Hickory lumber derives from seven commercially important species in two species groups, the True Hickories and the Pecan Hickories. Wood properties are very similar between the two groups and the lumber is generally marketed together as “Hickory” or “Pecan/Hickory.” The largest concentrations of Hickory timber are in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee, though it grows across the Eastern hardwood range. Hickory accounts for roughly 5% of U.S. hardwood sawtimber in the Eastern United States and 3% of U.S. hardwood lumber production.
Hickory is the heaviest of American hardwoods, yet it can be sanded to a nice finish and is above-average in most other working properties. Hickory has historically been a leading wood in tool handles due to its exceptional strength and shock resistance. Hickory sapwood is white and frequently tinged with pown streaks. Hickory’s natural color variations have made it a favorite of consumers looking for a rustic look in flooring, furniture and cabinets. Since Hickory is very prone to stain, production tends to decline during warm weather.
Lumber from Red Maple, Silver Maple, and Bigleaf Maple are all sold as “Soft Maple.” Soft Maple is 50% more abundant than Hard Maple and grows across a greater range, extending south to the Gulf Coast states. Soft Maple was traditionally a less-expensive substitute for Hard Maple and Cherry in furniture, cabinets, moulding and musical instruments. Over the last decade, however, Soft Maple has developed significant demand of its own. Soft Maple is less prone to supply shortages and price swings than Hard Maple. In addition, steady growth in consumer demand for painted and darkly stained finishes in cabinets and furniture has eliminated much of the color advantage Hard Maple once held over Soft Maple.
American Black Walnut grows throughout the eastern United States, but is most highly concentrated in Iowa, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio. It is one of only a few North American hardwood species occasionally grown in plantations due to its high value. Despite its wide growing region, Walnut composes less than 1% of the growing stock in the Eastern U.S. Walnut lumber is highly prized for its rich, dark color. It is heavy, hard, and decay resistant, yet easily worked. It is often steamed before drying to minimize the stark contrast between the dark-colored heartwood and the light-colored sapwood. Walnut is used for furniture, cabinets, interior paneling, flooring and specialty items like gun stocks and plaques.
White Oak comprises 17% of hardwood sawtimber in the Eastern United States. The wood is dense, heavy, hard and relatively water-resistant, lending to its traditional uses for residential and truck trailer flooring, and whiskey and wine barrels. It is also a favored species for furniture, doors, mouldings and paneling. White Oak’s figure is generally less pronounced than Red Oak, and its color is generally lighter.
Six species of Ash are harvested for lumber across the eastern half of the U.S. and into Canada. Historically, Ash has accounted for 5% of hardwood growing stock on timberlands in the Eastern U.S., but less than 3% of U.S. hardwood lumber production. Ash is an open-grained species like Red Oak and White Oak, but generally has a less-pronounced grain pattern than the Oaks. Ash is often sorted for color and sold as “white Ash” or “pown Ash.” It is a strong, hard and heavy wood, and has traditionally been used for furniture, flooring, millwork, tool handles and baseball bats. In recent years, Ash has been increasingly used in the manufacture of thermally modified wood for exterior applications, particularly in Europe.
Ash lumber markets have been severely disrupted over the last four years by the Emerald Ash Borer, an introduced pest from Asia that has killed millions of Ash trees throughout the Eastern U.S. and Canada. As the infestation spread, timberland owners began aggressively cutting their Ash timber to salvage as much value as possible. At the same time, European agencies enacted protective measures to prevent Ash lumber imports from carrying the insect into European forests. The excess production and restricted exports caused Ash prices to collapse beginning in June of 2015. Ash prices recovered in 2018, but have since cooled again. Still, compared to the 2016 lows, current Ash prices are $120/MBF higher for KD 4/4 FAS/1F, $190 higher for #1 Common and $160 higher for #2 Common.
