A Guide to Nebraska Hardwoods for Cabinetmakers and Woodworkers

The number of cabinet-grade hardwoods harvested in Nebraska is increasing yearly as more woodlot owners realize the earnings potential of their trees. There are actually many more varieties of wood harvested in Nebraska than are shown in the Guide. We list here only those suitable for cabinet- and furniture-making, either as the primary decorative wood, or secondary structural wood.

The wood illustrations show unstained heartwood. If there is a wide heartwood variation in a species, a number of samples are shown to illustrate the range of color and figure available in the wood.

Each species represented is summarized in the table below. To expand on the information about the species, click the species name to open a page containing additional information.

Species Wood Workability   Species Wood Workability
Apple Apple wood Apple wood is white to brown, often with a slight green cast similar to poplar. Usually the grain is quite swirly, which gives it an interesting appearance but leads to a lot of warp and difficulty when cutting or machining. The wood is very dense and hard. Carving, gluing and machining are difficult; complicated further by the frequently curly grain. The interesting grain figure suggests that it would be suitable for custom cabinetry and furniture.   Ash, Green Greenash Ash is straight grained, heavy, hard, strong, stiff and wears smooth with high shock resistance. The sapwood of ash is light brown, while the heartwood is brown to grayish brown. Though Green Ash and White Ash are distinctive species, the wood cut from the trees is remarkably similar to the point that it is almost impossible for the experts to tell whether an ash board originated in a Green or White Ash tree. White ash is the most desirable of the ash woods. However, in the commercial lumber trade it is typically mixed with Green Ash. Both are sold as "white ash" wood. Ash wood machines well and is better than average in nail and screw holding capacity. It glues moderately well. In cabinets, furniture and flooring, it often displays spectacular grain figure.
Ash, White White Ash
Birch, Paper Birch Paper Birch has a white sapwood and light reddish brown heartwood. The wood is generally straight-grained with a fine uniform texture. Characterized by a plain, muted and often curly or wavy pattern. Birch wood is moderately dense, heavy, hard and strong. It has very good bending properties, with good crushing strength and shock resistance. Birch wood works fairly easily, glues well, takes stain very well, and nails and screws satisfactorily. Pre-boring is advised. It dries slowly Catalpa Catalpa Catalpa wood is straight-grained with light gray-brown or buff-colored heartwood and light cream-colored sapwood, sometimes with an olive tinge. The color differences between growth rings, early to late, which can be very wide. The wood can almost look iridescent as it changes color when viewed from different angles. Soft, weak, and brittle with very good decay resistance and dimensional stability. Catalpa wood turns well. Excellent for working with hand tools — almost on par with white pine or spruce. It also bleaches well. Due to its porosity and softness the bleach goes deep so the raised grain can be sanded and still maintain the lighter "Ginger Ale" tone.
Cedar, Eastern Red Cedar The sapwood of Eastern Red Cedar is white or light brown. The heartwood is red, ranging from red-brown to red-purple. The wood of the red cedar is fragrant and is used extensively for the manufacture of aromatic oil and furniture — primarily closet linings and panels. Red Cedar is easy to work with power or hand tools. Accepts nails and screws readily. Generally it is neither stained, sealed nor finished to preserve its aroma. Cherry, Black Cherry The heartwood of cherry varies from rich red to reddish brown and will darken with age and on exposure to light — often in a matter of days. The sapwood is creamy white although often stained to resemble the heartwood color. The wood has a fine uniform, straight grain, satiny, smooth texture, and may naturally contain brown pith flecks and small gum pockets. The wood is of medium density with good bending properties, it has low stiffness, medium strength and moderate shock resistance. Cherry is easy to machine, nails and glues well and when sanded and stained, it produces an excellent smooth finish. It dries fairly quickly with moderately high shrinkage, but is dimensionally stable after kiln-drying.
Cottonwood Cottonwood The sapwood is white and may contain brown streaks while the heartwood may be pale to light brown. It is a diffuse porous wood with a coarse texture. The wood is generally straight-grained and contains relatively few defects. It is relatively light in weight. The wood is soft, weak in bending and compression, and low in shock resistance. The machinability of Cottonwood is only fair. Tension wood is frequently present and can cause a fuzzy surface when cut. The wood glues well and has good resistance to splitting when nailing and screwing. It dries easily but has a tendency to warp after drying. It is relatively dimensionally stable. Dogwood, Flowering Dogwood The sapwood of dogwood is wide and creamy in color, while the heartwood is reddish brown to brown, sometimes streaked in white. The wood has a fine, uniform texture with a hard compact interlocked grain. Its traditional use was to make bobbins for weaving looms. The dense, hard, fine textured wood is workable with both hand and power tools. It is a top notch wood for machining and carving and takes a super-smooth finish. Its characteristics make it, along with the softer Boxwood, a favorite wood choice for model-makers, carvers and wood-turners.
