Wood from different trees has different characteristics. Architects and builders have always taken care to make sure that the kind of wood which they use is appropriate for the job it has to do. In medieval Ireland when oak was in plentiful, that was the tree which was used for most buildings. All timber has to be dried out - seasoned - before it can be used but oak has a peculiar and unique characteristic which means that when it has just been felled it is easily cut and shaped while within a couple of years it is hard and much more difficult to work. This means that oak was not stored but used almost as soon as it was dry.

Oak is a hard wood; so is beech, elm, chestnut and mahogany, a foreign wood which became a fashionable in the eighteenth century when it was imported from the West Indies. Hard woods are used for the parts of a building that get a lot of daily use - doors and window frames, benches and tables and furniture generally. They were also used for panelling in rooms - wainscoting - and for fitments in churches. The soft woods, such as pine, larch, poplar and lime, do not have the same dense texture and tend to mark easily.

They are used for the rougher parts of a building which, once they are put in place, are not seen. Such things as floor and ceiling joists, floorboards, roof trusses and rafters tend to be made of soft wood. Pine is the most common wood for these elements of a building. In the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries much of the soft wood that was used in Irish building was imported from Scandinavia.

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