teak

Potential Woods for Use in Outdoor Applications

When you’re constructing a deck or building Adirondack chairs for your backyard, you want to make sure you choose a wood that can stand up to the elements.  While many people go straight to treated yellow pine for outdoor projects (it is the cheapest and most common option), there are plenty of wood species that hold up at least as well even when left untreated.  Here are a few woods to consider for your next outdoor project.

Ipe

This tropical hardwood from Central and South America makes an excellent choice for outdoor projects, including decking.  Ipe is very hard and dense and resists warping, cracking, and decay extremely well.  Its oil and extractive content makes it highly resistant to insects and fungi, and untreated ipe can last up to 40 years outdoors.  Its density makes it fairly impervious to denting and foot traffic, but also hard to cut. 

Teak

Long a popular choice for boat building, teak is another good candidate for outdoor applications.  Teak is prized for its beauty as well as its durability outdoors, and you can expect to pay a premium for it.  Teak’s high stability means it won’t shrink or expand much with changes in humidity, and its natural oils and extractives repel water and deter insects.  Unlike ipe, teak works easily.  One caveat: most teak on the market is not sustainably sourced, so if you’re concerned about the environmental impact of your wood choices, look for certified sustainable forested teak. 

African Mahogany

Less expensive than teak but more expensive than ipe, African mahogany is another top of the line choice for outdoor applications.  African mahogany is a durable hardwood that resists decay, infestation, and warping and is easy to work.  Left untreated, its durability will endure a very long time, but its beautiful reddish color will fade to gray.

VG Fir

Vertical Grain (VG) Fir has been a traditional choice for porches for over a century due to its wide availability and durability, both of which still make it a good choice today. VG fir is quite dimensionally stable, so it expands and contracts evenly and is unlikely to warp.  Naturally resistant to decay and insects, VG fir can last 10-15 years outdoors untreated, and is an affordable choice.

Western Red Cedar

Western Red Cedar is another widely available, reasonably affordable choice for outdoor use.  It’s dimensionally stable, typically straight-grained, and resists warping, decay, and insects (including termites).  Untreated, Western Red Cedar will last about 20 years outdoors.  As cedar is a softwood, you can expect to see some damage from foot traffic if using it as decking or flooring.  Beware of splitting when driving fasteners, and expect tannins to appear as stains around them.

Types of Wood: Comparing American Hardwoods, Softwoods and Tropical Hardwoods

Wood products are known for their natural beauty, but when selecting a type of wood for your next cabinetry, flooring, furniture or millwork project, it is important to also consider the level of durability by understanding the difference between wood types. Each type and species of wood has an individual cellular structure that creates unique physical properties that determine suitability for different uses. For example, the hardness of woods varies widely, so certain hardwood species are not recommended for flooring because they are not hard enough to withstand heavy wear and tear.

The following offers a brief comparison of American hardwoods, softwoods and tropical hardwoods and their appropriate applications:

American Hardwoods
Hardwoods are deciduous trees that have broad leaves, produce a fruit or nut and generally go dormant in the winter. North America’s forests grow hundreds of varieties that thrive in temperate climates, including red oak, white oak, ash, cherry, hard maple, hickory and poplar.  For a more detailed list of commercially available woods in the United States, refer to our species guide. Each species can be crafted into durable, long-lasting furniture, cabinetry, flooring, millwork and more. Each offers unique markings with variation in grain pattern, texture and color.

Softwoods
Softwoods or conifers, from the Latin word meaning “cone-bearing,” have needles rather than leaves. Widely available U.S. softwood trees include cedar, fir, hemlock, pine, redwood and spruce. In a home, softwoods primarily are used as structural lumber such as 2x4s and 2x6s, with limited decorative applications. Woods such as white pine and cypress do break those rules and are treated in the lumber industry similar to hardwoods.

Tropical Hardwoods
Tropical Hardwoods, including mahogany, rosewood, teak and cocobolo, are not native to North America. They grow in the tropical forests of the world and are imported for use in the United States. Many tropical hardwoods are used for exterior applications where outdoor durability is important. However, many tropical hardwoods are also be used for interior applications, including flooring and woodworking projects. The color, grain pattern, hardness and luster of many imported woods differ from those of American hardwoods.

Visit the Species Comparison Guide to determine what woods would best suit your project needs.

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