Elm, American American Elm American Elm has straight or interlocked grain with a coarse texture. Light brown to brown heartwood, usually with a reddish tinge, and light-colored sapwood. The interlocking grain makes it difficult to cut and split. Moderately heavy and hard, tough, elastic, and wear resistant. Low decay resistance and moderate dimensional stability. American Elm is almost indistinguishable from Red Elm, and the two woods are typically marketed as "elm" wood without species distinction. Elm works with some difficulty - tends to dull cutting edges and often produces fuzzy surfaces where interlocking grain is present. Steam-bends very well. Glues, screws and nails satisfactorily. Does not polish easily but otherwise finishes well. Due to interlocking grain, difficult to split cleanly. Hackberry Hackberry Hackberry is a member of the elm family and is closely related to Sugarberry (Celtis laevigata). The two woods are virtually indistinguishable and frequently marketed together as Hackberry. There is little difference between sapwood and heartwood which is yellowish grey to light brown with yellow streaks. The wood is very susceptible to the fungus that causes blue staining before and after kiln drying. The wood has irregular grain, sometimes straight and sometimes interlocked, but with a fine uniform texture. The soft, close-grain wood mills smoothly and machines easily. The wood planes and turns well and has a moderate ability to hold nails and screws. Hackberry dries readily with minimal degrade. It has a fairly high shrinkage and is most suitable in small, short pieces of cut stock. Stains satisfactorily. Through careful staining, the wood can be made to mimic the appearance of more expensive cabinet woods.
Elm, Red Red Elm Red (or Slippery) Elm has a grayish white to light brown narrow sapwood, with heartwood that is reddish brown to dark brown in color. The grain can be straight, but is often interlocked. The wood has a coarse texture. It is moderately heavy, hard and stiff with excellent bending and shock resistance. It is difficult to split because of its interlocked grain. Red Elm is almost indistinguishable from American Elm, and the two woods are typically marketed as "elm" wood without species distinction. Hickory, Bitternut Bitternut Hickory Botanically Hickories are split into two groups; the true hickories, and the pecan hickories (fruit bearing). The wood is virtually the same for both and is usually sold in mixed lots as "hickory" or "pecan" — hickory if the wood is highly figured and pecan if the figure is muted. Hickory is the hardest, heaviest and strongest American wood in general commercial use. The sapwood of hickory is white, tinged with inconspicuous fine brown lines while the heartwood is pale to reddish brown. Both are coarse-textured and the grain is fine, usually straight but can be wavy or irregular. The dark brown close-grained hardwood is hard and durable and highly shock resistant which makes it excellent for tools, tool handles and ladders. Both pecan hickories and true hickories are difficult to machine and are very hard to work with hand tools. Sharp cutting tools are absolutely required for smooth work, and they will dull quickly. The hickories do not glue well. They hold nails and screws well with pre-boring and the wood can be sanded to a smooth finish. Medium to dark stains and bleaching are acceptable finishing treatments.
Hophornbeam, Eastern Hophornbeam The sapwood of Eastern Hophornbeam is wide and whiteish with some brown streaking similar to birch. The heartwood is light brown to grayish brown with occasional red streaks. In appearance, its wood is similar to and sometimes confused with birch. However, Hophornbeam is much denser and harder than birch — it is a very dense, hard, and tough wood, much harder than oak. Hophornbeam is a good bending wood, very flexible, with excellent wear and shock resistance. It holds fasteners extremely well but pre-drilling is required. The wood glues satisfactorily. Machining is a challenge met only with very sharp cutters, which tend to dull quickly. Very light planing cuts are necessary to minimize surface checks and almost any power operation burns the wood. Hickory, Shagbark Shagbark Hickory
Kentucky Coffeetree Kentucky Coffeetree The wood of Kentucky coffeetree is ring porous, resembling ash, honeylocust or oak. The sapwood is narrow and yellowish white, while the heartwood is light red to reddish brown. The wood is hard and durable and very attractive when finished and polished. The wood is hard and not easy to machine. Dulls edged tools readily. Holds screws well. Finishes well. Locust, Black Locust, Black The sapwood of Black Locust is a creamy white, while the heartwood varies from a greenish yellow through olive-green to dark brown. It commonly turns a reddish brown when exposed to the air. The wood is large grained ring porous. Commonly confused with the Osage Orange, the wood or which it closely resembles. Black locust is excellent for bending. It takes finish well. Reports one cabinetmaker who uses the wood frequently in his work: "It is gorgeous! If you haven't seen it, picture the grain of oak and color it with gold and add a glow that shifts in the light". Dense, hard to work, dulls edged tools quickly. Takes screws well, almost impossible to nail. Hard dense wood requires sharp tools to machine or work by hand. Will dull metal cutting tools quickly.
