With so many different tree species and so many different wood species to choose from, it can be a little difficult to make a choice when it comes to the optimal wood type for your home project.
Here at homestratosphere, we’ve dedicated much time and research to helping you choose the best wood type. We’ve covered all types of different wood, from to eucalyptus and today we are going to cover fir wood!
Fir trees are members of the genus abies which is comprised of 48-56 species of evergreen trees. They are classified under the botanical family pinaceae, and they are mostly found growing wild in Central and North America, as well as Asia, Europe, and North Africa.
Fir trees are commonly large trees. The genus name, abies, is actually the latin term translating “to rise”, which is in reference to their impressive heights.
Many other coniferous trees are commonly called “firs” such as the Douglas fir tree (pseudotsuga), the joint fir tree (Ephedra), and the hemlock fir tree (hemlock), but these are not true firs! They are usually given these common names because of their physical similarities.
However, for the purpose of this article, we will cover those non-fir tree species because they are labelled as fir wood in the lumber industry. So saddle up and get ready to learn about the different types of fir wood and their uses!
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What are the Identifying Characteristics of Fir Trees?
First and foremost, we at homestratosphere believe it is more than necessary to first introduce the fir tree as a living thing, before we go on to talk about its uses. Trees are our friendly green neighbors, and they offer so much more than just the wood that they grow.
Of course different fir species will have differing characteristics. Identification between these species will be based on the overall look of the needles, and the arrangement and size of cones.
Sometimes it can be tricky trying to identify the differences between different conifers! The western red cedar tree is very similar to the spruce tree, and sometimes it’s hard to tell the different between a spruce and a ponderosa pine.
The fir tree is an impressively large tree, and depending on the species it can grow to be anywhere from 30 to 270 feet tall. They exhibit the classic conical fir tree shape – with a robust and full base growing to a narrow tip.
Though not the most obvious way to identify a fir tree, we’ll cover fir tree bark. The bark on a young fir tree with be quite smooth and a light grey color, with that texture becoming more rough and furrowed as the tree ages.
Fir leaves are the main characteristic feature of fir trees that distinguishes them from other types of coniferous trees. Fir leaves are actually needle-like and grow directly from the shoot – this is one of the easiest ways to identify a fir tree.
Fire needles have two white-colored lines on their bottom. These lines are formed by the stomatal bands that are covered in a waxy substance – this gives a fir needle the appearance of being blue.
The upper surface of the leaves is green and shiny without any stomata. In some types of firs, the leaves are dull-green, gray-green, silvery or bluish-gray in color, with a coating of wax with varying numbers of stomatal bands.
The tips of fir leaves are usually notched but they may be rounded or dull sometimes. They can also be prickly and sharp, though a common characteristic is that fir needles are short and soft, especially compared to a to pine tree needles. The leaves of young fir plants are usually sharper.
Firs cones are between 2 and 10 inches in length, they are cylindrical in shape, and stand erect on a branch. They disintegrate upon maturity and release winged seeds. Even in larger trees, the cones do not hang but stay erect like candles. The color of young cones is usually green in summers that turn into brown, purple, or dark blue as they mature.
Types of Fir Wood
Depending on the fir wood type, it will hold different qualities and drawbacks. Most fir wood types are labelled as a softwood. The next section we will go through 12 different fir wood types and their multitudes of uses!
1. Abies Balsamea
Common Name: Balsam Fir Tree
Growing Range: Eastern and Central Canada, Northeastern United States
Height: 40-65 ft
Janka Hardness: 400 lbf
This North American fir is native to eastern and central Canada and the northeastern United States. It is popular for its rich green colored needles, natural conical shape and the retention of needles after being cut. It is one of the most fragrant varieties for Christmas trees.
Balsam fir an evergreen tree that is small to medium in sized tree, with typical heights occurring between 40 and 65 feet. Balsam fir trees have a narrow cone-shaped crown that has densely arranged dark-green colored leaves. The leaves are needle-like and flat. They are dark green on the surface and have a small stomatal patch near the tip
Young trees have a smooth, grey colored bark with resin blisters. It becomes fissured and rough or scaly as the tree grows old. Leaves are arranged in a spiral fashion on the shoot but twisted at the base. Seed cones are erect and dark purple that turn brown when ripe. They disintegrate in September to release winged seeds.
