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Figured hardwoods with specific information on several different types

One of the biggest misconceptions regarding custom furniture is the idea that the materials (i.e., the hardwoods) are the dominant factor in determining the final price of the project!

Choose the hardwood that you really want for your custom furniture

I cannot think of one instance where the hardwood materials were not a much lesser percentage of the overall cost of a piece of custom furniture.

Thus, choosing the hardwood is not the area to cut corners!


My point here is that I am urging you to ask me for the quality and figure of hardwood you have always dreamed of.

If the overall cost of custom furniture is an issue, please let me help!

If my estimate for the cost of your piece doesn't fit your budget, it is my job as the designer and craftsman to help you decide where the cost might best be decreased with the least visual impact on your custom piece of furniture.

I find that helping to choose special and beautiful hardwoods is one of the most enjoyable parts of building custom furniture.

Finally, these fine figured hardwoods serve to indicate that a piece is truly fine custom furniture, and was not made as a production 'line' of furniture.

This page has been included in an effort to help educate you on what is fine figured hardwoods and what is available to you.

Figured hardwood combinations

Using cominations of figured hardwoods in custom furniture

This custom end table (besides being one of my favorite pieces) is a good example of how you can use many different kinds of figured hardwoods in one piece.

Star inlays of curly maple and claro walnut in a black cherry custom end table.
Star inlays of curly maple and claro black walnut in a black cherry custom end table.

The main hardwood used is a beautiful figured black cherry.

I will always try to select the most highly figured hardwoods for the parts that are most noticeable. In a chair that might be the arms, headrest and seat.

In this table the most highly figured black cherry is in the table top.

Detail: Star inlays of curly maple and claro walnut in a black cherry custom end table.
Detail: Star inlays of curly maple and claro walnut in a black cherry custom end table.

The contrast so necessary for these star custom inlays required contrasting woods. So maple (lighter) and black walnut (darker) were obvious choices.

But why not use highly figured hardwoods for the inlays?!

Open the enlarged image of the Detail on that bottom shelf...

You can see the tremendous figure of the claro black walnut contrasting with the curly maple in the inlays.

Every individual custom inlay in that table (there are nine of them), large and small, has that beautiful contrasting figure.

I just wish this custom table were mine!

So what makes hardwood more or less expensive?

Generally, the wider and thicker the board, the more expensive that board will be. (The thicker board will be exponentially more expensive!)

The sole reason for this is the amount of time it takes the board to dry.

The thicker the board the longer it takes to dry. Thus, that board must be kept onhand sitting around for a much longer time, without making the mill any money.


Where do I buy my lumber?

There are a number of great mills that I buy hardwoods from.

These photos, not to mention quite a bit more information on the hardwoods themselves and current pricing, are available from two of my favorites.

Northwest Timber in Oregon, and Maple Leaf Hardwoods in Pennsylvania.

Quilted maple hardwood board, roughcut from the mill.
Quilted maple hardwood board, roughcut from the mill.
Quilted maple hardwood board, detail.
Quilted maple hardwood board, detail.

These examples of figured hardwoods are breathtaking. Look at the 'depth' of the figure!

Remember, too, that they are 'in the white' or unfinished. They have neither stain nor a clear finish.

A beautiful stain or finish, when properly applied (and I'm not talking about Minwax here!), almost always serves to give the hardwood additional contrast and depth.

This section will hopefully answer questions such as...

So... just what the heck is "spalted" maple or "quilted" cherry?!

This brief information covers common and not-so-common hardwood 'figure' such as: curly or tiger figure, quilted figure in maple, birdseye figure, burl, quartersawn oak, and spalt or spalting.

Quilted maple hardwood figure

Quilted figured maple hardwood for custom furniture.
Quilted figured maple hardwood for custom furniture.

Quilting or pillowing figure in hardwoods is even rarer than curl. It seems to present an optical illusion that there are waves or depressions in the hardwood.

