Why I Don’t Have a Favorite Wood To Work With

For several years, I made post and rung chairs in the greenwood tradition, where the legs had some moisture content in them still from the tree. The stretchers were super dry. For that type of construction, the ideal combination is either red maple or sugar maple for the legs, and hickory for the stretchers. Either wood for the slats was fine.

The reason that those two were a great choice is the maple had a resilience that allowed the leg to deform as it shrank around the exact shape of the rung. It had a way of giving and clamping back down as the wood changed moisture content, and it didn’t let go of the rung. The rung, as hickory, had enough hardness to resist the crushing of the green wood as it shrank. It could hold its shape so that the green wood could deform around it. That was a wonderful combination of two things, plus the maple turned well and shaved well for legs, and hickory, if it’s split, was a great shaving wood for the rungs.

As I got into working with other woods, cherry, walnut, and even oak and ash, it seemed that the wide range of densities and strengths required rethinking of the joinery. If you look closely at some of my newer designs, you’ll notice that the joinery is considerably more massive, and that is to take better advantage of the properties of cherry and walnut. Maple, oak, ash, hickory all work fine as post and rung construction, but to get into more contemporary forms, I wanted to eliminate a lot of the busyness of the undercarriage that the post and rungs have. I also wanted to play more with other forms for back and seat, and even arm shapes. I also wanted to have designs that allowed me to use the wood that I wanted from an aesthetic standpoint. That meant usually larger, more massive joinery than traditional post and rung, which didn’t really require hickory but greatly benefited from hickory in the rungs.

When I made a cherry rocking chair that was a post and rung, I would always use either oak and hickory in the seat, in the seat stretchers, the visible stretchers. Our clients wanted to have matching wood, so I would use cherry or walnut there, whatever the frame was made out of.

For tables, I’ll select a different log, but I like all of the woods. We try to get at least a symmetrical two board pattern and book-match two boards. Or if it’s four boards, we’ll match it in such a way that it flows across the table as a symmetrical picture, even if it’s four boards.

I love all the wood types, and it’s not that there’s one wood type that stands out above the others. Sometimes there is one wood that really shines particularly well for a particular project, and it’s not just species. It may be a specific log that’s just the right one to work with.