Blood
ju, with a reddish-brown coffee color as well as some feathery
like figure in the tangential surface, is the most highly
and even grained with a medium to fine texture. Creamy white
to pale brown color, heartwood indistinguishable from sapwood.
Light and soft with low
strength, shock resistance, and decay resistance.
Works fairly easily with
hand or machine tools. Glues, screws, nails, stains, paints,
and varnishes well.
Used primarily for general
construction, as well as boxes, crates, sash, doors, trim,
plywood, and pulpwood.
||Cypress is distributed throughout
warm-temperate and subtropical regions of Asia, Europe, and
North America. Their bark is sometimes smooth, but in most
species it separates into thin plates or strips that may be
shed from the tree. The bark is usually aromatic.
This tree grows at the
edges of swamps or streams, and its roots form natural crooks
above the water. The crooks are frequently used in the construction
of wooden boats.
The wood is light yellow
to light brown, and is very resistant to rot and decay.
literally translated as 'chicken-wing wood', describes a wood
whose deep brown and gray patterns when cut tangentially resemble
the patterns of bird feathers. The radial cut appears less
dramatically with parallel lines of concentric layered tissue.
It is botanically classified in the Ormosia genus of which
as many as twenty-six species may grow in China. Jichimu is
indigenous to Hainan Island, and the relatively large quantity
of jichimu furniture found in Fujian province also corresponds
to a source where seven different species are reportedly found
today, and whose materials are virtually undifferentiated,
yet bear varying leaf patterns. Hongdou (red bean), and xiangsi
may also be other names for related species.
||Walnut was used
for many examples of Qing period furniture sourced from the
Shanxi region, which generally demonstrate refined workmanship;
earlier pieces are extremely rare. Walnut is easily confused
with nanmu, however, the surface of walnut tends to have more
of an open-grained texture, and the color tends more towards
golden-brown or reddish-brown when contrasted with the olive-brown
tones of nanmu. Furthermore, their freshly worked surfaces
each emit a distinctive fragrance.
China has several species
of walnut that produce timber suited for high-quality furniture-making.
True Walnut (J. regia L.) is generally cultivated in the
north and northwestern regions, but also extends into the
southwestern provinces. It is a deciduous tree reaching
20 meters in height that produces an edible nut that can
be pressed into a high-quality vegetable oil. The light-colored
sapwood is clearly distinguishable from the heartwood, the
latter being reddish-brown too chestnut-brown in color,
and sometimes even purplish, or with darker striated patterning.
It dries very slowly, but is quite stable afterwards. It
is of medium density (±62 g/cm3) and has a relatively
Because True Walnut is
generally cultivated for its fruit rather than timber, Manchurian
Walnut (J. mandsharica M.) is often used in its place. It
is distributed throughout the northern to northeastern forests
of China. It is somewhat lower in density (±.53 g/cm3)
than True Walnut, and somewhat lighter in color. Wild Walnut
(J. cathayensis) is distributed throughout central-to-eastern
China, with noted concentrations in Yunnan province.
The dark, fine-grained
wood of English and black walnuts is used for furniture,
panelling, and gunstocks. It's tough wood has a medium
density and straight grain.
best ebony is very heavy, almost black, and derived from heartwood
only. Because of its color, durability, hardness, and ability
to take a high polish, ebony is used for cabinetwork and inlaying,
piano keys, knife handles, and turned articles.
It was employed by the
ancient kings of India for sceptres and images and, because
of its supposed antagonism to poison, for drinking cups.Herodotus
states that the Ethiopians every three years sent a tribute
of 200 logs of ebony to Persia.
Its closeness of grain,
great hardness, and fine hazel-brown colour, mottled and
striped with black, render it valuable for veneering and
||Birch has smooth,
resinous, varicoloured or white bark, marked by horizontal
pores (lenticels), which usually peels horizontally in thin
sheets, especially on young trees. On older trunks the thick,
deeply furrowed bark breaks into irregular plates.
It is one of the toughest
American woods, with fine grain and pleasing light tone
similar to maple. Birch can offer a variety of grain patterns
(straight, curly, and wavy) and can be stained to resemble
walnut or mahogany.
Birch trees of the family's
representative genus produce close-grained wood of uniform
texture that is used in furniture, flooring, plywood, and
veneers. It has a medium brown heartwood with a light cream
Chinese term huanghuali literally means "yellow flowering
pear" wood. It is a member of the rosewood family and is botanically
classified as Dalbergia odorifera. In premodern times the
wood was know as huali or hualu. The modifier huang (yellowish-brown)
was added in the early twentieth century to describe old huali
wood whose surfaces had mellowed to a yellowish tone due to
long exposure to light. The sweet fragrance of huali distinguishes
it from the similar appearing but pungent-odored hongmu.
