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Northern Research Station
One Gifford Pinchot Drive
Madison, WI 53726
(608) 231-9318
(608) 231-9544 TTY/TDD

Sustaining Forests

Determining Wood Species Preferences

Research Issue

[photo:] Human preferences for species, color, and characteristics of wood change through time, and those changes drive both domestic and foreign wood and wood-manufacturing markets.Wood, in many ways, is unique among consumer products having a number of characteristics that set it apart from other products. Variations in color, hardness, texture, weight, and natural markings or character as well as the ease with which wood appearance can be altered with stains and paint make it distinctive and enduring. Understanding consumer preferences for characteristics and species can aid in the marketing of U.S. species, as manufacturers have the opportunity to use preference knowledge to promote their products. This is especially important today because during the past two decades substantial portions of U.S. furniture and other wood products manufacturing have moved overseas. This retreat from the U.S. is problematic for at least three reasons: 1) traditional hardwood markets are lost, 2) foreign manufacturing creates opportunity for non-U.S. species to be substituted in manufacturing, and 3) U.S. timberland owners may experience lost revenues due to decreased market demand. 

Our Research

Consumer acceptance of common wood characteristics has not been adequately addressed, nor has species preference in regards to country of origin. We seek to understand consumer preferences for a variety of U.S. and foreign species and their associated characteristics to enhance industry competitiveness and market opportunities for both the manufacturer and landowner.

Expected Outcomes

By gaining a better understanding of what consumers want, we can provide manufacturers needed information on how to market their hardwood products to compete against foreign species and other substitute products. A primary objective is determining industrial and end-consumer preferences of growth characteristics, in particular, ring density (growth rings per inch: loose, medium, fine) and ring texture (wood members containing adjacent areas of fast and slow growth) and color (consistency, hue, and lightness). These findings also can be directly applied to the management of U.S. hardwood forests. Understanding perceptions of character-marked products to improve wood utilization and provide more options to consumers also is critical. This information is distributed directly to the forest products industry, state forestry agencies, utilization foresters, consultants, and others involved in planning production and making decisions about future directions and markets. 

Research Results

Lowell, E.C.; Wilson, K; Friday, J.B.; Wiedenbeck, J; Chan, C. 2015. Market appeal of Hawaiian koa wood product characteristics: a consumer preference study. In: Proceedings, 58th International Convention of Society of Wood Science and Technology; 2015 June 7-12; Jackson, WY. Monona, WI: Society of Wood Science and Technology: 743-749.

Nicholls, David; Bumgardner, Matthew. 2015. Low-grade and character-marked hardwoods: A research review and synthesis of solid wood manufacturing and marketing. The Forestry Chronicle. 91(05): 548-559.

Nicholls, D.; Bumgardner, M.; Barber, V. 2010. Consumer and manufacturer perceptions of hardwood panels made from character-marked lumber. International Wood Products Journal. 1(1):28-34.

Nicholls, D.; Bumgardner, M.; Barber, V. 2010. Edge-glued panels from Alaska hardwoods: retail manager perspectives. Gen. Tech. Rep. PNW-GTR-809. Portland, OR: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station. 14p.

Bumgardner, M.; Nicholls, D.; Barber, V. 2009. Character-marked furniture made from red alder harvested in southeast Alaska: product perspectives from consumers and retailers. Canadian Journal of Forest Research. 39(12):2450-2459.

Bumgardner, M.; Nicholls, D.; Donovan, G. 2007. Effects of species information and furniture price on consumer preferences for selected woods. Wood and Fiber Science. 39(1):71-81.

Alderman, D.; Nakamoto, K; Brinberg, D. 2005. Hardwood veneer attribute assessment, social judgment theory and ramifications for procurement and manufacturing. Proceedings paper: International Symposium on Wood Science Technologies, Yokohama, Japan.

Bowe, S.A.; Bumgardner, M.S. 2004. Species selection in secondary wood products: perspectives from different consumers. Wood and Fiber Science. 36(3): 319-328.

Wiedenbeck, J.; Wiemann, M.; Alderman, D; Baumgras, J.; Luppold, B. 2004. Defining hardwood veneer log quality attributes. USDA Forest Service, NE-GTR-313.

Research Participants

Principal Investigator

  • Delton Alderman, Principal Investigator, USDA Forest Service-Northern Research Station, Research Forest Products Technologist
  • Matthew Bumgardner, USDA Forest Service-Northern Research Station, Research Forest Products Technologist
  • Jan Wiedenbeck, USDA Forest Service-Northern Research Station, Research Forest Products Technologist

Research Partner

Last Modified: 06/13/2018