Balsam fir heartwood is anywhere from white to a red brown color with pale sapwood that isn’t very clearly distinguished from the heartwood. The wood tends to darken as it ages. It has a wonderfully straight grain and is medium to coarse in texture.
Though it is easily worked with either hand or machine, balsam fir wood is not considered as being very durable or decay resistant. It takes staining and painting well.
When balsam firs aren’t being grown as Christmas trees, they are used as construction lumber, as plywood, or as pulpwood. Since it isn’t the most attractive of wood, it is mostly used as an engineered wood.
2. Abies Fraseri
Common Name: Fraser Fir Tree
Growing Range: Southeastern United States
Height: 30-50 ft
This type of fir is native to the Appalachian Mountains in the southeastern United States. Fraser fir is related closely to balsam fir. It is an evergreen tree that is usually 10 to 15 meters tall.
It has a conical crown with straight branches that grow horizontally or at an upwards angle of 40o from the trunk. Young trees have a very densely growing crown, whereas older trees will have a more open canopy.
The bark of Fraser fir is smooth and thin with many resinous blisters. The bark becomes scaly as the tree matures. The leaves of Fraser fir are needle-shaped and arranged spirally along a stem. Needles are flat, flexible, and narrow.
Because of the softwood quality of Fraser fir wood and its lack of durability, it does not have much importance in the timber industry. Instead, Fraser fir trees are grown as a favorite Christmas tree. In fact, the Fraser fir has been the chosen specimen of the white house Christmas tree for decades!
3. Abies Grandis
Common Name: Grand Fir Tree
Growing Range: Pacific Northwest of North America
Height: 100-200 ft
Janka Hardness: 490 lbf
Grand fir is native to Northern California and Pacific Northwest of North America. It is a large, evergreen tree that is usually 100-200 feet tall!
Grand fir bark is smooth with a grayish-brown in color with resinous blisters and white spots. The bark becomes scaly as the tree become old. Grand fir needles are flat, flexible, and soft. They are a shiny dark green color and have a delicate notched tip. Needles are spirally arranged along twigs and are twisted at the base.
The cones are broad and scaly. The scale bracts of Grand fir are short and hidden inside a closed cone. The cones disintegrate to release winged seeds. One of the easier ways to identify a grand fir is by its enormous, erect standing cones.
Grand fir heartwood is a creamy white color that slowly darkens into a red/brown as the tree ages. The wood has a straight grain and medium to coarse texture, though it is not very durable. It is mostly used as pressure treated lumber, construction lumber, paper pulpwood, or as plywood.
4. Abies Pindrow
Common Name: Himalayan Fir Tree, Pindrow Fir Tree
Growing Range: Western Himalayas, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India
Height: 100-200 ft
Janka Hardness: 400 lbf
These types of fir are native to the western Himalayas, from northeast Afghanistan to northern Pakistan and India. It is a large, evergreen tree with a conical crown, usually reaching heights between 100 and 200 feet.
The shoots of Himalayan fir are smooth and grayish-pink to brown in color. The leaves are needle-shaped. They are shiny and dark green on the upper side with two white colored stomatal bands on their underside. Their arrangement on shoots is spiral. They are twisted at the base. The cones are broad and cylindrical. Young cones are dark purple in color. They disintegrate to release seeds after they are mature.
Himalayan fir wood is characteristic for balsam and Fraser fir wood. It is softwood that is light and color and not entirely durable. Though it is an important timber wood in its local growing regions, it is not commonly imported.
It is most commonly used for basic interior construction, for wood interior joinery, timber framing, floors and stairs, and is also a very important source for box making wood. And don’t forget, if wood isn’t the strongest of wood types, it can always be used as firewood!
5. Abies Koreana
Common Name: Korean Fir Tree
Growing Range: South Korea
Height: 40-80 ft
Korean fir is native to South Korea. It is an evergreen tree that grows to about 10 to 18 meters tall. It is most easily identified by its dark brown bark that is covered is resinous blisters, but is otherwise smooth.
Another way to identify a Korean fir tree is by its needle-like leaves. They are a glossy dark green color with distinguished, white stomatal bands. Each needle is slightly notched at the tip and they are spirally arranged along a twig.
