Quality solid wood furniture should be more than aesthetically pleasing. How well furniture will hold up to kids and pets is also important. The feasibility of staining is another point that many consumers consider—staining can turn any piece into a bespoke conversation piece that perfectly compliments its surroundings. Finally, weight may be a concern. You certainly don’t want to lug a heavy piece up multiple stories. Wood choice affects all of these considerations. Different trees have evolved for different growing conditions and different roles in the forest. As such, each tree’s lumber is unique. To help you understand which type of timber will best suit your needs, let’s take a look at the five most commonly used woods for making Amish furniture.
Traditional Timbers in Amish Style Furniture
The oak primarily used in Amish furniture is northern red oak (Quercus rubra). It is beloved by Americans for its rich tone and durability. Red oaks grow in the eastern U.S., particularly in the Appalachian Mountains. Red oak varies from cream to warm brown with a red tint. All oaks are very hard and therefore wear-resistant. Oak is also heavy and friendly toward staining—oak lumber will take stains evenly, for beautiful results.
2. Quarter-Sawn White Oak.
The White Oak, Quercus Alba, can live for centuries. It thrives east of the Mississippi River, from Maine to Minnesota and from Georgia to Texas. Its wood holds liquid well, so it renowned for barrel making and shipbuilding. The hull of America’s most famous ship, “Old Ironsides,” was built from white oak, which repelled British cannonballs. Harder than northern red oak, white oak is often quarter-sawn for furniture use. This minimizes cupping, splitting, and shrinkage. Moreover, it showcases the stunning medullary rays (AKA ray fleck) of white oak timber. Some people feel that white oak has an antique look.
Cherry is easier to work with than hard oaks, as it is of moderate density. That means that cherry won’t hold up to wear as well as oak. However, cherry wood is perennially popular for furniture, as its rosy-brown tones charm the eye. North American black cherry trees grow mainly in New York and Pennsylvania, although cherries can be found all along the east coast. Cherry does not take stain easily; it is prone to blotching unless it is first sealed with shellac. Still, furniture makers dating back to 400 BC have loved cherry for its warm tone. Early American colonists nicknamed cherry “New England Mahogany,” due to its tendency to darken over time, just as mahogany does. Cherry is moderately heavy.
4. Rustic/Sap Cherry.
Rustic cherry is cut from the same tree as traditional cherry. The difference is that rustic cherry includes timber with sap streaks as well as heavy knots. Some appreciate the visual interest these streaks and knots provide. Building with rustic cherry lumber allows Gish’s craftsmen to use the whole tree while keeping costs down.
5. Brown Maple.
Brown maple lumber may be taken from different maple species across the country. As heartwood, brown maple features cream, tan and white streaks. This softer wood is susceptible to dents and scratches. However, it also accepts stains and painted finishes beautifully.
While building classic Amish furniture, Gish’s craftsmen use the above five woods. However, we are also happy to honor customers’ requests for the following timbers:
Hickory is traditionally used for tool handles, wagon spokes, and other heavily used items. This tough tree grows throughout the eastern US. It is an extremely hard wood that accepts stains well. Andrew Jackson was nicknamed “Old Hickory” by his soldiers due to his toughness.
Walnut is an extremely strong wood that has been extensively used in gunmaking. Most soldiers on both sides of World War II carried rifles with walnut stocks. With creamy sapwood and chocolate heartwood, walnut is visually stunning, relatively heavy, and durable. It doesn’t take stain easily, but as with cherry, walnut may be stained if shellac is applied first.
Elm heartwood is reddish brown. This durable lumber has been used for wheels, wagon beds, and boat hulls throughout history. Elm is heavy and it takes stain easily.
Beyond stain-ability, style, hardness, and durability, one’s personal connection to a piece of furniture is also important. Knowing the history of a certain lumber can create an automatic connection. Amish furniture makers have an intimate feel for the grain in each piece of timber. They understand that no two pieces of furniture can be identical when worked by hand to bring out the wood’s natural beauty. Each piece of Gish’s Furniture is a legacy in its own right, as Amish furniture is so well made, it can be passed on through generations. To feel how each piece resonates with you, it’s best to see it in person. We invite you to visit one of our Gish’s Furniture Locations to find the right furniture for you and your family.[Photo by: Friends of Mount Auburn, via CC License]