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Chinese antique furniture material

English
Pinyin
Properties
Elm
yumu
Yumu (Ulmus, Northern Elm) is traditionally the most common softwood used in the manufacture of furniture in Northern China. The sapwood tends to be yellowish-brown in tone, whereas the heartwood is typically more of a chestnut brown color; both possess a striking, wave-like grain. This wood dries with difficulty, and is of medium density and hardness, making it an excellent medium for furniture manufacture. 

Elm wood is used in many Chinese furniture pieces for its durability and wide grain.  Light yellow to brown color. 
 

Camphor
zhangmu
Camphor occurs in the camphor laurel, Cinnamomum camphora, common in China, Taiwan, and Japan. 

Camphor is used in Chinese furnishings not only for its beautiful grain, but also because it acts similar to cedar in deterring moths (hence its wide use in storage trunks.) 

One of the oldest spices, Chinese cinnamon (cassia), is produced in the bark of C. cassia. Another species is used medicinally and in the manufacture of explosives!

Beech 
jumu
Jumu (Southern Elm, Zelkova) 

Southern Elm was a popular furniture-making wood in the Suzhou region. It is distinguished from its northern counterpart by a more refined ring porous structure that is apparent in the tangential surface, and by small medullary rays that are visible as fine reflective flecks across the radial surface. Southern Elm is also comparatively denser and stronger. 

Southern Elm is widely distributed throughout China with concentrations found in Jiangsu, Zhejiang, and Anhui provinces as well as Korea and Japan, where it is commonly known as keyaki. The arbor reaches 30 meters in height and the trunk, 1.5 meter in diameter. 

The sapwood is distinguished from the slightly darker heartwood, which varies in tonality from yellowish brown to coffee-brown. Jiangsu craftsmen traditionally divide jumu into three types: yellow ju (huangju), red ju (hongju), and blood ju (xueju). Factors including the age of the tree are thought to account for these variations in color as well as ranging densities (63-.79 g/cm3). Blood ju, with a reddish-brown coffee color as well as some feathery like figure in the tangential surface, is the most highly prized.

Fir
shanmu
Straight and even grained with a medium to fine texture. Creamy white to pale brown color, heartwood indistinguishable from sapwood. 

Light and soft with low strength, shock resistance, and decay resistance. 

Works fairly easily with hand or machine tools. Glues, screws, nails, stains, paints, and varnishes well. 

Used primarily for general construction, as well as boxes, crates, sash, doors, trim, plywood, and pulpwood. 

Cypress
baimu
Cypress is distributed throughout warm-temperate and subtropical regions of Asia, Europe, and North America. Their bark is sometimes smooth, but in most species it separates into thin plates or strips that may be shed from the tree. The bark is usually aromatic. 

This tree grows at the edges of swamps or streams, and its roots form natural crooks above the water. The crooks are frequently used in the construction of wooden boats. 

The wood is light yellow to light brown, and is very resistant to rot and decay.

ChickenWing
jichimu
Jichimu, literally translated as 'chicken-wing wood', describes a wood whose deep brown and gray patterns when cut tangentially resemble the patterns of bird feathers. The radial cut appears less dramatically with parallel lines of concentric layered tissue. It is botanically classified in the Ormosia genus of which as many as twenty-six species may grow in China. Jichimu is indigenous to Hainan Island, and the relatively large quantity of jichimu furniture found in Fujian province also corresponds to a source where seven different species are reportedly found today, and whose materials are virtually undifferentiated, yet bear varying leaf patterns. Hongdou (red bean), and xiangsi may also be other names for related species. 
Walnut
hetaomu
Walnut was used for many examples of Qing period furniture sourced from the Shanxi region, which generally demonstrate refined workmanship; earlier pieces are extremely rare. Walnut is easily confused with nanmu, however, the surface of walnut tends to have more of an open-grained texture, and the color tends more towards golden-brown or reddish-brown when contrasted with the olive-brown tones of nanmu. Furthermore, their freshly worked surfaces each emit a distinctive fragrance. 

