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Got It Made

Outta the Woods: How to ID and Care for the Things That Grow on Trees

Got It Made 07/28/2017

 

Odds are you can’t tell spalted maple from oxidized oak, but your home is filled with the stuff. So wouldn’t it be polite to carve out a little time to learn their proper names and how they prefer to be treated? Brooke Wade, who uses all sorts of woods for her rounded cutting boards, asymmetric serving trays, and hand-carved spoons, is here to help you log some knowledge.

 

Woods to Know

 

MAPLE

“Maple is really popular in mid-century modern furniture—for example, if you’ve seen a Herman Miller Nelson Platform Bench, they’re made from it. And now if you walk into Design Within Reach, or even Ikea, a lot of what you’ll see is maple. It is a very light blond wood, has a beautiful open grain, and is easy to work with—just simple and classic. Some older mid-century pieces will look almost yellow, but it’s because the wood and the finish have aged and been affected by the elements. Raw maple is very blond and pale, and it’s also pretty strong. I typically don’t carve things out of it because I work with dried, cured wood, and it can be hard to get those nice curves out of dried maple.”

 

 

OAK

“There’s white oak and red oak. Red oak is used more for furniture, and white oak is really common for floors because it’s durable. It’s really easy to get it reclaimed in the Northeast because it was used for beams and flooring in factories that are being torn down now. All variations of it have a really open grain, and you can really feel the texture—it will never be totally flat to the touch. Because of that, when it’s stained, it can look like it has black veins in it. But that also makes it versatile because you can fill the grain with a color like pink and it will really show up. Pickling and cerusing are two common treatments for oak right now—they both stain the grain a white or gray that’s popular. Some people really like the smell of oak, but if it’s rotted, it smells truly awful. So I have mixed feelings about that.”

 

CHERRY

“This a classic furniture choice. It is reddish and has a straight grain pattern that gets a little wavy. It also just smells like cherries. I wouldn’t use it in my own furniture now because I think it looks a little old-fashioned, but it is so beautiful and does look more modern with a matte finish. It’s is easy to use because it’s soft and gets an incredibly smooth finish. For that reason, it’s really popular for turning, which is the process of making rounded things like bowls or table legs on a lathe.”

 

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OTHER FRUITWOODS

“A lot of other fruitwoods aren’t grown commercially, so I only use them for one of a kind or custom pieces. I love apple wood—it has huge color variations, between sandy shades and a warm reddish brown like cherry. It also smells smells amazing—very sweet—and finishes satiny. One of the first collections I did was made from some pieces of old apple trees that came from my friends in Michigan where I’m from. I also made a custom board out of mulberry for someone once, and that stuff is crazy. It’s almost ochre in color—a really bright yellow—and it has some nice variation between the light sapwood and the darker hardwood stripes. You can really only get it someone cuts one down in their backyard and gives it to you.”

 

 

 

WALNUT

“Walnut has a nutty smell, of course. It’s a really popular wood, and I personally am a big fan. It’s a rich, chocolate brown throughout, and it’s grown a lot in both the Northeast and Northwest. It can have really unique patterns, almost like a psychedelic look. People are using a lot of brass and bronze in furniture right now, and walnut looks really great with those.”

 

TEAK

“Teak is super oily, which makes it water-resistant and nice to use with kitchen pieces that are going to be washed a lot. But I try to avoid jungle woods for the most part unless I know where they came from: A lot of them are over-cut, and it can be difficult to track if they were harvested ethically. But if I can get my hands on some from a trusted source or that is reused, it’s exciting.”

 

 

 

How to Keep Them All Looking Top-Notch

“You care for almost all species of wood is the same, though it depends on the way the wood has been treated originally. I only use an oil and beeswax finish because most of the things that I make are for use with food. The blend I make is nice because the wax will protect it for about 10 or so washes, and you can buy a version in hardware and home stores—the texture is a paste, almost like a lip balm. Just massage it into the wood using a rag or a paper towel and wipe off the excess. For cutting boards and wooden spoons, it’s good to oil them every month or so. Anytime your piece starts to look a little gray or fuzzy, coat it in oil to pep it back up. If you’re using straight oil, I recommend walnut, linseed, or mineral oil—those are all food-grade options. Don’t use olive or peanut oil because they will go rancid eventually and rot your board. I also tell people who buy my cutting boards to pick the side that they like the best and only to use the opposite one for chopping and cooking so you always have a nice, clean option for serving and presenting.”

 

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