• The ABCs of Wood – Picking just the right wood for cabinets, furniture, accents and other projects.

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    Gail O'Rourke
    Gail O'Rourke (founder/owner of White Wood Kitchens) provides quality cabinets, expert design and full scope project management from concept to completion for any project. Gail comes alongside you to help bring your kitchen redesign efforts those final crucial steps that help bring your home to life.
    Gail O'Rourke

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    The ABCs of Wood

    Picking just the right wood for cabinets, furniture, accents and other projects.

    Looking for unique design elements to set your home apart from everyone else? The answer often is the choice of wood. The selection of wood for cabinets, furniture, flooring and other woodwork can make a house distinctively attractive and inviting.

    Try venturing beyond the usual woods such as oak, maple and hickory to give the home a one-of-a-kind look. Consider specialty wood species that range from bubinga and jatoba to padauk, yellowheart, wenge and zebrawood.

    Using different wood types can add color and interest. Varieties of wood inlays are seen in a compass rose, a family crest or other design that is set into a hardwood floor or countertop.

    Some imported woods are expensive and therefore are used sparingly for accents and inlays, but others may cost as little as 30 percent more than conventional woods. Examples include:

    • Bubinga, a reddish wood, used for inlays, turnings and other specialty purposes
    • Jatoba or Brazilian cherry, one of the hardest woods in the world, for use as a custom cutting board
    • Macacauba or Brazilian monkey wood, used for furniture
    • Padauk, an unusual red or orange colored wood that will turn brown over time, for various woodworking projects
    • Purpleheart, a deep purple color, used for decorative pieces such as a jewelry box
    • Spanish cedar, rot resistant and good for outdoor furniture
    • Yellowheart, yellow in color rather than purple, also used for color accents
    • Wenge, a dark hardwood, expensive but sometimes used for flooring
    • Zebrawood, with black and white stripes, for decorative inlays

    “Many people are looking for one-of-a-kind designs,” according to Gail O’Rourke of White Wood Kitchens, a kitchen designer, project manager and former cabinet maker. “What sets you apart, when you are seeking out something with a little more uniqueness, is your choice of wood. You can do something tasteful with different wood accents and still not be too much out of your comfort zone.”

    Wood cabinets

    White painted cabinets and black granite countertops are long-time favorites in the kitchen. But to stand out from the crowd, homeowners can choose a wood type and color stain in almost endless combinations.

    Probably the most popular wood for cabinets has been oak, known for its wide, open grain that shows through almost any stain color and gives the look of a country setting.  Hickory, also used in country settings, is a strong brown wood.

    More formal settings call for cherry, an elegant but more expensive wood with  a naturally deeper color than oak. In some settings, a cherry stain applied to oak wood might give kitchen cabinets a richer look.

    Maple is known for its smooth, even grain and easily can be painted.

    Ash and birch are lighter colored woods and often give a more contemporary look.

    Pine cabinets are in less demand today than in the past, because pine is softer, knottier and  can be dented.  Typically softer wood is less desirable for cabinet making.

    A note about the cabinet box: Backs and sides of cabinets often are made of composite or synthetic materials such as plywood. These could have a wood veneer applied to the outside. But cabinet fronts and doors usually are solid wood or a wood veneer .

    Hardwoods such as cherry, hickory, mahogany and oak and are among the most stable and durable materials for cabinets, to minimize expansion, contraction and warping due to changes in temperature and humidity. They have moderate levels of moisture-resistance, and can withstand normal wear and tear.

    Wood flooring A-Z

    With floors as well as cabinets, the choice of wood can add style and warmth to a home. Up to 50 of  species of domestic and imported woods are available locally: from ash to cork to teak to white oak and imports such as bubinga, purple heart and wenge.

    Solid wood floors include ash, birch, cherry, hickory and oak in dozens of different finishes. There is distressed wood and hand-scraped wood. You can have high gloss, medium gloss and low gloss.

    Many woods come factory-finished so there is little dust, noise and odor associated with finishing wood floors after they are installed in your home.

    For a beach feel, popular on Cape Cod, hardwood floors come in light shades with wide planks and hand scraping. Ash and maple are lighter colored woods.  Hickory and oak are medium colored,  though they can be stained darker. Naturally darker woods include stately and refined cherry.

    One trend for kitchen floors is bamboo, which blends style and durability. Though technically a grass, bamboo is as hard as many types of wood. Bamboo comes in planks in a variety of sizes, colors, patterns and textures.

    Along with solid wood, engineered wood floor planks are manufactured in a huge variety of colors and styles, made with a real wood veneer over a composite wood base. Engineered wood is made in styles from contemporary to antique. Engineered wood is distinct from laminate floors, or floating floors, which are made from synthetic  materials fused together in a lamination process.

    For older houses, existing solid wood floors also can be refinished at a fraction of the cost of installing a new floor.


    National Kitchen and Bath Association, www.nkba.org
    National Wood Flooring Association, www.woodfloors.org
    The Encyclopedia of Wood by the U.S. Department of Agriculture
    The Real Wood Bible: The Complete Illustrated Guide to Choosing and Using 100 Decorative Woods by Nick Gibbs

    November 20, 2013