Types of Wood

Dozens of species of trees that were indigenous to China were used for making furniture,although only about fifteen species commonly occur.Regional identity and wood variety often go often made of pine.In Sichuan province ,fine furniture was very often crafted from the red bean tree.Much of the walnut furniture can be attributed to Shanxi China region.However ,luxury hardwood,now coveted by collectors,was generally imported from Thailand and Vietnam.Identification of wood varieties in Chinese furniture is difficult ,in part because wood was classified by visual means and there is no botanical consistency.

Northern elm is yellowish brown in color with a distinctive wave-like grain pattern that resembles oak.The wood is difficult to dry and easily develops cracks,but is quite resistant to decay and easy to work with . There are more than twenty varieties of elm,and it is traditionally the most common softwood used in the production of furniture in northern China.The best timber comes from Japanese elm,which can reach one meter in diameter .

Cypress or cedar wood has a strong fragrance .It is slow to dry but highly resistant to rot and insect damage.It was categorized as“miscellaneous softwood”during the Song dynasty .There are several cypress varieties in China.Weeping cypress from Sichuan province ,which can reach two meters in diameter,is highly regarded for its timber .

Camphor ranges from a yellowish sand color to a warm yellow brown.It is not a popular choice for furniture production because it is easily bruised,but it is frequently used to make storage chests because its distinctive smell makes it resistant to insects.

Walnut looks a little like nanmu but its texture is more open-grained .It was usually soured in Shanxi province and used on pieces with refined workmanship.There are several kinds of walnut.The true walnut,which is cultivated in the north ,is reddish brown with a dark striated pattern.Manchurian walnut ,also found in the north ,has a lower density and is somewhat lighter in color .

Black wood resembles rosewood but lacks its lustrous surface and unusual grain ,There are no early references to hongmu although much of the dark Qing furniture from the south is made of it ,Some varieties are virtually indistinguishable from huanghuali

Chinese locust is similar to northern elm but has a denser grain ,It is a very strong timber that is resistant to dampness and insects,but its grain is unevenly textured and when dried it can develop large cracks

Burl wood is not a variety of wood ,but rather is used to describe the tumor-like growths that bulge from trunks,or branches ,and have a very distinctive grain pattern that resembles round curls.Certain species,such as camphor,elm and nanmu,are susceptible to burl growths.Burl nanmu wood is commonly used for table tops or cabinet doors and not employed for the main structural elements .

Yellow pear wood is considered the king of hardwoods.Prior to 1572,most furniture was made from indigenous softwood.The revision of trade policies in 1572 ,which permitted the importation of exotic timber from Southeast Asia ,established the beginning of the hardwood furniture era.Much surviving furniture from the Ming dynasty and early Qing is made of Yellow pear wood .It was seldom used after the mid-Qing period .This sought-after timber was favored for its color,which ranges from a honey to a purple brown,and its distinctive grain,which mimics the profile of a mountainous landscape.Its density also enabled carpenters to create complex but sturdy joints and fine carving .Yellow pear wood  now only found in parts of Vietnam-came from the genus Dalbergia,a type of tropical rosewood found in North Vietnam and Hainan Island in China .Although use of this wood dates back to the fifth century ,it did not become popular until the mid-Ming dynasty.The wood was originally known simply as “flowering pear ”and the prefix yellow brown was added in the early twentieth century to describe the old flowering pear wood that had a yellowish patina due to aging.

During the Ming and Qing dynasties,no distinction was made between Yellow pear wood and rosewood-terms now used by many dealers.Old Yellow pear wood is still botanicaly classified within the same genus,but because it has a coarser grain and many small knots,it is now believed to be from an inferior group of timber or a sapwood.Black wood is dark brown and less vigorously grained than Yellow pear wood but 19th to the 20th century.

Chicken-wing wood derives its name from the appearance of this timber’s tangential grain,which ranges feathers.It has variable color and is one of the Southeast Asian rosewoods although it is not as dense as hongmu or huanghali.Various species exist on Hainan Island and in Fujian province ,Hongdou and xiangsi may also be other names for a related species ,according to one dealer .

Southern elm is denser and stronger than its northern cousin and ranges in color from dark yellow to coffee brown .It was a popular timber in Suzhou region and has a refined ring porous structure

Nanmu (phoebe nees) has a fine smooth texture and is olive brown in color .It is frequently used for cabinet because it is highly resistant to decay.It is softer than walnut but very similar in appearance.Although it has a pungent aroma and is similar to cedar,it bears no botanical relationship.It was often used for cabinet construction and was referred to in Ming writings.

Boxwood is a compact wood with a straight grain,which ranges in color from whitish to orange amber.Because it grows as a small diameter tree in China ,It is often used as inlay material and desk pieces.

Fir wood was popular in Fujian province China .The grain of this wood is straight and even,and the color ranges from creamy white to pale brown.Although it is not a strong timber,it is resistant to decay .

Bamboo is not commonly found today ,but there are many images of bamboo furniture in Song-dynasty paintings.Bamboo furniture reached its apex during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries when Europeans and Amercians began looking to East Asia for inspiration in interior design.Foreigners purchased vast quantities of bamboo furniture,although the fanciful design of the export - quanlity bamboo furniture departed significantly from the classical lines of the early Song pieces .