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UK Hardwood

Ash - (Fraxinus excelsior)

 Ash - Fraxinus excelsiorAsh - Fraxinus excelsior 2

A native English species and one of the commonest and most beloved trees in the UK. When dried it is one of the toughest hardest native hardwoods available as it absorbs shocks without splintering. It’s flexibility, straight and coarse grain pattern has made it the wood of choice for furniture makers and specialist craftspeople who make, tools, sports equipment etc.


The sap wood of ash is indistinguishable from the heartwood which ranges in colour from pale cream to light straw, with occasional small black mineral streaks.


The flat cut boards are particularly attractive because of their unusual flowery patterns while the straight grained centre boards although less visually appealing, are prized for their workability and bending capacity.


Ash trees will often develop a barrel of darker ‘olive’ coloured wood around their heart, which in older trees can develop to become a large proportion of the heartwood, which is highly desirable because of its decorative properties.


Key Uses

Interior - Furniture making

Utility - Boatbuilding, sports equipment, tool handles



Excellent strong timber


Key Characteristics

Type - Temperate hardwood

Other names - Common ash

Alternatives - Hickory (Carya species), English oak (Quercus robur), elm (Ulmus hollandica)

Sources - Europe

Colour - Pale white to cream 

Texture - Coarse and open-grained

Grain - Straight with a distinctive grain pattern

Hardness - Hard

Weight - Medium to heavy (700 kg/m³)

Seasoning and Stability - Fine but watch out for end splits

Wastage - Low, very little sapwood

Range and board width – Good

Range of board thickness - Good availability of all

Durability - Needs regular care if outside, excellent internal durability

Milling - Can chip, but the grain is rarely interlocking and tends to be straight, so you can usually find a way to cut and plane successfully

Shaping - Make shallow cuts, as the grain can tear if you try to remove too much stock in one go. Takes a good edge with sharp tools

Assembly - Will not bruise but will not give very much. Distinctive grain pattern and range of colour can make it difficult to hide joins when planking up panels

Finishing - Takes most clear finishes well

Variations - Olive or brown colouring is often seen in older trees. Some rippled ash is available, especially as veneer

Availability and cost - It is easy to find and the cost is relatively low. Wastage is not particularly high, although you must watch out for end splits


Beech and Spalted Beech - (Fagus sylvatica)

A versatile wood which machines, glues, turns and finishes well, and responds brilliantly to steam-bending. It can have a large amount of movement, so movement and wood stability must be considered


Beech’s strength, hardness, wear-resistance and excellent bending capabilities along with its low price, make this hardwood a favourite for many woodworkers. 


Beech is one of the most common timbers to spalt. Spalting is a term used to describe the process by which certain fungi grow on dead or fallen trees, leaving an attractive pattern.


Key Uses

Interior - furniture, cabinet making, plywood

Veneer - Yes

Joinery - flooring, turned objects

Utility – Boatbuilding, musical instruments



Consistent grain, easy to use, very strong


Key Characteristics

Type - Temperate hardwood shaping, takes an edge very well

Other names - English beech

Sources - Europe

Colour - Light brown with a pinkish hue

Texture - Consistent and close-grained

Hardness - Hard

Weight - Medium to heavy (45 lb/ ft 3)

Strength - Very strong, good for steam bending

Seasoning and Stability - Needs to be seasoned well

Range and board width - Good

Range of board thickness - Good with thick stock available

Durability - Needs preservative for external use 

Milling - Very simple, the grain is straight and easy to work.

Assembly - Glues easily and is neither too hard nor too soft

Finishing - Takes any finish evenly and is often painted 

Variations - Grain is straight, with a fine to medium uniform texture. Very smooth when sanded

Sustainability - European beech is under attack from grey squirrels who strip the bark from the trees, but it is not a threatened species. Some certified lumber is available

Availability and cost - Easy to buy and one of the cheapest temperate hardwoods at nearly half the cost of oak or cherry




English Oak - (Quercus robur)

English Oak - Quercus RoburEnglish Oak - Quercus Robur 2    English Oak - Quercus Robur 3English Oak - Quercus Robur 4English Oak - Quercus Robur 5English Oak - Quercus Robur 6

(Quarter Cut- Highly Figured)

English oak is renowned for its beautiful dynamic grain, distinctive medullary rays and wavy patterning. Being stable and strong the wood has wild flames of grain and is used in all forms of decorative woodwork. Popular with turners for its colour, grain and unusual texture. English oak is still widely used for traditional house building, especially when green and unseasoned.


Key Uses

Interior - Structure, stairs, flooring – All parts of building

Veneer - All forms

Joinery - Fine furniture, carving, framing – Ubiquitous

Utility - Many uses when green, coppicing



Distinctive colour and grain pattern, strong, firm and durable, dense, tough timber


Heavy to handle, complex grain  – Fantastic versatile timber in use for millennia


Key Characteristics

Type - Deciduous broad leaf

Other names - European oak

Sources - All our oak is sourced from Staffordshire

Colour - Light yellow brown to deep dark chocolate

Texture - Quite coarse if not handled well

Hardness - Very hard

Weight - Medium to heavy (720-750 kg /m³)

Strength - High

Seasoning and Stability - Needs great care in drying – we are the experts

Wastage - Can be high with inexperienced handling

Range and board width - Large range of stock

Range of board thickness - From traditional thinner joinery stock to massive beams

Durability - Excellent – so good we used to build all our ships from this king and queen of timbers

Milling - Needs care not to catch divergent grain

Shaping - Takes an edge beautifully for moulding and panelling, holds fine detail well