Possibly the most characteristic feature of the Korean fir is its cones. Before they mature toa brown color they begin their life as a striking blue/purple color. Additionally, a striking aspect of the tree are young green shoots that mature into a pink color.
Korean fir trees tend to have rather weak wood and are therefore commonly used as ornamental trees. All the better for it since they have so many attractive features. They are used as a screen tree specimen, much in the way the western red cedar trees are!
6. Abies Procera
Common Name: Noble Fir Tree
Growing Range: Pacific Northwest of the United States
Height: 100-180 ft
Janka Hardness: 410 lbf
Noble fir is a western North American tree that is native to the Cascade Range and the Coast Range mountains. They are large, evergreen trees that can grow to almost 200 feet tall! They have a narrow cone-shaped crown and they get their name from their distinguished growth shape.
The young bark is smooth and gray in color. It has a resinous blisters. The bark becomes rough and brown in color as the tree matures. The leaves of Noble fir are needle-like. The green on the upper surface with strong stomatal bands on the underside. The leaves are arranged spirally and like leaves of all other types of fir, they are twisted at the base.
Noble fir tree wood is right on par with the other fir wood types. It is a softwood that isn’t very durable and is used mostly for more raw construction work. It is used as construction lumber, as plywood, and as a pulpwood. Heartwood is a pale white color that matures into a reddish color.
7. Abies Nordmanniana
Common Name: Nordmann Fir Tree
Growing Range: Western Europe, Eastern Asia
Height: 60-150 ft
Janka Hardness: 560 lbf
Nordmann fir trees are found on the mountains east and south of the Black Sea in Turkey, the Russian Caucasus, and Georgia. They are large evergreen trees that can usually obtain heights over 100 feet, unless they are growing on a Christmas tree farm.
The leaves of this species are flat and needle-like. They are glossy and dark green on the surface and have two bluish-white bands of stomata on their underside. The tip of leave sis blunt. They are slightly notched at the tip.
The cones of Nordmann fir are broad and scaly. The scales are exserted and have two winged seeds which are released when the cone disintegrates. The lifespan of this fir is longer than other firs.
Nordmann fir wood is a pale heartwood with an indistinguishable sapwood. Though they can be used as a timber wood in its natural growing range, wood is not exported for this reason. Trees are also grown for their ornamental value and to be grown as Christmas trees.
8. Abies Magnifica
Common Name: California Red Fir Tree, Red Fir Tree, Silvertip Fir Tree
Growing Range: California, Oregon
Height: 100-150 ft
Janka Hardness: 500 lbf
Red fir is native to mountains of California and southwest Oregon. They are evergreen trees that are fairly large, growing to heights of 100-150 feet. With a narrow conic crown, they have a more unique shape than other fir trees.
The bark of young red firs is smooth and gray in color with resinous blisters. The bark turns rough, fissured, and orange-red when the tree grows old. The leaves are needle-shaped. The upper surface of leaves is green while on the underside, the leaves have stomatal bands that are quite prominent. The leaves are arranged in a spiral fashion, slightly up-curved above the shoot.
Red fir wood is similar to that of most other fir species, with pale heartwood and pale sapwood as well. It works well and has a straight grain and coarse texture. It is most commonly used as construction timber or for interior joinery.
9. Abies Alba
Common Name: Silver Fir Tree
Growing Range: South-central Europe
Height: 100-150 ft
Janka Hardness: 320 lbf
Silver fir is native to Southern and central Europe. They are large trees with a height averaging around 120 feet! They have a pyramidal crown that becomes flat as the tree ages, which is a distinctive feature of this tree.
The bark of Silver fir is smooth and gray in color with scales and resinous blisters on it. Leaves are needle-like with a twisted base and a notched apex. The upper surface, like other species, is glossy and dark green while the lower surface of the leaves white stomatal bands.
The cones are cylindrical and blue, violet or red in color. Young cones are green but they turn brown when they are mature. Winged seeds are released when mature cones disintegrate.
Silver fir wood is known for being both lightweight and strong – stronger than other fir wood species. It is a lovely light color with even texture and fine grain. The long fibers make it an ideal choice for construction lumber, plywood, and for pulp paper production.
