Below is a list of some of the main furniture-based wood species you might encounter here in Japan, and some of their physical properties/related information. Some are more common than others, but all have the potential to fetch a premium based on grain, absence of blemishes (ugly knots, wormholes, stains, discoloration, etc), size (namely, width, as well as length), and figure.
Black Cherry (ブラックチェリー) – Black Cherry
– Scientific Name: Prunus serotina
– Distribution: Eastern North America
– Specific Gravity (12% MC): .56
– Janka Hardness: 4,230 N
– Elastic Modulus: 10.30 GPa
– Shrinkage: Radial: 3.7%, Tangential: 7.1%, Volumetric: 11.5%, T/R Ratio: 1.9
– Rot Resistance: Heartwood is rated as being very durable and resistant to decay.
Enju (エンジュ; 槐) – Japanese pagoda tree
– Scientific name: Sophora japonica
– Distribution: despite the name, it is native to China, and was introduced to Japan
– Etymology: the kanji is a combination of the words wood (木) and demon (鬼), and legend has it that it draws evil spirits and its wood is therefore not used to build houses. Curiously, even in the wild, other trees generally don’t grow near it.
– Uses: famous in Japan for curved axe and adze handles. Enju also makes a fine table top.
Enoki (榎) – Japanese hackberry
– Scientific name: Celtis jessoensis
– Distribution: native to Japan and Korea
– Specific Gravity (12% MC): .60
– Janka Hardness: 3,910 N
– Elastic Modulus: 8.21 GPa
– Shrinkage: Radial: 4.8%, Tangential: 8.9%, Volumetric: 13.8%, T/R Ratio: 1.9
– Rot Resistance: Rated as non-durable to perishable. Also susceptible to fungal discoloration and insect attack.
Hickory (ヒッコリー) – Hickory (Mockernut Hickory)
– Scientific Name: Carya tomentosa
– Distribution: Eastern United States
– Specific Gravity (12% MC): .82
– Janka Hardness: 8,760 N
– Elastic Modulus: 15.31 GPa
– Shrinkage: Radial: 7.7%, Tangential: 11.0%, Volumetric: 17.8%, T/R Ratio: 1.4
– Rot Resistance: Considered to be non-durable to perishable regarding heartwood decay, and also very susceptible to insect attack.
– Other facts: Hickory wood is very hard, stiff, dense and shock resistant. There are woods that are stronger than hickory and woods that are harder, but the combination of strength, toughness, hardness and stiffness found in hickory wood is not found in any other commercial wood.
Hinoki (桧) – Japanese Cypress
– Scientific name: Chamaecyparis obtusa
– Distribution: native to central Japan
– Traditional uses: temples, shrines, palaces, baths
– Rot resistance: highly resistant
Ichou (銀杏) – Ginkgo tree; Ginkgo biloba
– Distribution: native to China
– Rot resistance: highly resistant to both disease and insects.
Inumaki (イヌマキ; 犬槙) – Yew plum pine
– Scientific name: Podocarpus macrophyllus
– Distribution: native to southern Japan and southern and eastern China
– Rot resistance: Because of its resistance to termites and water, inumaki is used for quality wooden houses in Okinawa Prefecture, Japan.
Kaede (カエデ; 楓) – Maple
– Scientific Name: Acer (saccharum – Sugar maple, Hard maple)
– Distribution: Northeastern North America
– Specific Gravity (12% MC): .71
– Janka Hardness: 6,450 N
– Elastic Modulus: 12.62 GPa
– Shrinkage: Radial: 4.8%, Tangential: 9.9%, Volumetric: 14.7%, T/R Ratio: 2.1
– Rot Resistance: Rated as non-durable to perishable, and susceptible to insect attack.
– Workability: Fairly easy to work with both hand and machine tools, though slightly more difficult than Soft Maple due to Hard Maple’s higher density. Maple has a tendency to burn when being machined with high-speed cutters such as in a router. Turns, glues, and finishes well, though blotches can occur when staining, and a pre-conditioner, gel stain, or toner may be necessary to get an even color.
– Uses: Baseball bats, tonewood (musical instruments), archery bow; wood of choice for bowling pins, bowling alley lanes, pool cue shafts, and butcher’s blocks.
