Wood Hardness by Species: 25 Common Woodworking Species
Understanding Wood Hardness by Species
As a woodcarver or woodworker, understanding the hardness of different wood species is essential. The hardness of a wood is determined by the amount of force required to embed a 0.444-inch steel ball halfway into the wood’s surface. This test is known as the Janka hardness test and is widely used in the industry.
The higher the Janka value, the harder the wood. The scale ranges from 0 lbf to over 5000 lbf, typically with exotic woods having values over 5000.
Gabriel Janka was the inventor of the Janka hardness test in 1906. The test is still used today to determine the hardness of a given wood species. The Janka hardness value is an important factor to consider when choosing wood for wood carving, table building, flooring, furniture, and other applications.
Janka Hardness Test and Industry Standards
The Janka test is a standard method used by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) in the United States. The test is performed on both green and dry wood samples, and the results are reported in pounds-force (lbf). The higher the Janka rating, the harder the wood.
The Janka rating system is widely used in the industry to determine the suitability of different wood species for various applications. For example, wood with a high Janka rating is more suitable for flooring, while wood with a lower Janka rating is better for furniture, cabinets, and other decorative applications.
It’s important to note that the Janka rating system is not a perfect measure of wood hardness. The test only measures the force required to embed a steel ball into the wood, and it doesn’t take into account other factors that can affect the wood’s durability, such as its density, moisture content, and resistance to decay and insects.
Despite its limitations, the Janka test remains an important industry standard for measuring wood hardness. Many manufacturers and retailers use Janka ratings to label their wood products, and consumers can use these ratings to make informed decisions about which wood species to use for their projects.
25 Species of Wood for Carving and Their Hardness (Alphabetical Listing)
Janka Hardness Ash
Ash Janka hardness rating of 1,320 lbf. Ash is a hardwood species with a medium hardness level and is commonly used for carving, furniture, sports equipment like baseball bats, and decorative elements. Its straight grain and workability make it suitable for a wide range of carving projects.
Janka Hardness Balsa Wood
Balsa Wood Janka hardness rating of 70 lbf. Balsa Wood is a softwood species known for its lightweight and easy-to-carve properties. It has an extremely low Janka hardness, making it an ideal choice for beginners. Balsa Wood is commonly used for creating prototypes, models, and delicate, intricate carvings.
Janka Hardness Basswood
Basswood Janka hardness rating of 410 lbf. Basswood if from the Linden tree and a hardwood species known for its lightweight and easy-to-carve properties. It has a low Janka hardness, making it an ideal choice for beginners. Basswood is a very common and popular wood for whittlers and carvers of all skill levels.
Janka Hardness Birch
Birch Janka hardness rating of 1,260 lbf. Birch is a hardwood species that varies in hardness depending on the specific type. Birch is often chosen for carving projects that require fine detail work, including intricate figurines and detailed relief carvings.
Janka Hardness Black Cherry
Black Cherry Janka hardness rating of 950 lbf. Black Cherry is a hardwood species with a beautiful reddish-brown color, making it an excellent choice for carving intricate designs. Its moderate Janka hardness allows woodcarvers to create detailed patterns, figurines, and elegant decorative carvings.
Janka Hardness Black Walnut
Black Walnut Janka hardness rating of 1,010 lbf. Another hardwood species, black walnut is prized for its rich, dark color and is a popular choice for carving.
Janka Hardness Butternut
Butternut Janka hardness rating of 190 lbf. Butternut is a hardwood species with a medium hardness level and is easy to carve, making it a great choice for beginners. It’s an excellent choice for carving detailed sculptures, masks, and intricate patterns in woodworking.
Janka Hardness Cedar
Western Red Cedar Janka hardness rating of 350 lbf. Cedar, a softwood species, has a low Janka hardness level and is commonly used for carving outdoor objects like birdhouses, benches, and decorative panels. Its natural aroma and insect-repelling properties also make it suitable for carving storage chests and closet linings.
Janka Hardness Cottonwood
Cottonwood Janka hardness rating of 300 lbf. Cottonwood, often regarded as a soft hardwood, has a low Janka hardness level, making it easy to carve. Cottonwood is commonly used for carving larger decorative pieces, statues, and sculptural work due to its workability and suitability for intricate detailing. Cottonwood bark is also commonly used for wood carving.
Janka Hardness Cypress
Cypress Janka hardness rating of 510 lbf. Cypress is a softwood species often chosen for its resistance to decay and insect infestations. Cypress is used for carving outdoor structures like garden ornaments, porch railings, and outdoor furniture.
Janka Hardness Douglas Fir
Douglas Fir Janka hardness rating of 660 lbf. Douglas Fir is a softwood species with a medium hardness level, commonly used for carving furniture and other large objects. Woodworkers appreciate Douglas Fir for its stability and versatility in carving detailed patterns and relief work.
Janka Hardness Ebony
Ebony Janka hardness rating of 3,220 lbf. Ebony is an extremely hard and dense hardwood species, making it difficult to carve but perfect for intricate designs. It is highly sought after for inlays, fine details, and small decorative carvings.
Janka Hardness Hard Maple
Hard Maple Janka hardness rating of 1,450 lbf. Hard Maple, or Sugar Maple, is one of the hardest and most durable woods that is readily available, making it perfect for carving intricate designs. Woodworkers often choose Hard Maple for its fine grain and ability to hold intricate details in carving projects, including ornate moldings and decorative motifs.