But, as you can see, the surface is actually dead flat and it is the light striking the variegations in the hardwood which is so beautiful.

This figure occurs more often in maple than in cherry.

Curly or Curly or Tiger maple hardwood figure

Curly or Tiger figured maple hardwood for custom furniture.
Curly or Tiger figured maple hardwood for custom furniture.

Curly Soft Maple, also referred to as 'Tiger" or "Flame", occurs naturally in only 2-5% of all maple trees.

At the present time, only about 20% of the figured soft maple is over 9 inches wide. No two pieces of figured maple from the same tree are identical.

Quartersawn white oak hardwood figure

Quartersawn figured oak hardwood, stained, for custom furniture.
Quartersawn figured oak hardwood, stained, for custom furniture.

Besides being beautiful, quartersawn hardwoods are cut differently at the mill.

Without going into detail, this renders quartersaw oak boards much more stable (i.e. less prone to warping and movement) than hardwoods cut by other methods. However, there is a great deal of waste in preparing logs in this fashion, and thus, the cost is much higher for quartersawn oak than for plainsawn oak.

A quick not on finishing maple and quartersawn oak

Maple, and in this instance, quartersawn oak, are two of the most difficult hardwoods to finish properly.

That is the chief reason that one sees maple and oak furniture today finished in "the white"; with a clear finish and no stain.

Salespeople and manufacturers often erroneously claim that this clear and unstained finish shows the beauty of the hardwood's natural figure.

That is simply garbage.

If you happen to have some of this unstained furniture or cabinetry (common even in high-end kitchen cabinets, for instance) you may judge for yourself by comparing it with the detail from the stained quartersawn oak pictured here.

Or take a look at this custom quartersawn oak bench and see what you think.

Traditionally, it was well understood that "unfinished" maple and oak were rather dull and plain looking.

These hardwoods require careful applications of several types of aniline dyes and pigment stains and sealers to bring forth their full depth and figure.

The medullary rays of quartersawn oak exhibited here would be much less apparent without this four step process. These applications are so exacting and arduous that the famed Stickley furniture company no longer offers this traditional finish.

Spalted hardwood figure

Spalted figured hardwood for custom furniture.
Spalted figured hardwood for custom furniture.

Infrequently, one of the outstanding effects of hardwood decay and coloration is spalt or spalting.

Spalt doesn't always occur when a tree dies and neither does it always strike all species of tree equally.

If the board is thick enough, it can be 'bookmatched'.

'Bookmatching' refers to splitting a board in half. Then opening that board like a book.

This reveals a mirror-image of the grain on either side of the split.

You see it in the backs of violins. It is most frequently seen using veneers.

Birdseye hardwood figure

Birdseye figured maple hardwood for custom furniture.
Birdseye figured maple hardwood for custom furniture.
Birdseye figured pine for custom furniture.
Birdseye figured pine for custom furniture.

Birdseye figure is much rarer than curl, and looks like its name.

Depending on the species of hardwood, there are small 'bird's eyes' throughout the hardwood.

This type of figure occurs in many different species, but is most commonly found in maple.

The previous figure of 'birdseye figured pin' is from a close up of a country style trestle bench made of birdseye and spalted pine.

As you can see more clearly below the spalting has manifested itself in the grayish swirling pattern.

This custom table and bench are composed of an extremely unusual pine that is both spalted and birdseye.

Spalted and birdseye figure in pine on custom dining table and bench.
Spalted and birdseye figure in pine on custom dining table and bench.

Claro hardwood figure

Claro figured hardwood for custom furniture.
Claro figured hardwood for custom furniture.

Claro hardwood figure is relatively expensive.

It is extremely popular with high-end gunstocks. But often used in beautiful custom furniture.

Burl hardwood figure

Burl figured hardwood for custom furniture.
Burl figured hardwood for custom furniture.

Burl hardwood figure is extremely expensive. Because of this it is most often used as a veneer in custom furniture.

The burl pattern comes from a 'burl' or 'burr' deformity in the tree.

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