Redwood is a term that I suspect many are familiar with but it is simply a common name that lack specificity. To scientists, Redwood is known as Sequoia sempervirens.
S. sempervirens is widely known as being one of the tallest tree species in the world along with being amongst the oldest living organisms on Earth.
S. sempervirens is EXTREMELY limited in its range. It is native only to a narrow coastal strip about 450 miles long, ranging from as little as 5 miles and up to only 35 miles wide, inland from the coast of extreme southern Oregon, along the Chetco River about 15 miles from the California border, to a southern terminus marked by a grove in Salmon Creek Canyon in the Santa Lucia Mountains of southern Monterey County, California. The majority of old-growth trees is confined to National and State parks in the far northern reaches of California and consists of less than 200,000 acres. The old growth trees that remain in commercial forests will almost certainly be destroyed by logging within the next 20 years.
S. sempervirens has been successfully transplanted in several other parts of the world that have adequate rainfall and/or dense fog accumulations to allow the species to survive. These locations include: New Zealand (where it has naturalized),Great Britain, Italy, Portugal, the Queen Charlotte Islands of British Columbia in Canada, middle elevations of Hawaii, Hogsback in South Africa, a small area in central Mexico (Jilotepec), and the southeastern United States from eastern Texas to Maryland. S. sempervirens also does well in the Pacific Northwest (Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia). A group of display trees were even transported to Rockefeller Center in New York City, and then moved to East Hampton on Long Island where they have survived for over twenty years despite temperatures well below freezing in winter.
For the sake of simplicity, I will refer to S. sempervirens simply as Redwood from this point forward.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the color of Redwood heartwood tends to range from a light pinkish brown to a deep reddish brown. The highly contrasting sapwood is of a pale white to yellow color and is not considered desirable.
On occasion, it is possible to find Redwood that features a curly figure although it is not possible to know if figure will be present before the tree if felled and processed.
Redwood burl, sometimes known as “redwood lace” or “Vavona” is available. As is typical of burl woods, Redwood burl is highly figured with swirling, twisting grain and many bud “eyes” present. In fact, Redwood can propagate from burls if left undisturbed in the soil, usually several feet below the surface, where they are most commonly found.
The grain of Redwood is generally quite straight, although in figured pieces the grain may be wavy or otherwise irregular.
Redwood features a coarse natural texture and a low luster.
Redwood is rated a moderately to very durable in terms of rot resistance, although rot resistance tends to be higher in old growth timber as opposed to younger second-growth trees. This high level of rot resistance influences some of the most common uses of Redwood timber such as in outdoor furniture, fencing, and decking.
Redwood is also remarkably resistant to fire, to the extent that some credit for the end of the hugely destructive fires that followed the famous 1906 earthquake in San Francisco was given to the Redwood siding commonly found on newer houses.
The vast majority of the time, Redwood is quite easy to work with both hand and machine powered tools. However, Redwood is very soft and this means that it can be difficult to achieve smooth cuts, especially on lathe turned pieces, but such a soft wood also sands out smoothly very quickly and easily.