The finest huanghuali has
a translucent shimmering surface with abstractly figured
patterns that delight the eye--those appearing like ghost
faces were highly prized. The color can range from reddish-brown
to golden-yellow. Historical references point to Hainan
Island as the main source of huali. However, variations
in the color, figure, and density suggest similar species
sourced throughout North Vietnam, Guangxi, Indochina and
the other isles of the South China Sea.
||Nanmu and nanmu burl (douban
nan) were frequently mentioned as materials par excellence
in Ming literati writings. The former was often used for cabinet
construction; the latter, for decorative cabinet door and
table top panels as well as smaller scholar's objects.
Nanmu is a large, slow
growing tree of the evergreen laurel family that develops
with a long straight trunk ranging from 10-40 meters in
height, and 50 to 100 cm in diameter. While sharing some
characteristics with the coniferous cedar, it bears no botanical
relationship. More than thirty varieties are found south
of the Yangzi River with concentrations in the southwest;
varieties are also indigenous to Hainan Island and Vietnam.
Zhennan (True Nanmu) from
Sichuan and Guizhou, zinan (Purple Nanmu) from the southeastern
and south-central regions, and hongmaoshan nan (Hongmao
Mountain Nanmu) from Hainan Island are generally considered
to produce the finest timber. These wood ranges in color
from a warm olive-brown color to a reddish-brown color.
Other species of nanmu with a coarse, loosely structured
grain and lighter color are considered inferior.
Because it is highly resistant
to decay, nanmu was frequently used for architectural woodworking
and boat-building. The wood dries well with minimal warping
or splitting after which it is dimensionally stable and
of medium density (zhennan .61 g/cm3). Nanmu also emits
a pungent fragrance when freshly worked. And because it
polishes to a shimmering surface and has fine smooth texture,
it was also prized as furniture-making wood. Shimmering
characteristics also qualify that which is termed 'jinsi'
(golden-thread) nanmu. The burl of nanmu (douban nan) was
also commonly featured in table and cabinet door
named redwood or hongmu. A dense, hard and comparatively stable
material for furniture, which produces a color absorption
result over others. Frequently called Suen Dzee (or Suan Zhi
in mandarin) by the southern craftsmen, its wood grain percentage
is higher than most comparables. It can be stained to a rich
and dark brown lustre, enhanced even more through maturing.
Availability is firm, though price is escalating. There are
three different colors for blackwood : the pale, the red and
the black. Within them, pale blackwood displays a grain very
similar to Huang-Huali. Wood sample depicted here is pale
blackwood, which is the one we use most.
Just to be cautious, some
people regard hongmu as a broad range of wood types, including
even rosewood, while certain retailers say that hongmu is
a type of wood inferior to rosewood and blackwood, so always
ask for the specific meaning when they use the term "hongmu".
Mahogany is also called
Hongmu in China which is one of the most popular wood
types for furniture making and panelling in the US for its
color and grain, and is also used in Chinese cabinets and
desks for it's beauty and durability.
||Rosewood is a
deep, ruddy brown to purplish-brown colour, richly streaked
and grained with black resinous layers. It takes a fine polish
but because of its resinous nature is difficult to work. The
heartwood attains large dimensions, but squared logs or planks
are never seen because before the tree arrives at maturity,
the heartwood begins to decay, making it faulty and hollow
at the centre.
Once much in demand by
cabinetmakers and piano makers, the wood is still used to
fashion xylophone bars, but waning supplies restrict its
use in contemporary furniture making.
tree and roots contain a yellow aromatic oil, called sandalwood
oil, the odor of which persists for years in such articles
as ornamental boxes, furniture, and fans made of the white
Sandalwood trees have been
cultivated since antiquity for their yellowish heartwood,
which plays a major role in many Oriental funeral ceremonies
and religious rites.
The trees are slow growing,
usually taking about 30 years for the heartwood to reach
an economically useful thickness.
Zitan is an extremely dense
wood which sinks in water. It is a member of the rosewood
family and is botanically classified in the Pterocarpus
genus. The wood is blackish-purple to blackish-red in color,
and its fibers are laden with deep red pigments which have
been used for dye since ancient times. The fine texture
of the wood grain is especially suitable for intricate carving.
Early records indicate
that zitan was sourced in tropical forests of southern China,
throughout Indochina, and from Hainan Island. The tree grows
quite slowly. Few pieces are known to be greater than one
foot in width. While the tree has been considered to be
extinct, new sources have been discovered in Indo-China
as well as Southeast Asia over the recent years.
||Teak timber is
valued in warm countries principally for its extraordinary
durability. In India and in Burma, beams of the wood in good
preservation are often found in buildings many centuries old,
and teak beams have lasted in palaces and temples more than
1,000 years. The timber is practically imperishable under
Teakwood is used for shipbuilding,
fine furniture, door and window frames, wharves, bridges,
cooling-tower louvres, flooring, panelling, railway cars,
and venetian blinds. An important property of teak is its
extremely good dimensional stability. It is strong, of medium
weight, and of average hardness. Termites eat the sapwood
but rarely attack the heartwood; it is not, however, completely
resistant to marine borers.
of 11 species of trees in the genus Catalpa (family Bignoniaceae),
native to eastern Asia, eastern North America, and the West
Indies. Catalpas have large, attractive leaves and showy,
white, yellowish, or purplish flowers. The catalpa fruit is
a long cylindrical pod bearing numerous seeds with white tufts
of hair at each end.
