Hardwood for Fine Boxes

Fine boxes are generally made from wood milled from hardwood trees. These are mainly broad-leaf and deciduous in temperate and boreal forests (losing their leaves annually) and evergreen in tropical forests.

Hardwood timbers differ from softwood timbers mainly in their method of reproduction and oak-treenot necessarily their hardness.   A hardwood like Balsa wood is much softer than many softwoods and would be of little use for fine boxes. Conversely, a softwood such as Yew is very hard and is popular for both fine boxes and fine furniture.

Hardwoods often have more intense colours than softwoods and are used decoratively as solid timber, veneer and inlays.

Below is a list of typical hardwoods that I can work with to produce a beautiful decorative box for you. Spend some time looking at the colours and grains to get an idea of the hardwoods that may interest you. Please note that the colours and grain patterns are representative of the wood, as this is an organic material there will be differences in the selected woods.

Many of these species have quite interesting variations that may be workable in solid form such as Pippy Oak, fiddlebacks, and certain burrs with wild grains.  But the very nature of some of these variations means that some woods are only workable in veneer. See veneer for fine boxes for an explanation of veneers, parquetry, marquetry and inlays.

European Hardwoods


fraxinus excelsior

ash for hardwood boxes

Normally brownish-white

olive ash for hardwood boxes

Some trees have a dark streaky heartwood known as Olive Ash. A rippled effect can be seen in some logs


fagus sylvatica

beech for hardwood boxes

Varies from very pale brown when cut to reddish-brown on exposure. Beech is commonly steamed which produces a uniform deep reddish-brown

spalted beech for hardwood boxes

Spalted beech has been attacked by fungus which produces fine black and brown irregular stripes


prunus avium

cherry for hardwood boxes

Normally pale pinkish-brown


ulmus spp

elm for hardwood boxes

Normally a dull brown colour


ilex spp

holly for hardwood boxes

Normally white sapwood colour, with a heartwood varying in colour from orange-brown to dark purplish-brown, the lighter-coloured wood often contains darker streaks


tilia spp

lime for hardwood boxes

Normally a pale yellowish-white when freshly cut, turning to pale brown when dried


quercus robur

oak for hardwood boxes

Normally yellowish-brown

oak for hardwood boxes

Quarter-sawn surfaces show a silver-grain figure due to the broad rays

oak for hardwood boxes

Brown Oak is the result of fungus attack in the growing tree. The fungus causes the wood first to assume a yellow colour, then a richer brown or reddish-brown

oak for hardwood boxes

Pippy Oak describes oak that contains small clusters of knots that appear sporadically in the growth of the tree

oak for hardwood boxes

Fumed Oak has been darkened by the traditional application of ammonia fumes

oak for hardwood boxes

Bog Oak has been buried in peat bogs and preserved for centuries. Normally stained brown by tannins dissolved in the acidic water


pyrus communis

pear for hardwood boxes

Normally pinkish-brown


platanus acerifolia

plane for hardwood boxes

Normally light reddish-brown

lacewood for hardwood boxes

Quarter-sawn surfaces show an attractive fleck figure called lacewood. There are other species around the world also known as lacewood

Sweet Chestnut

castanea sativa

chestnut for hardwood boxes

Normally yellowish-brown. Sweet Chestnut closely resembles oak in appearance but lacks the silver-grain figure


acer pseudoplatanus

sycamore for hardwood boxes

Normally white, or yellowish-white when freshly cut, with a natural lustre noticeable on quarter-sawn surfaces

sycamore for hardwood boxes

Rippled (fiddleback) has a wavy or ripple grain running at right angles to the grain of the wood.  This can normally be seen on the back of violins


juglans regia

walnut for hardwood boxes

Normally greyish or greyish-brown, but with a darker-coloured streaky figure to the wood. The darker streaks are usually of a smokey-brown or reddish-brown colour, the decorative appeal often being accentuated by natural wavy grain


taxus baccata

yew for hardwood boxes

Varies in colour from orange-brown to dark purplish-brown, the lighter-coloured wood often contains darker streaks

American Hardwoods

Black Cherry

prunus serotina

american black cherry for hardwood boxes

Varies in colour from reddish-brown to rich red

Black Walnut

juglans nigra

american black walnut for hardwood boxes

Varies in colour from rich chocolate-brown to a purplish-black.Burrs display an attractive swirl or knot pattern. See veneers


cedrela odorata

spanish cedar for hardwood boxes

Varies in colour from pinkish to reddish-brown when freshly cut, becoming red or dark reddish-brown, occasionally with a purplish tinge, after exposure. Has an odour similar to that of coniferous cedar


dalbergia retusa

cocobolo for hardwood boxes

Varies in colour from light yellow to rich red with other coloured streaks and zones maturing to a superb collection of rich red browns

Hard Maple

acer saccharum

hard maple for hardwood boxes Normally light reddish-brown with deeper-coloured late-wood bands

birdseye maple for hardwood boxes

Birdseye Maple has a distinctive pattern resembling tiny, swirling eyes that disrupt the grain

Pau Amarello

euxylophora paraensis

pau amarello for hardwood boxes

Normally a lemon yellow when freshly cut, turning to a rich golden yellow on exposure


peltogyne spp

purpleheart for hardwood boxes

Normally a greyish-purple when freshly cut. later becoming a violet purple to deep purple through an oxidation process. In due time. the purplish colour is lost and the wood turns an attractive dark brown

Red Oak

quercus rubra

american red oak for hardwood boxes

Varies in colour from pink to pale reddish-brown, there is usually a reddish cast to the wood although sometimes it approaches white oak in colour

White Oak

quercus alber

american white oak for hardwood boxes

Varies in colour from pale yellow-brown to pale reddish-brown, often with a pinkish tint. Resembles european oak

African Hardwoods


guibourtia demeusei

bubinga for hardwood boxes

Normally medium red-brown with lighter red to purple veining

Cedar of Lebanona

cedrus libani

cedar of lebanon for hardwood boxes

Normally light brown. The wood has a pungent cedar odour


diospyros spp

ebony for hardwood boxes

Normally black and very dense with a tight fine grain

macassar ebony for hardwood boxes

Other types of ebony produce handsome black and brown striped varieties such as Macassar


triplochiton scleroxylon

obeche for hardwood boxes

Varies in colour from creamy-white to pale yellow


pterocarpus soyauxii

padauk for hardwood boxes

Varies in colour from blood red to dark brown with red streaks


entandrophragma cylindricum

sapele for hardwood boxes

Normally pinkish when freshly cut, darkening to typical mahogany colour of reddish-brown. Sapele is characterised by a marked and regular stripe, particularly pronounced on quarter-sawn surfaces


entandrophragma utile

utile for hardwood boxes

Normally pale pink when freshly cut, darkening on exposure to reddish-brown


millettia laurentii

wenge for hardwood boxes

Normally dark brown with fine, close blackish veining, giving the wood a handsome appearance


microberlinia brazzavillensis

zebrano for hardwood boxes

Normally a pale golden yellow or pale brown, with narrow streaks of dark brown to black