Natural and manufactured timbers

Types of timber-based materials and their uses

Timber comes from trees. Trees have to grow to full maturity (between 25 and 100 years) before they can be cut down for wood.


Hardwoods come from deciduous trees, which have large flat leaves that fall in the autumn. Hardwoods take longer to grow, are not easily sourced and are expensive to buy.

HardwoodPhysical propertiesWorking properties
AshPale coloured, narrow grainFlexible and good for steam bending, tough, used for sports equipment
BeechSlight pink tint, close grainTough, durable and smooth to finish
MahoganyDark-reddish colour, very close grainCuts and polishes easily, gives a fine finish, used for high-quality furniture
OakModerate-brown colour with unique and attractive grain markingsTough and durable, polishes well, used for quality furniture
BalsaPale and wide-spaced grain due to it being a fast-growing hardwoodVery soft and easy to form, often used to make models


Softwoods come from coniferous trees. These often have pines or needles, and they stay evergreen all year round - they do not lose leaves in the autumn. They are faster growing than hardwoods, making them cheaper to buy, and are considered a sustainable material.

SoftwoodPhysical propertiesWorking properties
LarchPale coloured with a contrasting darker grain, knottyDurable, easy to machine, high sap content gives it good water resistance, used for exterior building and flooring
PinePale coloured with aesthetically pleasing grainLightweight, easy to form, used for construction and decking
SprucePale cream with an even grainEasy to form, takes stain colour well, used for construction and furniture

Manufactured board

Manufactured boards are usually made from timber waste and adhesive. To make them more aesthetically pleasing they are often veneered. They are cheap to buy.

Manufactured boardPhysical propertiesWorking properties
Medium-density fibreboard (MDF)Smooth, light brown, can be veneeredSmooth and easy to finish, absorbs moisture so not suitable for outdoor use, used for kitchens and flat pack furniture
PlywoodOdd number of layers of veneer glued at 90 degree angles for strength, aesthetically pleasing outer layerEasy to cut and finish, can be stained or painted, used for shelving, construction and toys
ChipboardCompacted wood chips, laminated with a variety of coverings, end cuts are difficult to finishStrong but absorbent to water, used for veneered worktops and flooring
A stack of three pieces of light plywood boards.
Plywood board