Hardwood species are broad-leaved (such as oak, maple or teak) and are used to a much lower degree than softwood species (such as spruce, pine or fir) in the Canadian forest industry. Most of the products manufactured from softwood species can also be produced from hardwoods, but they tend to have different properties. Hardwood species are used more for non-structural, visual applications such as furniture, flooring and cabinet doors because of their greater colouring, grain and overall pleasing appearance. These aesthetic applications derive greater value from the wood than do structural applications. High-quality hardwoods are made into lumber and veneers, while low-grade hardwoods (such as aspen) can be used in oriented strand board.
On a global level there are two distinct types of hardwood species: tropical and non-tropical. Tropical species occur in Africa, Asia and Latin America, and non-tropical species are found in the Northern climates of North America, Europe and Russia. There are countless commercially important hardwood species around the world, and each displays characteristics well suited to specific and varied applications.
Factory lumber, the most common type of hardwood, is sold in random lengths and widths within thickness classes. It is then broken down into smaller pieces known as “cuttings,” usually based on the quality of one face meeting appearance grade specifications. The cuttings are then remanufactured or processed into higher-value secondary products such as furniture, cabinets, flooring and millwork.
Hardwood veneers are produced from logs or flitches. They are typically used as decorative surfaces for lower-quality woods or substrates (e.g., particleboard and medium-density fibreboard) or in applications that require contoured or bent wood (e.g., architectural millwork or furniture). Hardwood veneers are also used in the construction of hardwood plywood panels—thin, non-structural panel products used in applications where the aesthetic characteristics of the face veneers are exposed, such as in cabinetry, furniture, musical instruments, architectural detailing and interior design.
There are two distinct markets for hardwood products: one is for high-quality appearance wood and the other is for low-quality commodity use.
The appearance wood is used for highly visible products (e.g., flooring, furniture, moulding, cabinet doors and art), and the value is determined by the aesthetic quality of the species and the specific product.
Hardwood products that do not meet aesthetic standards are often used in pallets, containers and wood boxes for shipping, tool and utensil handles, and recently in the production of engineered wood products. Ongoing research is aimed at finding higher-value uses for low-grade hardwoods.
Although Canada produced 1.3 million cubic metres of hardwood lumber in 2012, this was less than one-tenth of the 15.5 million cubic metres of hardwood produced in the U.S.
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