Furniture timbers employed in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century England were a diverse lot, not only in their figure, colour and workability, but also their origins. Pine and oak (for carcasses) was imported from the Baltics and Holland respectively, walnut from France and Italy, ‘red’ (black) Walnut from New England, mahogany from the West Indies, ebony, padouk, rosewood and satinwood from the East Indies along with many other exotics from South America and the East.
The London furniture trade was the largest consumer of these imports as it serviced a highly concentrated and eminently wealthy clientele. Large quantities of the sawn and un-sawn imported timber inevitably found its way to regional centres too, though the truly rural country furniture makers largely used what grew in their locality. Fine London fashions were regularly emulated by rural cabinetmakers in indigenous timbers too, often with charming results.
I would like to discuss some of the history of these furniture timbers and the properties which made them popular. In no particular order, but coincidentally, I’ll begin with the ash and will add other species in due course (see under ‘Furniture Timbers’).