Wood product education: Beautiful by nature

lots of wood details in this house

Softwoods, hardwoods or man-made wood products each beautifully sustainable. Understanding the different categories and options, how material grading works, wood certification and why wood is an environmentally friendly option.

talk like a pro-wood products 101

wood categories- Mother Nature is leading 2 to 1

Hardwoods- typically cut from trees like Oak, Maple, Cherry and Ash. These deciduous trees typically produce fruit or nuts and drop leaves in the winter. The tight grain of Hardwood makes it a favorite product for producing quality furniture, cabinets, mill work and flooring. The natural grain and texture of hardwood makes stain a common finish. Try and convince a traditionalist to paint hardwood, that's when the fight will begin!

Softwoods- are those woods cut from conifer trees like Cedar, Douglas Fir, Juniper, Pine, Spruce and Redwood. The largest use of softwood in North America is for lumber as it grows straight and tall at a very fast rate. The low cost of softwood has helped to grow popularity in the furniture industry. 

Logger cutting tree trunk, Cameroon
  • Canada and the United States; known as the world’s largest trading partners and share the longest boarder between two nations have been battling over the softwood lumber for 36 years. One third of softwood lumber used in the United States is harvested from Canadian forests.

Made by humans- Manufactured wood products is a category that covers wood products which are naturally grown but processed by peeing or chipping the logs and connects them together through heat, pressure and adhesives for a specific end use. Manufactured wood products are considered more environmentally friendly as often the entire tree is used, although the processing and adhesives may diminish any “environmentally friendly” gains achieved through utilization.

    Structural Products- Lumber

    paralam for construction
    • glulam (glued laminated timber) used for structural posts and columns.
    • LVL (laminated veneer lumber) used for structural posts and columns
    • PSL (parallel strand lumber) used for structural posts and studs
    • I-Joists used as a replacement for floor joists or roof rafters.

    Structural Products- Panels

    • Plywood, is one of the first manufactured wood products, peeled wood layers bonded together with resigns. Plywood has been in use on construction sites since 1928.  
    • OSB (oriented strand board) wood fiber is oriented for performance, used as a sheathing material for walls and floors. OSB has recently been taking over plywood market share.  

    Non Structural products

    • Chipboard, commonly used in furniture, melamine or laminate covered cabinets or counter tops.
    • HDF (high-density firber board/hardboard) Outdoor or high durability conditions.
    • MDF (medium-density fiber board) commonly used in painted millwork applications, this product is cheap, sands and paints well.

    Did you know, fun fact!

    Janka Hardness scale- By measuring the force required to press a steel ball into a wood sample, the Janka scale provides a comparison of hardness for a particular species of wood. To understand the variance of just how hard or soft a wood can be here are three examples;

    • ​Sugar maple common in the north east, has a hardness of 1450 lbf,
    • ​Eastern white pine common in the same area has a hardness of 380 lbf
    • The Austrailian Buloke has a Janka hardness of 5060 lb/ft. making it the hardest wood on earth. Imagine trying to work with this piece of wood!

    understanding wood grades and grade stamps

    For most DIY projects hardwood and softwood grades mean very little especially in specialty applications and mill work projects. Grade stamps are commonly for industrial purposes as a means of communication on what they can expect to see when product arrives. When it comes to you as a end consumer, appearance, dimension and price will be the key motivations to make a purchase. 

    When it comes time purchase hardwoods especially if it is a large quantity or a project that requires quality materials, search out a wood specialty store. These stores specialize in quality and can typically provide precision cutting and planer services. The variety of species is typically outstanding along with the knowledge to guide your choices.

    When it comes to dimensional lumber and grade stamps again the industry has developed these to help facilitate communication and quality control between buyer and purchaser not for the consumer in mind. Grade stamps are required by building code for all dimensional lumber used in wood construction in North America. 

    Grading Categories

    Common Uses

    Select Structural

    Exposed framing, kitchen walls, tall walls

    No. 1 and No. 2

    General framing/quality construction

    Standard and Better

    Light framing applications-basements or mechanical framing


    Wall framing, not for appearance

    Economy or Utility

    Wood pallets, blocking and bridging or build-out applications.

    The grade stamps provide five different pieces of information and should be on every piece of lumber. 

    wood grade stamps
    1. The moisture content
    • KD (kiln dried) meaning the product has less than 19% moisture content.
    • S-grn (surfaced green) moisture content is greater than 19%.
    • S-dry (surfaced dry) moisture content is greater than 19% both S-grn and S-dry should be carefully stored as moisture will affect dimensions.
    • HT (heat treated) this is material that has been prepared to
    2. Species of wood
    • S-P-F is the most typical and stands for spruce, pine or fur
    3. Grade designation,
    • No 2 or better, Stud or economy are typical markings
    4. Mill name or number
    5. Certifying Agency,
    • This is commonly a trademark name so look for the trademark symbol.

    Pressure Treated grade stamps

    Not all pressure treated wood is created equal nor designed to be used in the same conditions.

    • UC2 is the lowest grade and although protected from weather can be damaged by moisture, best for interior applications.
    • UC3B is best for decking, railings and fences and is designed for prolonged moisture.
    • UC4A is designed for full moisture to include contact with ground like with fence posts.

    Buy certified wood products-it’s for the environment!

    sustainable forest initiative quinju.com

    The FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) and SFI (Sustainable Forest Initiative) are some of the more known certification organizations that conduct third party certification ensuring that the forests are managed correctly considering replanting, water quality, biodiversity, worker’s rights and wildlife are considered.

    As consumers continue to demand certified wood products suppliers will certainly make the product more available. Wood is such an incredible building material, let’s ensure this resource is managed correctly.


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