China has several species of walnut that produce timber suited for high-quality furniture-making. True Walnut (J. regia L.) is generally cultivated in the north and northwestern regions, but also extends into the southwestern provinces. It is a deciduous tree reaching 20 meters in height that produces an edible nut that can be pressed into a high-quality vegetable oil. The light-colored sapwood is clearly distinguishable from the heartwood, the latter being reddish-brown too chestnut-brown in color, and sometimes even purplish, or with darker striated patterning. It dries very slowly, but is quite stable afterwards. It is of medium density (±62 g/cm3) and has a relatively fine texture. 

Because True Walnut is generally cultivated for its fruit rather than timber, Manchurian Walnut (J. mandsharica M.) is often used in its place. It is distributed throughout the northern to northeastern forests of China. It is somewhat lower in density (±.53 g/cm3) than True Walnut, and somewhat lighter in color. Wild Walnut (J. cathayensis) is distributed throughout central-to-eastern China, with noted concentrations in Yunnan province. 

The dark, fine-grained wood of English and black walnuts is used for furniture, panelling, and gunstocks.  It's tough wood has a medium density and straight grain.

Ebony
heitanmu
The best ebony is very heavy, almost black, and derived from heartwood only. Because of its color, durability, hardness, and ability to take a high polish, ebony is used for cabinetwork and inlaying, piano keys, knife handles, and turned articles. 

It was employed by the ancient kings of India for sceptres and images and, because of its supposed antagonism to poison, for drinking cups.Herodotus states that the Ethiopians every three years sent a tribute of 200 logs of ebony to Persia. 

Its closeness of grain, great hardness, and fine hazel-brown colour, mottled and striped with black, render it valuable for veneering and furniture making.

Birch
huamu
Birch has smooth, resinous, varicoloured or white bark, marked by horizontal pores (lenticels), which usually peels horizontally in thin sheets, especially on young trees. On older trunks the thick, deeply furrowed bark breaks into irregular plates. 

It is one of the toughest American woods, with fine grain and pleasing light tone similar to maple. Birch can offer a variety of grain patterns (straight, curly, and wavy) and can be stained to resemble walnut or mahogany. 

Birch trees of the family's representative genus produce close-grained wood of uniform texture that is used in furniture, flooring, plywood, and veneers. It has a medium brown heartwood with a light cream colored sapwood.

Huanghuali
huanghuali
The Chinese term huanghuali literally means "yellow flowering pear" wood. It is a member of the rosewood family and is botanically classified as Dalbergia odorifera. In premodern times the wood was know as huali or hualu. The modifier huang (yellowish-brown) was added in the early twentieth century to describe old huali wood whose surfaces had mellowed to a yellowish tone due to long exposure to light. The sweet fragrance of huali distinguishes it from the similar appearing but pungent-odored hongmu. 

The finest huanghuali has a translucent shimmering surface with abstractly figured patterns that delight the eye--those appearing like ghost faces were highly prized. The color can range from reddish-brown to golden-yellow. Historical references point to Hainan Island as the main source of huali. However, variations in the color, figure, and density suggest similar species sourced throughout North Vietnam, Guangxi, Indochina and the other isles of the South China Sea. 

Nanmu
nanmu
Nanmu and nanmu burl (douban nan) were frequently mentioned as materials par excellence in Ming literati writings. The former was often used for cabinet construction; the latter, for decorative cabinet door and table top panels as well as smaller scholar's objects. 

Nanmu is a large, slow growing tree of the evergreen laurel family that develops with a long straight trunk ranging from 10-40 meters in height, and 50 to 100 cm in diameter. While sharing some characteristics with the coniferous cedar, it bears no botanical relationship. More than thirty varieties are found south of the Yangzi River with concentrations in the southwest; varieties are also indigenous to Hainan Island and Vietnam. 

Zhennan (True Nanmu) from Sichuan and Guizhou, zinan (Purple Nanmu) from the southeastern and south-central regions, and hongmaoshan nan (Hongmao Mountain Nanmu) from Hainan Island are generally considered to produce the finest timber. These wood ranges in color from a warm olive-brown color to a reddish-brown color. Other species of nanmu with a coarse, loosely structured grain and lighter color are considered inferior. 