Locust, Honey Locust, Honey The sapwood is generally wide and yellowish in contrast to the reddish-brown heartwood, providing an attractive grain. The wood is dense, very heavy, very hard, strong in bending, stiff, resistant to shock, and is durable when in contact with soil. Honey Locust is hard and not easy to machine. Dulls edged tools readily. Holds screws well. Well-figured wood resembles hickory, but the sapwood is more yellow and the heartwood is not as dark on average. Finishes very well. Makes attractive and very strong cabinets and furniture. Maple, Hard Maple, Hard The sapwood is creamy white with a slight reddish brown tinge and the heartwood varies from light to dark reddish brown. The amount of darker brown heartwood can vary significantly according to growing region. Both sapwood and heartwood can contain pith fleck. The wood has a close fine, uniform texture and is generally straight-grained, but it can also occur as "curly," "fiddleback," and "birds-eye" figure. Pre-boring is recommended when nailing and screwing. With care it machines well, turns well, glues satisfactorily, and can be stained to an outstanding finish. Polishes well and is suitable for enamel finishes and brown tones.
Maple, Soft Maple, Soft The sapwood is grayish white, sometimes with darker colored pith flecks. The heartwood varies from light to dark reddish brown. The wood is usually straight-grained. Soft maple is about 25 percent softer than hard maple, has medium bending and crushing strength, and is low in stiffness and shock resistance. Softer and weaker than hard maple but easier to work. Steam-bends satisfactorily. Turns, planes, cuts, and otherwise machines well. Gluing is variable. Finishes easily without the need for filling. Mulberry Mulberry The narrow sapwood is white to pale yellow. The heartwood is pale yellow to pale orange turning to a golden brown on exposure to sunlight. The grain is straight with very little if any figure. The wood is ring porous and the texture of the wood is course. Because it is hard, it is difficult to work and dulls edge tools rapidly. Takes screws well (with a pilot hole) and finishes well. Planing and boring the wood exposes new, yellow or orange heartwood, that soon turns golden brown on exposure to light and air.
Oak, Burr (or Bar Oak) Oak, Burr (or Bur) The sapwood of Burr oak is white to very light brown, while the heartwood is light to dark brown. Oak wood is ring porous with a course texture; it is heavy, straight-grained, hard, tough, very stiff, and strong. Fast-grown oak, with wide rings, is stronger and heavier than slow-grown oak, the exact opposite of most woods. With great wear-resistance, oak has medium bending and crushing strength, is low in stiffness, but very good in steam bending. Burr oak is a major timber tree in the U.S. The wood is commercially valuable and marketed as white oak. The wood dries slowly. It machines, nails and screws well (with pre-boring). Oak wood reacts with iron so galvanized steel or non-ferrous fasteners are advised. It finishes well and can be stained with a wide range of finish tones. The adhesive properties of oak vary from poor to good. Oak, Red Oak, Red The sapwood of Red Oak is white to very light brown, while the heartwood is light to reddish brown. Oak wood is ring porous with a course texture; it is heavy, straight-grained, hard, tough, very stiff, and strong. Fast-grown oak, with wide rings, is stronger and heavier than slow-grown oak, the exact opposite of most woods. With great wear-resistance, oak has medium bending and crushing strength, is low in stiffness, but very good in steam bending. Oak wood has good working properties — machines, nails and screws well (with pre-boring). Acid in the wood reacts with iron so galvanized steel or non-ferrous fasteners are advised. It finishes well and can be stained with a wide range of finish tones. The adhesive properties of oak vary from poor to good.
Osage Orange Osage Orange The heartwood is golden yellow when freshly cut, becoming russet brown upon exposure to air. It is ring porous and commonly confused with black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia). Hard and heavy, difficult to work, rough on edged tools, it holds glue and screws well, but is almost impossible to nail due to its density. Popular as a turning wood and among musical instrument makers. High luster and very stable when dry. Takes a nice polish, but oil finishes will darken the color. Sycamore Sycamore The sapwood of sycamore is white to light yellow, while the heartwood is light to dark brown. The wood has a fine close texture with interlocked grain. Contrasts well with other species. Fairly light in weight, moderately hard, stiff, and strong, tough and shock resistant. Poor decay resistance. The grain is not particularly interesting for cabinetry — but it is highly suited as a secondary wood. Can be difficult to work due to interlocked fibers. Turns easily and finishes smoothly. The wood machines well, but high speed cutters are needed to prevent chipping. Glues, screws, nails, and finishes satisfactorily. It is resistant to splitting due to the interlocked grain.
Walnut, Black Walnut, Black The sapwood is whiteish to yellowish brown. It is a common practice to steam or stain the sapwood to match the color of the heartwood. Heartwood varies from light grayish brown to deep chocolate brown to an almost black purplish brown. The grain is slightly open and usually straight, but may be wavy or irregular. Texture is usually coarse, but uniform. The wood is noted for its wavy, curly and mottled figures which are obtained from burls, crotches and stumpwood. Walnut is one of the primary American woods for premium cabinetry and furniture (with cherry and mahogany). It works easily with hand and machine tools, and nails, screws and glues well. It holds paint and stain very well for an exceptional finish and is readily polished. It dries slowly, and care is needed to avoid kiln degrade. Walnut has good dimensional stability.