Assembly - Glues well and tight joints are relatively easy to cut. Water-based adhesives can tarnish the surface if in contact with steel clamps. Tannin based acid in the oak causes steel screws or nails to corrode so use brass or alloy fittings

Finishing - Beautiful and easy to finish with oil, wax, shellac polishes, polyurethane or lacquers. Open-grain wood is rarely filled, but English oak stains well for colour or just to darken it a little

Variations - Quarter sawn oak is traditionally used for cabinet construction. Burl oak is popular with turners and a veneer for furniture and cabinetwork. The infection by a wide range of fungi creates stunning dark timbers, such as the highly sought brown oak

Sustainability - All our oak is grown under continuous cover management; some of our ancient trees will never be felled as we love and appreciate their splendour and huge contribution to biodiversity

Availability and cost - Good English oak can be expensive and wastage rates can be high, but the dimensions and uniformity of our stock ensures we produce high yielding boards


Sweet Chestnut - (Castanea sativa)




The timber is not to be confused with the horse chestnut or the conker tree found in the UK. It grows throughout Europe and bears some resemblance to oak. Some old trees might have some spiral grain but generally, it is straight with a coarse uneven texture.


Its colour is likely to be a light to medium brown, darkening to a reddish-brown with age. Narrow sapwood is well-defined and is pale white to light brown.


Overall, it’s a good timber to use when working on a machine or with hand tools, as it also stains and finishes well.


Key Uses

Interior - Furniture, staircases

Veneer - Yes

Joinery - Internal Joinery

Utility - Coffins, casks, coppice crafts



Grain usually straight but sometimes spiralling



Doesn't season easily


Key Characteristics

Type - Temperate hardwood

Other names - European or Spanish chestnut

Sources - Europe and the Asian part of Turkey

Colour - The heartwood ranges from straw-coloured to brown

Texture - Coarse

Hardness - Hard

Weight - Weight medium, but much lighter than oak (540 kg/m³)

Strength -Moderate

Seasoning and Stability - Liable to checks, splits and honeycombing, and generally slow and difficult to season. Once seasoned it doesn’t move much.

Wastage - Potentially high 

Range and board width - Good

Range of board thickness - Should be good

Durability - Medium, but some insects attack it and the heartwood won’t take preservative

Milling - Fine, it should not tear excessively and will not dull tools

Shaping - Hard enough to take a good edge or profile

Assembly - Good and glues well

Finishing - Can be polished to a good lustre

Variations - Though it can be used for decorative veneer, Spanish chestnut is used largely as secondary lumber, an alternative to oak. Its most common use is for coffins

Sustainability - There are more common hardwoods in Europe, but as the Sweet chestnut is valued for its nuts, its future should not be under threat. 

Availability and cost - Spanish chestnut is not widely available, but neither is it expensive for a hardwood





Sycamore - Acer pseudoplatanus


Acer pseudoplatanus, known as the sycamore in the United Kingdom and the Sycamore maple in the United States. Sycamore is native to central, eastern and southern Europe. It is thought to have been introduced to the UK by the Romans. However, other reports suggest it was introduced to the UK in the Tudor era around the 1500s. More widespread planting occurred in the 1700s and the earliest reports of the species naturalising in the UK date from the mid-1800s.


The seed is extremely fertile, so sycamore has spread quickly across the UK and colonised many woodlands to the detriment of native species.


Sycamore tends to be used for veneer, plywood, interior trim, pallets/crates, flooring, furniture, particleboard, paper (pulpwood), tool handles, and other turned objects.


The sapwood is white to light tan, while the main wood is a darker reddish brown. Sycamore also has a very distinct freckled appearance. It has a fine and even texture that is very similar to maple. The grain is interlocked.


Overall, sycamore works easily with both hand and machine tools, though the interlocked grain can be troublesome in surfacing and machining operations at times. 



Key Uses

Interior - Decorative furniture making

Veneer – Flooring, cabinetmaking turning

Joinery - General joinery

Utility - Interior trim, kitchen, utensils


Inexpensive, even, fine texture, subtle figure


Bland, softer than other pale woods


Key Characteristics

Type - Temperate hardwood 

Other names - European sycamore, Sycamore maple

Alternatives - Butternut (Juglans cinerea)

Other Names - American whitewood (Lfriodendron tulipffera), sycamore (Platanus occfdenta/is)

Sources - Europe and Western Asia

Colour - Cream-white

Texture - Fine and even 

Grain - Wavy or straight

Hardness - Medium

Weight - Medium (610 kg/ m³)

Strength - Bends well but not particularly strong

Seasoning and stability - Can stain if seasoned too slowly, with pink-brown colouring. Moves moderately after assembly

Wastage - Low

Range of board widths - Good

Range of board thicknesses - Good, thick boards are available

Milling - Good and tends not to chip or tear

Shaping - Takes a good edge, but it can burn

Assembly - Good and glues well

Finishing - Produces a lovely lustre, though never quite as high as with sugar maple. Takes stain and paint very well

Variations - The rippled, figured and fiddleback cuts are often used as a veneer, sometimes pre-stained, for high-quality joinery, cabinetmaking and interior design

Sustainability - You may be able to find certified lumber; it is perfectly acceptable to use non-certified wood

Availability and Cost - It grows widely and easily across Europe. This wood is not widely available, 

it is relatively easy to obtain from specialist suppliers. It is not a primary lumber and is one of the cheaper hardwoods


Contact Information

If you have questions about any of our Hardwoods please call us on 01785 284718 or email sales@shelmoretimber.co.uk

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