Because it is highly resistant to decay, nanmu was frequently used for architectural woodworking and boat-building. The wood dries well with minimal warping or splitting after which it is dimensionally stable and of medium density (zhennan .61 g/cm3). Nanmu also emits a pungent fragrance when freshly worked. And because it polishes to a shimmering surface and has fine smooth texture, it was also prized as furniture-making wood. Shimmering characteristics also qualify that which is termed 'jinsi' (golden-thread) nanmu. The burl of nanmu (douban nan) was also commonly featured in table and cabinet door

Hongmu
hongmu
Also named redwood or hongmu. A dense, hard and comparatively stable material for furniture, which produces a color absorption result over others. Frequently called Suen Dzee (or Suan Zhi in mandarin) by the southern craftsmen, its wood grain percentage is higher than most comparables. It can be stained to a rich and dark brown lustre, enhanced even more through maturing. Availability is firm, though price is escalating. There are three different colors for blackwood : the pale, the red and the black. Within them, pale blackwood displays a grain very similar to Huang-Huali. Wood sample depicted here is pale blackwood, which is the one we use most. 

Just to be cautious, some people regard hongmu as a broad range of wood types, including even rosewood, while certain retailers say that hongmu is a type of wood inferior to rosewood and blackwood, so always ask for the specific meaning when they use the term "hongmu". 

Mahogany is also called Hongmu in China which  is one of the most popular wood types for furniture making and panelling in the US for its color and grain, and is also used in Chinese cabinets and desks for it's beauty and durability. 

Rosewood
hualimu
Rosewood is a deep, ruddy brown to purplish-brown colour, richly streaked and grained with black resinous layers. It takes a fine polish but because of its resinous nature is difficult to work. The heartwood attains large dimensions, but squared logs or planks are never seen because before the tree arrives at maturity, the heartwood begins to decay, making it faulty and hollow at the centre. 

Once much in demand by cabinetmakers and piano makers, the wood is still used to fashion xylophone bars, but waning supplies restrict its use in contemporary furniture making. 

Sandalwood
zitanmu
Both tree and roots contain a yellow aromatic oil, called sandalwood oil, the odor of which persists for years in such articles as ornamental boxes, furniture, and fans made of the white sapwood. 

Sandalwood trees have been cultivated since antiquity for their yellowish heartwood, which plays a major role in many Oriental funeral ceremonies and religious rites. 

The trees are slow growing, usually taking about 30 years for the heartwood to reach an economically useful thickness. 

Zitan is an extremely dense wood which sinks in water. It is a member of the rosewood family and is botanically classified in the Pterocarpus genus. The wood is blackish-purple to blackish-red in color, and its fibers are laden with deep red pigments which have been used for dye since ancient times. The fine texture of the wood grain is especially suitable for intricate carving. 

Early records indicate that zitan was sourced in tropical forests of southern China, throughout Indochina, and from Hainan Island. The tree grows quite slowly. Few pieces are known to be greater than one foot in width. While the tree has been considered to be extinct, new sources have been discovered in Indo-China as well as Southeast Asia over the recent years.

Teak
youmu
Teak timber is valued in warm countries principally for its extraordinary durability. In India and in Burma, beams of the wood in good preservation are often found in buildings many centuries old, and teak beams have lasted in palaces and temples more than 1,000 years. The timber is practically imperishable under cover. 

Teakwood is used for shipbuilding, fine furniture, door and window frames, wharves, bridges, cooling-tower louvres, flooring, panelling, railway cars, and venetian blinds. An important property of teak is its extremely good dimensional stability. It is strong, of medium weight, and of average hardness. Termites eat the sapwood but rarely attack the heartwood; it is not, however, completely resistant to marine borers.

Chinese Catalpa
qiumu
Any of 11 species of trees in the genus Catalpa (family Bignoniaceae), native to eastern Asia, eastern North America, and the West Indies. Catalpas have large, attractive leaves and showy, white, yellowish, or purplish flowers. The catalpa fruit is a long cylindrical pod bearing numerous seeds with white tufts of hair at each end. 

The common catalpa is C. bignonioides, which yields a durable timber and is one of the most widely planted ornamental species.

