The Hardest Wood

(No impotence jokes)

My house is framed with the absolute hardest wood I have ever seen. It’s so hard, I have trouble getting nails into it - I usually bend off three or four before I get the nail in far enough to keep it from buckling. Then when I do get one in, it goes about a half-inch deep before I literally cannot drive it in any farther. I can swing a hammer - worked construction in college - but it bounces off the nailhead like you’re beating a rock.

I thought houses were usually framed with softwoods like pine or fir. Wouldn’t you want to avoid using wood that won’t take a nail? Maybe the wood was soft when they built the house, then got hard over time. The wood is very dark in color, almost like a burnt orange.

Does anyone who knows about lumber have an idea what is going on? My house is in Southern California and was built in 1955.

Huh huh, you said “wood”. Huh huh.

Seriously though, this site suggests a few types of wood that are dark orange in color which come primarily from Mexico and Central America. Perhaps it’s bocote.

To a certain extent, it sounds a lot like southern yellow pine, but the CA location might suggest otherwise. Southern yellow pine does indeed get extremely hard once it is fully cured, making sawing and nail driving difficult. It also depends on where in the house the wood has aged. A nice dry attic makes for some very solid wood while damp basements obviously don’t.

But even such aged wood is nothing compared to ironwood for example.

Yeah, somebody’s going to frame a house with an exotic hardwood.

A quick guess would be that it’s Douglas Fir, which can have an orangish color, and, while technically a softwood, is as hard as the wood of some decidous trees. It’s sometimes used for flooring, for instance, as well as construction lumber.

BTW, lignum vitae is usually regarded as the hardest commercial wood:

I once helped with the rebuilding of a log cabin (roof, floor, foundation stones, interior) and it had been built over 50 years earlier with oak rough cut framing. It was also very tight rings, meaning slow growth in among other trees. We killed lots of nails doing that job. You had to use a large crowbar to back out any nails.

This was in NH, and all the materials were local. As to why they would use that, well the oak lumber was still solid after 50+ years. And it was probably cut on the cabin site so it was cheap.

Stuff like this is why I hang out here (among the many, many, many other reasons). Up to that point, I thought the ginkgo tree was the only broad-leaf evergreen. According to that, ginkgo isn’t even an evergreen tree.

FYI, the terms Softwood and Hardwood don’t refer to the density of the wood fibres. Instead they refer to the seed structure. I.e. Softwood trees, typically coniferous, don’t have hard, closed seeds like deciduous trees (oak, maple, etc.) Weird as it sounds, Balsa is a hardwood.

My first thought was acacia.

My ignorant opinion seconds the vote for Douglas Fir. I grew up in an ancient house on the left coast framed of the stuff (the 2x4s were actually 2 inches by 4 inches, a good explanation as to why this is still not the case continues to elude me). But yeah, it was an absolute bugger to hang drywall on.

I know it was Douglas Fir because we knew the guy who’d built it (well, dad knew the guy, he was dead by the time I was born). He’d harvested the lumber and everything himself from the property. As I recall the studs were a deep umber color, almost black on the outside. But if you cut into them it was deep orange.

AFAIK, ebony and rosewood outdo those mentioned so far.

From your description, it sounds kind of like Bois d’arc or as we say in Oklahoma, Bodark. It’s also known as Osage Orange and is incredibly hard but I’ve never heard of anyone building a house out of it.

It’s not that uncommon with pine, especially if it got lots o’ time to cure/dry.

I’d bet you are dealing with typical pine or fir and that the wood just hardened in the right conditions. A good test would be to drive a screw somewhere and see if it binds.

Another possibility not mentioned is that the studs could be hard and be experiencing deflection, which would absorb alot of the energy of the blow and not allow the nail to be driven. You can probably remember a time when a board wasn’t locked down when you were driving a nail and how innefficient it is. The energy is absorbed by the deflection of the board.

Also, what type of nails are you driving?

I’ll second **KRM’s ** guess that it may be Bois d’arc, aka Osage Orange, Horse Apple. Its wood is bright yellow when new and extremely hard. Fence posts made from Bois d’arc last forever, so it would probably make a good material for the foundation of a house. If you need to work with it at all you need to do so while it’s still green, otherwise you may as well try to nail into concrete. I’ve heard that it gives off spectacular sparks when burned.

You say your house was built in 1955. I would think that anything that recent would have been built from common materials, not some oddball thing like Bois d’arc. Could it have been built by local craftsmen using some kind of traditional approach?

Hey, me too. Big fat redwood 2" x 4" rough-sawn SOBs everywhere. I loved that house. :slight_smile:

A good explanation why full sized 2" by 4" members are not used anymore is that it represents unnecessary weight. You don’t want your structure to weigh anymore than it has to since it has to hold up its own weight too. The structures I worked on in snow country had 2x6 walls. You can probably think of the reasoning behind that move.

I think the process of going under nominal started when mills started cutting construction lumber prior to kiln drying. The drying process shrinks the wood and brings it under “nominal” dimensions. The question of whether they did this as a move to pinch pennies or whether their engineers and code allowed them to I’ll allow to the attorneys involved.

With respect to the OP: Are you going to be striking a number of nails into these walls, or was it just a case of hanging a picture, or two, or some cabinetry? If you’re going to be smackin’ more than the occasional nail in that material may I recommend something air-powered?

If you ship 2x4s that are actually 1.5x3.5, you can fit 52% more of them on the truck.

Indeed. A mature ironwood tree, fifty years old or so, is only about an inch or two in diameter. A friend of mine once decided to chop one down, and dulled three axes before he was done. It’s also sometimes called musclewood, since the trunk forms bulges that look like muscles. Of course, given its small diameter, it’s not good for making much other than the mother of all hiking staves.

but…then…they’re not *really * 2 x 4s. Are they. I blame Bush. But enough of this hijack :smiley:

Doesn’t all wood shrink and become harder over the years. Most framing timber on older homes is like stone. I recall years ago my brother, the fireman, was explaining just how much wood shrinks while demonstrating that old construction timber doesn’t burn - it can turn to charcoal with sufficient heat but if it doesn’t contain sufficient volatile material that won’t happen unaided. It’s all part of a “how not to die in a fire presentation”.

I believe so. At least in the area I was brought up, it was a big pain in the ass to drive anything in the framing wood of old houses (100 to 400 years old houses). However I couldn’t tell whether it was so because the wood used was old or because the wood used locally (a specie of oak) was really hard to begin with.

Besides, the OP’s house isn’t that old.

My vote is for southern yellow pine. It is very orangey when compared with regular 2x4s today. I remodeled a house built about that time…when that kind of 2x4 was common. They are hard as nails and weigh considerably more than modern counterparts.