Types of Wood Used in Picture and Painting Frames

The framing industry has long strived to provide customers with value for money and various high-quality frames. Wood is obtained from multiple trees for this purpose. However, picture frame moldings can be divided into two categories: hardwood frames and softwood frames.

Hardwood and softwood frames

This indicates that one side is made of rugged, hard-to-work wood, while the other is soft and forgiving. The designation is not always related to the hardness or density of the wood. For example, as is basswood, balsa is one of the most common woods used to make picture frames. Teks are usually used for wood and metal drilling, thus this can help make frames dense and durable when assembling them.

All hardwoods have in common that the seeds have shells like apples, acorns, and walnuts. In contrast, coniferous trees drop seeds without shells, like pines. Hardwoods are generally deciduous and lose their leaves in winter.

Softwood trees are more commonly evergreens

We cannot say that all hardwoods are hard and dense, but we can also say that the hardest and thickest woods are hardwoods. This is where the confusion arises from the workability of wood rather than a strict specification.

Therefore, basswood frames are often referred to as softwood frames, as opposed to oak or maple, which are generally considered hardwoods due to their density and strength.

To further confuse the matter, many commercial frame moldings are made from basswood or ramin (both soft hardwoods) but veneered to mimic harder woods such as cherry, walnut, and maple. Hardwood is generally a strong, durable wood that resists dents and scratches. One way to tell hardwood slats from softwood slats is to scratch the slats with your fingernail. If it doesn’t scratch easily, it may be hardwood.

Hardwood is considered more attractive than softwoods because it has a distinct grain pattern. However, very dense hardwoods such as oak, maple, hickory, and teak can be difficult to saw, sand, and nail.

Softwood, on the other hand, is much easier to work with, but it warps easily and can leak sap. The most commonly used softwoods for picture frames are basswood, ramin, obeche, and mahogany. The most common dense hardwoods are oak, walnut, cherry, and ash.

The most common very soft conifers are pine, sequoia, and cedar. Whichever molding you choose, remember that the framing industry has always strived to provide wood that is inexpensive, easy to work with, and has the beauty and character that make a great work of art. 

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