The common catalpa is C.
bignonioides, which yields a durable timber and is one of
the most widely planted ornamental species.
||Also called Yingmu
(Literally means shadow wood) or Huamu , got its name with
its cloudy and curly looking grains resembling bud formations.
Grown on the root or trunk of any trees, in oval lump shape
or twisted knots, just like tumor. It is a natural insulation
material. Some use it for smoking pipes and decorative components.
Burl wood is usually available in planking less than 8mm thick.
Length is almost always under 90cm, and width lower than 40cm.
Supply of the old burl wood, taken from panels removed from
demolished houses, is diminishing by time.
grained, sometimes with a bird's eye pattern, and with a medium
coarse texture. Typically has prominent dark resin duct lines
and numerous small but sound knots. Light reddish brown heartwood
and wide, nearly white to pale yellow sapwood.
Light and soft with low
strength and shock resistance, moderately low stiffness,
low decay resistance, poor steam bending, and good stability
Works fairly well with
machine or hand tools although resin can gum-up cutters.
Planes, turns, moulds, routs, bores, and mortises very well.
Glues, nails and screws easily with a low tendency to split.
Paints and finishes fairly well although a sealer coat may
be needed to handle resin bleed-out, especially near knots.
||Although furniture made
from oak is somewhat rare, the material has long been known
as an excellent furniture-making wood. The variety known as
gaoli was used in the Yongzheng (1723-1735) Imperial workshops,
and earlier examples have also survived. Botanists have identified
one hundred forty types of oaks widely distributed throughout
China. These are divided into the evergreen Qingfeng group
and the Mali group, the latter inclusive of both deciduous
and evergreen varieties. Three species suited for furniture-making
are noted below.
The Blue Japanese Oak (C.
glauca) is widely distributed from Japan to India and commonly
reaches heights of 20 meters with trunk diameters of one
meter. The sapwood and heartwood are not clearly distinguished
and range from grayish-yellow to grayish-brown with streaks
of brown or red. The material is difficult to dry and not
easy to work, however, it is extremely dense (±.90 g/cm3)
and hard. Distinctive medullary rays appear in the tangential
surface as short dark lines; in the radial surface, they
appear as lustrous flecks woven through the longitudinal
grain. The Sawtooth Oak (Q. acutissima) is also broadly
distributed throughout China. With the exception of its
reddish-brown heartwood, other characteristics are similar
to the Blue Japanese Oak.
The somewhat less dense
(.67-.75 g/cm3) Mongolian Oak (Q. mongolica) grows throughout
north central and northeastern China, and is found from
stretching westward through Japan , Korea, Mongolia, and
Siberia. A similar species of growing in the Xing'anling
region of Mongolia has been related to that commonly termed
gaoli mu---Gaoli being a Chinese reference to ancient Korea.
wood is often confused with jichimu, yet lacks the latter's
contrasting colors. Tieli is predominantly grayish black,
and its open grain has a coarse texture. It once grew abundant
in Guangdong where its large timbers were used for bridges
and house construction; on Hainan Island the natives used
it for firewood. Nevertheless, in the more northern regions
its was regarded as a rare hardwood and was noted for as a
desirable wood for furniture-making in late Ming texts. Furniture
made from tieli often has a thick quality and is frequently
with little or no carved decoration.
Very precious woods such as Huang
hua li, teakwood, tieli or jichimu were imported from the southern
Asia countries today known as Burma, Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia.
These tropical weather type woods have been imported into China
for more than 2000 years. During the Ming and Qing Dynasties,
wealthy inland provinces like Shanxi would deliver these woods
by river barge.
Oakwood grows in the northern
part of China and Korea, hence the name Gaoli mu ('Korean Wood').
Zuomu is from Liaoning and Jilin, formerly Manchuria. Native Chinese
woods are primarily Elmwood, Beechwood, Pine and Fir, with some
Mahogany and Walnut.
Poorer provinces developed the
lacquer technique to copy the dark color and style of the Zitan,
or dark red Sandlewood, furniture. Lacquered furniture became
very popular and eventually overtook the importance of the original
wood grain; we sometimes find beautiful natural wood under old
worn-off lacquer. Shanxi province developed the best quality lacquer
furniture, especially during the reign of Emperor Qian Long (1760
- 1795), and can now be found in the Forbidden City and the Summer
The Southern provinces used bright
red lacquer for decoration and wedding cabinets, red being the
color of marriage. The often used it to cover bamboo and soft
woods like pine, fir and willow.