Karin (花梨) – Burmese Rosewood
– Scientific Name: Dalbergia oliveri
– Distribution: Primarily Myanmar (formerly Burma), and other southeast Asian nations
– Specific Gravity (12% MC): .94
– Janka Hardness: 12,060 N
– Shrinkage: Radial: ~2%, Tangential: ~5%, Volumetric: ~7%
– Rot Resistance: Rated as very durable regarding decay resistance, with mixed resistance to insect attacks.
Keyaki (欅) – Japanese Zelkova
– Scientific name: Zelkova serrata
– Distribution: Eastern Asia
– Traditional uses: furniture, decorative beam-work, temple alters, etc.
– Characteristics: Premium keyaki pieces are extremely valuable and expensive, due to its rarity as well as (ironically) its inferior workability. Traditionally, daikoku-bashiras (central pillar) were made of keyaki heartwood. However, because of its propensity to warp, keyaki must be left to dry for many years before use, and then planed straight. This made large, straight beams and columns extremely rare and sought-after.
Kouyamaki (高野槙) – Japanese umbrella pine
– Scientific name: Sciadopitys verticillata
– Distribution: endemic to Japan. It is the sole member of the family Sciadopityaceae and genus Sciadopitys, a living fossil with no close relatives, and known in the fossil record for about 230 million years.
Kusunoki (楠) – Camphor tree, Camphor Laurel
– Scientific name: Cinnamomum camphora
– Distribution: Native to southeast Asia, widely planted throughout tropical and subtropical regions worldwide.
– Specific gravity: (12% mc): .52
– Elastic modulus: 11.56 Gpa
– Janka Hardness: 4,440 N
– Shrinkage: Radial: 3.1%, Tangential: 5.4%, Volumetric: 8.7%, T/R Ratio: 1.7
– Rot resistance: durable, with mixed resistance to various insect attacks.
– Workability: Camphor’s moderate density makes it easy to shape and machine with minimal effort. Areas of interlocked grain may cause tearout issues, but complications are usually minimal. Glues and finishes well.
Oaks commonly used in Japan
Nara (ナラ; 楢) – Oak (esp. Quercus serrata)
– Scientific name: Quercus serrata
– Distribution: East Asia
Mizunara (水楢) – Japanese Oak; Mongolian Oak
– Scientific name: Quercus crispula; Quercus mongolica
– Distribution: Japan and eastern Asia
– Specific Gravity (12% MC): .68
– Janka Hardness: 5,320 N
– Elastic Modulus: 10.51 GPa
Kashi (カシ; 樫) – Evergreen or “Live” Oak
– General information: Live oak is an umbrella term that includes a number of unrelated oaks and sections of the genus Quercus. Famous for use in shipbuilding, Live oak is seldom used for furniture or planking due to its propensity to curve when drying. However, it is extremely dense and strong, and so was still very much in demand for uses that required a curved contour, such as shipbuilding and tool handles.
– Specific gravity: (12% MC): .8 to 1
– Elastic Modulus: 13.52 GPa
– Shrinkage: Radial: 6.6%, Tangential: 9.5%, Volumetric: 14.7%, T/R Ratio: 1.4
– Janka Hardness: 12,920 N
– Rot Resistance: Live Oak has been rated as having very good resistance to decay.
Nire (ニレ; 楡) – Elm
– Scientific Name: Ulmus procera (English elm)
– Specific Gravity (12% MC): .57
– Janka Hardness: 3,620 N
– Elastic Modulus: 7.12 GPa
– Shrinkage: Radial: 5.0%, Tangential: 7.0%, Volumetric: 12.2%, T/R Ratio: 1.4
– Rot Resistance: Rated as non-durable; susceptible to insect attack. Living trees are susceptible to Dutch elm disease.
– Comments: Elm trees are commonly infected with Dutch elm disease, a fungal disease spread by elm bark beetles. D.E.D. has wiped out millions of Elm trees worldwide.
Sendan (センダン; 栴檀) – Chinaberry; Japanese bead tree
– Scientific name: Melia azedarach
– Distribution: native to Indomalaya and Australasia.