10. Abies Pinsapo
Common Name: Spanish Fir Tree
Growing Range: Morocco, Spain
Height: 70-98 ft
Janka Hardness: 590 lbf
This species of fir is native to Northern Morocco and Southern Spain. Spanish fir is an evergreen tree that grows to about 100 feet tall in the perfect conditions. They have a cone-shaped crown that becomes irregularly shaped like the tree ages – a characteristic aspect of the Spanish fir.
The leaves of Spanish fir are arranged radially all around the shoot. They are dull blue-green in color with broad, white colored bands of stomata on both sides of the leaf.
The bark is smooth when young but it becomes rough and fissured with age. The cones are cylinder shaped. Young cones are greenish-pink in color but they turn purple before maturity. The cones are smooth with short bract scales that are not exserted. They disintegrate to release winged seeds.
The Spanish fir tree is unfortunately currently listed as an endangered tree species. For this reason it is not grown for ornamental cultivation purposes, nor for lumber.
11. Abies Lasiocarpa
Common Name: Subalpine Fir Tree, Rocky Mountain Douglas Fir Tree,
Growing Range: Western North America
Height: 50-66 ft
Janka Hardness: 350 lbf
Subalpine fir is native to Western North America. It is of medium size, growing up to 20 meters in height, sometimes up to 50 meters tall. They have a narrow crown that is cone shaped.
The young bark is gray in color and smooth with resinous blisters. It becomes rough and fissured as the tree ages. The leaves of this fir tree are needle-like and flat. They are dull green on the upper surface with a broad stomatal stripe and two bluish-white stomatal bands on the underside. Leaves are arranged in a spiral manner, with twisted base.
The cones of subalpine fir are erect with blackish-purple color. They ripen to become brown. They release winged seeds upon maturation.
Subalpine fir wood has pale heartwood with as equally pale sapwood. It is not super resistant to decay and is not very durable, and therefore is used for more raw and foundational construction purposes. It is grown for construction lumber, as pulpwood, and for plywood.
12. Abies Concolor
Common Name: White Fir Tree
Growing Range: Western North America
Height: 100-250 ft
Janka Hardness: 480 lbf
Native to western North America, White fir is a huge evergreen tree – the largest specimen ever recorded was a baffling 267 feet tall!
The leaves of White fir are flat and needle-like. They are a shade of dull blue-green on the upper surface with two dull blue-white colored stomatal bands on the lower surface. Leaves are arranged spirally and are slightly notched at tips. Each leaf is twisted at the base.
The cones are green colored that becomes purple when ripe. Cones are broad and scaly. Scale bracts are short and hidden inside the cone. Cones din integrate at maturity to release winged seeds.
White fir wood has a pale heartwood color that darkens to a lovely red/brown as it ages. It has a coarse grain with medium texture. It mostly has utility purposes, as most other fir tree wood does.
13. Pseudotsuga Menziesii
Common Name: Douglas Fir Tree, Douglas Spruce Tree, Oregon Pine Tree, Columbia Pine Tree
Growing Range: Western North America
Height: 70-330 ft
Janka Hardness: 620 lbf
Though the Douglas fir is not actually a true fir, nor a spruce, nor a pine, nor a hemlock, all of these other tree species owe their overall commercial value to the Douglas fir. Often labelled as SPF lumber (spruce, pine, fir), many other wood types are blended with Douglas fir, making it more valuable.
There are three varieties of Douglas fir: coast Douglas fir, rocky mountain Douglas fir, and Mexican Douglas fir. These are both huge trees and long lived trees, with an average life expectancy of 500-1000 years old!
These aspects, along with the overall quality of the wood, makes the Douglas fir tree the most valuable timber tree species on the planet. Douglas fir wood is both lightweight and strong, even though it is still a softwood.
Douglas fir lumber is a lovely cream color that darkens to a light brown/red as it ages. It also has distinctive dark growth rings. The grain pattern is mostly straight but slightly wavy with a medium to coarse grain. It also has a moderate natural luster.
Douglas fir lumber is significantly more durable and resistant to decay than true fir wood species as well. It is commonly used for veneer, plywood, and many different structural construction lumber purposes, like timber frame construction, timber trusses, wood joinery, and flooring.
Douglas fir trees are also extensively used for forestry management. They are a very essential part to their local ecosystems, and forests would truly perish without the presence of the Douglas fir.