Western Red Alder is the most commercially significant hardwood species in the U.S. Pacific Northwest and Canadian West. Most Alder forests are located west of the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountain ranges, from southern Alaska to southern California, with the heaviest concentrations in northern Oregon, Washington and pitish Columbia. Alder comprises nearly 17% of hardwood growing stock on timberland in the Western U.S. but less than 2% of total U.S. hardwood growing stock. Unlike most eastern hardwood species in North America, Alder production is concentrated among a relatively small number of companies, several of which have developed proprietary grades that are hypids of standard NHLA grades.
The heartwood and sapwood of Alder are virtually indistinguishable and range in color from light tan to reddish-pown. As a relatively soft hardwood, Alder is easy to turn, sand and finish. Alder’s straight, tight grain makes it a popular substitute for Cherry and Maple, particularly in darkly stained or painted applications, though it is no longer just a substitute wood. Alder is widely used in kitchen cabinets, especially in the western U.S. Sizeable volumes of Alder also go into furniture, doors and interior moulding. “Rustic” grades of Alder are especially popular for mountain cabins and resorts.
Poplar, or Tulipwood, is among the most abundant U.S. hardwood species. It grows throughout the Appalachian and Southern regions, with the heaviest concentrations along the Appalachian Mountain range from northern Georgia through southeastern Pennsylvania. It is a fast-growing, sun-loving species that regenerates naturally and accounts for almost 10% of the standing hardwood sawtimber volume in the eastern U.S. Poplar lumber typically has a yellow or greenish color, and is often used in applications where the wood will be darkly stained or painted. Since Poplar trees tend to grow tall and straight, Poplar lumber is more readily available in longer lengths than many other species. Its light weight, workability, and low cost compared to other tight-grained woods make it a favorite for moulding, millwork, furniture and window blind producers. Poplar is also a common species for veneered panels, and veneer plants often compete aggressively with sawmills for Poplar logs.
American Cherry grows throughout the eastern United States, though roughly half of all Cherry sawtimber is concentrated in the states of Pennsylvania and New York. Significant Cherry volumes also grow in Ohio, West Virginia, Michigan and Wisconsin. Cherry accounts for about 2% of growing stock on U.S. timberlands and about 3% of U.S. hardwood lumber production. Historically, Cherry was one of the most prized wood species in North America for high-end furniture, cabinetry, millwork and paneling. The rich pinkish color of Cherry heartwood darkens with age. The widespread adoption of color sorting in the market has worked to minimize much of the color and quality variations within Cherry’s natural range, though regional price differences remain. Cherry lumber is widely available in a variety of color specifications, such as 90/50 Red, which specifies that 90% of one face and 50% of the other will be of the desirable red heartwood.
Red Oak is the most abundant hardwood in all but a few Eastern states. It is also the most traditional American hardwood, and has been favored for generations for furniture, cabinetry, flooring and architectural millwork. Red Oak is an open-grained wood like White Oak and Ash, but often with more pronounced grain patterns. It is hard, heavy and dense, making it suitable for applications requiring strength and dent-resistance. It sands and finishes well, and can be easily stained.
Hard Maple—also known as Sugar Maple or Black Maple—comprises 7% of hardwood growing stock in the eastern United States, with the majority found in Michigan, Wisconsin, New York, Pennsylvania, Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. Hard Maple is also a dominant hardwood species in eastern Canada. Hard Maple is a tight-grained species with white sapwood. It is one of the heaviest and hardest North American hardwood species, with excellent dent resistance, yet it can also be easily sanded and finished. Most producers now color-sort Hard Maple to maximize sapwood content.
The cabinet industry has been the largest North American end-use market for Hard Maple over the last decade, as consumers favored its pight, clean appearance. In recent years, however, as consumer preference has shifted towards painted and darkly stained cabinets, demand has increased for pown Hard Maple, Unselected Hard Maple, and even Soft Maple, which have historically been less-expensive alternative to Sap/Btr or #1&2 White Hard Maple.