– Specific Gravity (12% MC): .61
– Janka Hardness: 4,400 N
– Elastic Modulus: 8.97 GPa
– Shrinkage: Radial: 5.0%, Tangential: 8.5%, Volumetric: 13.6%, T/R Ratio: 1.7
– Rot resistance: The heartwood is generally considered at least moderately durable, and somewhat resistant to insect attack.
Sugi (Japanese Cedar)
Sugi (杉) – Japanese Cedar; Japanese Red Cedar
– Scientific name: Cryptomeria japonica
– Distribution: endemic to Japan, but introduced to China, the Azores islands, Europe, North America and eastern Himalaya regions of Nepal and India. In the hills of Darjeeling and Sikkim, it is called dhuppi and the tall trees yield a light, soft wood that is extensively used for making planking for houses.
– Elastic modulus: 8.017 Gpa
– Specific gravity: .35
– Rot resistance: resistant to decay
– Symbolism: Sugi is the national tree of Japan, and many large and impressive trees can be found around older temples and shrines having been planted there hundreds of years ago.
Yakusugi (屋久杉) – Japanese cedar endemic to Yakushima (an island in the south of Japan).
In the strict sense, the term Yakusugi is reserved for trees aged 1,000 years or more, and younger trees are referred to as kosugi (“small cedars”). In general, the Japanese cedar lives for about 500 years, but yakusugi trees live much longer.
They grow on less nutritious granite soil slowly and have a very tight grain. The wood contains a lot of resin due to Yakushima’s high rainfall and high humidity, making it resistant to rotting. As a result, these trees tend to have longer lives, and many larger trees have survived for more than 2,000 years. Famous examples include the Jōmon Sugi, Kigen-sugi and Wilson stump.
Due to these reasons as well as the fact that commercial logging is no longer allowed, yakusugi timber is significantly more valuable than ordinary sugi, with large quarter-sawn slabs going for as much as 20,000 dollars.
Swamp Mahogany (スワンプマホガニー) – Swamp Mahogany
– Scientific Name: Eucalyptus robusta
– Distribution: Eastern Australia
– Specific Gravity (12% MC): .79
– Janka Hardness: 5,540 N
– Elastic Modulus: 14.12 GPa
– Shrinkage: Radial: 6.9%, Tangential: 10.5%, Volumetric: 17.4%, T/R Ratio: 1.5
Tamo (タモ) – Japanese Ash
– Scientific name: Fraxinus mandshurica
– Distribution: Northern Asia (China, Korea, Japan, and Russia).
– Specific gravity (12% mc): .56
– Elastic modulus: 8.24 Gpa
– Janka Hardness: 4,490 N
– Rot Resistance: Heartwood is rated as perishable; poor insect/borer resistance.
– Workability: Produces good results with hand or machine tools. Glues, stains, and finishes well.
Tochinoki (栃の木) – Japanese Horse-Chestnut
– Scientific name: Aesculus turbinata
– Distribution: native to Japan but cultivated elsewhere
– Specific Gravity (12% MC): .50
– Elastic modulus: 7.15 Gpa
– Janka Hardness: 3,630 N
– Rot Resistance: Horse Chestnut has poor decay resistance, and is rated as non-durable to perishable.
Walnut (ウオールナット) – Common, English, or Persian Walnut (although a Japanese Walnut exists, it is significantly lower in quality. Most imported Walnut falls into the Common Walnut category)
– Scientific name: Juglans regia
– Distribution: Balkans eastward to the Himalayas and southwest China. It is widely cultivated across Europe.
– Specific Gravity (12% MC): .64
– Elastic modulus: 10.81 Gpa
– Janka Hardness: 5,410 N
– Shrinkage: Radial: 5.5%, Tangential: 7.5%, Volumetric: 13.0%, T/R Ratio: 1.4
– Rot Resistance: English Walnut is rated as moderately durable in terms of decay resistance, though it is susceptible to insect attack.
Wood Database – much of the information on this page was taken from Wood Database.
Kondou Kougei – an online woodworking atelier here in Japan that I’ve bought slabs from. Very high quality with a great selection.