Janka Hardness Hickory
Hickory Janka hardness rating of 1,820 lbf. Hickory is known for its exceptional strength and durability, making it a great choice for carving. Woodworkers often use Hickory for carving tool handles, rustic furniture, and intricate carvings that require robust material.
Janka Hardness Mahogany
Mahogany Janka hardness rating of 800 lbf. Mahogany is a hardwood species with a medium hardness level and is prized for its fine grain and rich color. Woodworkers commonly use Mahogany for carving furniture, intricate moldings, and decorative elements.
Janka Hardness Poplar
Poplar Janka hardness rating of 540 lbf. Yellow Poplar is a hardwood species with a low to medium hardness level, making it easy to carve. It’s a versatile choice for beginners, easy to find, relatively inexpensive, and is used for carving figurines, architectural details, and custom trim work.
Janka Hardness Red Oak
Red Oak Janka hardness rating of 1,290 lbf. Red Oak is known for its strength and durability, making it a great choice for carving. Its moderate Janka hardness provides a balance between ease of carving and durability, making it suitable for various woodcarving applications, such as relief carving and furniture embellishments.
Janka Hardness Redwood
Redwood Janka hardness rating of 420 lbf. Redwood is a softwood species known for its resistance to decay and beautiful color variations. While it has a lower Janka hardness, it’s suitable for carving outdoor sculptures, garden decorations, and detailed signs due to its natural durability.
Janka Hardness Soft Maple
Soft Maple Janka hardness rating of 700 lbf. Soft Maple, or Silver Maple, while not as hard as Hard Maple, is still a durable hardwood species that is easy to carve. Woodworkers and carvers often choose Soft Maple for projects like carving ornamental accents, plaques, and custom moldings.
Janka Hardness Sycamore
Sycamore Janka hardness rating 770 lbf. Sycamore is a hardwood species known for its ease of carving, making it a great choice for beginners. It’s commonly used for carving decorative panels, architectural moldings, and small sculptures.
Janka Hardness Teak
Teak Janka hardness rating of 1,155 lbf. Teak is known for its exceptional durability and resistance to water, making it a popular choice for outdoor carvings like garden furniture, boat accents, and marine carvings. Its fine grain and rich color also make it suitable for intricate decorative carvings.
Janka Hardness White Oak
White Oak Janka hardness rating of 1,360 lbf. Similar to Red Oak, White Oak is a stronger and more durable hardwood species commonly used for carving. Its moderate Janka hardness level makes it suitable for intricate carving work, such as architectural details, relief carvings, and custom cabinetry.
Janka Hardness White Pine
White Pine Janka hardness rating of 420 lbf. White Pine is a softwood species with a low hardness level, often used for carving outdoor objects like birdhouses, benches, and garden decorations. Its lightweight nature and ease of carving make it a suitable choice for simple projects.
Janka Hardness Yellow Pine
Yellow Pine Janka hardness rating of 690 lbf to 870 lbf. Yellow Pine is a softwood species with a medium hardness level, making it suitable for carving furniture and other large objects. It’s commonly used in carving projects that require stability and structural support, such as porch railings and detailed moldings.
These wood species cover a wide range of hardness levels and characteristics, providing woodcarvers with numerous options for their projects, from delicate, intricate carvings to robust outdoor sculptures. The choice of wood should align with the specific requirements of each carving endeavor, ensuring a successful and satisfying outcome.
Factors Influencing Wood Hardness
Wood hardness is influenced by several factors, including moisture content, the type of wood, the density of the wood, and the direction of the wood grain. These factors can affect the hardness of a piece of wood, making it important to understand how they impact the hardness of a particular sample of wood.
Moisture content is one of the most important factors affecting wood hardness. As wood absorbs moisture, it becomes softer and less dense, which can result in a decrease in hardness. Conversely, as wood dries out, it becomes harder and more dense, leading to an increase in hardness.
The type of wood also plays a significant role in determining its hardness. Some woods, such as oak and hickory, are naturally harder than others, such as pine and cedar. The hardness of a particular wood species is determined by its cellular structure, with denser woods having a greater number of cells per unit of volume.
The density of wood is another important factor in determining its hardness. Denser woods tend to be harder than less dense woods, as they have more material packed into the same amount of space. This means that a piece of wood with a higher density will generally be harder than a piece of wood with a lower density.
The direction of the wood grain can also impact its hardness. Wood that is cut with the grain, known as flat grain, is generally harder than wood that is cut against the grain, known as vertical grain. This is because flat grain wood has a greater number of cells per unit area, which makes it denser and harder.
As I mentioned earlier, the Janka hardness rating is a good indicator of the wood’s resistance to normal wear and tear. However, it is important to remember that a harder wood does not necessarily mean a better wood for every application.
When comparing woods, it is helpful to look at the hardness rating as a general guide rather than a definitive answer. For example, a higher score may be a good indication of the effort required to dent or scratch the wood, but it does not necessarily mean that the wood is the best option for a particular project.
In general, when considering the hardness of the wood, it is important to take into account the specific application and the expected wear and tear, in addition to the effort required to work or carve the wood. Happy Carving!