Burl
yingmu
Also called Yingmu (Literally means shadow wood) or Huamu , got its name with its cloudy and curly looking grains resembling bud formations. Grown on the root or trunk of any trees, in oval lump shape or twisted knots, just like tumor. It is a natural insulation material. Some use it for smoking pipes and decorative components. Burl wood is usually available in planking less than 8mm thick. Length is almost always under 90cm, and width lower than 40cm. Supply of the old burl wood, taken from panels removed from demolished houses, is diminishing by time.
Pine
songmu
Straight grained, sometimes with a bird's eye pattern, and with a medium coarse texture. Typically has prominent dark resin duct lines and numerous small but sound knots. Light reddish brown heartwood and wide, nearly white to pale yellow sapwood. 

Light and soft with low strength and shock resistance, moderately low stiffness, low decay resistance, poor steam bending, and good stability in service. 

Works fairly well with machine or hand tools although resin can gum-up cutters. Planes, turns, moulds, routs, bores, and mortises very well. Glues, nails and screws easily with a low tendency to split. Paints and finishes fairly well although a sealer coat may be needed to handle resin bleed-out, especially near knots. 

Oak
zuomu
Although furniture made from oak is somewhat rare, the material has long been known as an excellent furniture-making wood. The variety known as gaoli was used in the Yongzheng (1723-1735) Imperial workshops, and earlier examples have also survived. Botanists have identified one hundred forty types of oaks widely distributed throughout China. These are divided into the evergreen Qingfeng group and the Mali group, the latter inclusive of both deciduous and evergreen varieties. Three species suited for furniture-making are noted below. 

The Blue Japanese Oak (C. glauca) is widely distributed from Japan to India and commonly reaches heights of 20 meters with trunk diameters of one meter. The sapwood and heartwood are not clearly distinguished and range from grayish-yellow to grayish-brown with streaks of brown or red. The material is difficult to dry and not easy to work, however, it is extremely dense (±.90 g/cm3) and hard. Distinctive medullary rays appear in the tangential surface as short dark lines; in the radial surface, they appear as lustrous flecks woven through the longitudinal grain. The Sawtooth Oak (Q. acutissima) is also broadly distributed throughout China. With the exception of its reddish-brown heartwood, other characteristics are similar to the Blue Japanese Oak. 

The somewhat less dense (.67-.75 g/cm3) Mongolian Oak (Q. mongolica) grows throughout north central and northeastern China, and is found from stretching westward through Japan , Korea, Mongolia, and Siberia. A similar species of growing in the Xing'anling region of Mongolia has been related to that commonly termed gaoli mu---Gaoli being a Chinese reference to ancient Korea.

Tieli
tieli
Tieli wood is often confused with jichimu, yet lacks the latter's contrasting colors. Tieli is predominantly grayish black, and its open grain has a coarse texture. It once grew abundant in Guangdong where its large timbers were used for bridges and house construction; on Hainan Island the natives used it for firewood. Nevertheless, in the more northern regions its was regarded as a rare hardwood and was noted for as a desirable wood for furniture-making in late Ming texts. Furniture made from tieli often has a thick quality and is frequently with little or no carved decoration.

Very precious woods such as Huang hua li, teakwood, tieli or jichimu were imported from the southern Asia countries today known as Burma, Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia. These tropical weather type woods have been imported into China for more than 2000 years. During the Ming and Qing Dynasties, wealthy inland provinces like Shanxi would deliver these woods by river barge.

Oakwood grows in the northern part of China and Korea, hence the name Gaoli mu (‘Korean Wood’). Zuomu is from Liaoning and Jilin, formerly Manchuria. Native Chinese woods are primarily Elmwood, Beechwood, Pine and Fir, with some Mahogany and Walnut.

Poorer provinces developed the lacquer technique to copy the dark color and style of the Zitan, or dark red Sandlewood, furniture. Lacquered furniture became very popular and eventually overtook the importance of the original wood grain; we sometimes find beautiful natural wood under old worn-off lacquer. Shanxi province developed the best quality lacquer furniture, especially during the reign of Emperor Qian Long (1760 - 1795), and can now be found in the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace.

The Southern provinces used bright red lacquer for decoration and wedding cabinets, red being the color of marriage. The often used it to cover bamboo and soft woods like pine, fir and willow.

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