07-13-2010 11:47 AM
I don't see why softwoods would be more environmentally friendly that hardwoods--what do you have in mind?
Some softwoods grow more rapidly than the typical hardwoods, but that's not an obvious plus, since slower growing species leave more land forested to provide environmental benefits to wildlife, etc. And, for that matter there are very fast growing hardwoods which allow the time from harvest to harvest to be very short--under a decade is possible for Lyptus, which is harder than oak, and can be finished to look very much like mahogany or walnut. But it is grown in monoculture plantations which harbor a less diverse wildlife. Tradeoffs abound. So if you are concerned, avoid woods on the Cites lists and use the most suited of the large number of remaining possibilities.
07-13-2010 11:53 AM - edited 07-13-2010 01:35 PM
If you'e concerned about environmental impact, I'd suggest forgetting the either/or choice between hardwoods and softwoods and focus, instead, on FSC certification.
The Forest Stewardship Council mandates chain-of-custody documenation from source to distributor, requires land management and replanting, among many other things. FSC certified lumber abounds. That's your best bet for keeping your wood choices Green.
Second choice would be to seek out an urban-sourced sawyer in your area. Wood from the Urban Forests isn't always lost when utility companies and municipalities need to remove trees. Some areas have active urban sawyers who can mill and kiln this resource. This is reusing available timber, and is taking a resource to its highest utilization. They're out there - you may need to hunt around to find them. WOOD-MIZER can direct you to owners of sawmills in your area and you can call around to see who has kilning operations to go along with the mills.
Wood Online Moderator
07-16-2010 10:11 AM
Ok guys. The question was though, What can you put on to make the wood have a harder exterior shell. At least that's the translation that I got out of it. I too would like to know. Now where and what well its like this. If you use poplar and want to make a bassinet or something like that what can you put on it to give it a little more durability. Forget about the environment part for now just how can you go about it or not at all? Reasoning may be cost of the material too. The wood I mean as true hardwoods are more expensive the the softer types to a point that is.
07-16-2010 11:35 AM
The simple answer is that there is no material or treatment that I know of that can make wood "harder". If you apply a hard finish on top of a soft wood, any ding will dent and craze the finish allowing water and watervapor to penetrate. In fact, for a soft wood it's best to use soft finish that will "give" without cracking.
07-16-2010 05:15 PM
I saw something in Lowes the other day that said it was a "wood harderner".. Now whether it works or not is beyond me. My guess it just fills the wood pores with something to give a little extra firmness.. not sure if it will work for what you are wanting.. it was with the finishes in lowes.
07-17-2010 04:03 AM - edited 07-20-2010 02:33 AM
…and more specifically, products (finishes?) that can be applied to soft woods to make them harder is a discussion fraught with confusion about terms and objectives. It is also an area into which we have seen all manner of deceptive marketing claims. Let’s first of all understand what we mean by “hardness”
The USFS, Forest Products Laboratory Wood Handbook defines “hardness” as follows:
“Hardness—Generally defined as resistance to indentation
using a modified Janka hardness test, measured by the load
required to embed a 11.28-mm (0.444-in.) ball to one-half
its diameter. Values presented are the average of radial and
From a more practical point of view to the woodworker, hardness and Specific Gravity are closely related. Wood species with higher specific gravity are “harder” than wood species with lower specific gravity. For example, the ”Western White Pine” commonly available from your local Big Box and construction grade lumber yard (actually a collection of pine species from western forests) has a specific gravity in the range of 0.36 to 0.44. By comparison, red oak (again, a collection of several species and arguably the most frequently used hardwood in the amateur/hobbyist woodworkers arsenal) has a specific gravity in the range of 0.61 to 0.68. Other “hard” species include yellow birch (0.62), hickory (0.75) and sugar maple (0.63). Cherry has a specific gravity of (0.50).
So, substituting specific gravity for the Janka hardness test, our in-use hardness test works pretty much the same way. Which wood species require the most force to put a noticeable dent in the surface of a table, crib, cabinet, etc? Answer: The wood species with the highest specific gravity are the “hardest”. If you want a “hard surface” you should use one of the hard woods.
But, more to the point of your question; can a finish be applied to make wood with a lower specific gravity hard enough to resist indentations in the same way as a wood species with a higher specific gravity? No! A finish, the thickness of which is measured in mils, simply will not bridge the cell structure of the softer wood beneath. A simple analogy is the hard chocolate shell over a soft ice cream core. The “wood hardener” referenced by Micah is a two-part epoxy product intended to fortify wood damaged by rot or physical loss. It is not a “finish” or even a top coating. It is more closely analogous to the filling in a tooth.
With all due respect to your concerns for the environment, wood is a crop. It is planted, it grows to maturity, it is harvested. In the same Wood Handbook referenced above you will find data to demonstrate that the productive forest covering in this country today exceeds that of 100 years ago. Our “urban forests” mentioned by Matt in his reply are capable of producing more usable board feet of lumber annually than our commercial forests (“Harvesting Urban Timber, Samuel Sherrill).
Even if we turn our focus to cost, the small additional outlay for an appropriate hardwood species over the cost for the same amount of softwood in the typical project is negligible, especially when viewed in the context of the cost of the entire project. More to the point; if there were some sort of magic finish capable of converting pine to the hardness of sugar maple, where in the project cost equation is that added expenditure to be assigned?
I understand the sincerity of your question, your concern for the environment and your attention to cost. But, these factors do not exist in a vacuum; each is related to the other. If your projects call for the use of hardwoods you will be well served in the whole by using hardwoods…