Wood Selection & Grade


Wood is wonderful and perfect. Well, in nature everything is perfect and nothing is perfect. Understanding the differences in wood species and how environmental factors influence wood is key to selecting a wood species that suits your style and is right for your home. Just as no two trees are alike, no two pieces of wood are alike. Environmental factors such as climate, light exposure, rainfall and mineral content of the soil play key factors in determining what the end result of each piece of wood will look like. Mylen uses natural and engineered woods in our products and we believe that these inherent personalities of wood are what makes wood both beautiful and unique. As with all natural products, it is important to understand that the characteristics found in wood cannot be defined as “flaws” but rather as elements attesting to the life history of the tree. While some individuals will find an attraction to heavily grained, knotty rustic woods, others might find this to look less appealing and might be in search of a more colour uniformed product with less graining definition. Whether you live in a cottage in the country or an uptown city loft, the look and feel of your room will be greatly influenced by the wood you choose. One thing we can all agree on is that wood brings a welcomed warmth to any living space and regardless of your specific tastes, Mylen offers a wide variety of woods, giving you numerous beautiful possibilities for your room.
In addition to wood species, the finish that is applied to the wood can also help to enhance or mask the natural variances that occur. For more information on finish options we recommend visiting our Quality Academy – Finish Selection for more details.
Before moving on to the different wood species, let’s educate ourselves a little more about the natural beauty of wood.

Hardwood VS Softwood. What’s the difference?

Unlike popular belief, hardwood and softwood do not depict the actual hardness or durability of the wood. Although generally true there are exceptions.

Hardwood is the wood from angiosperm trees. These are broad-leaved trees that have a vessel element (the water-conducting tissue of plants), that transport water throughout the wood. Under a microscope, these elements look like pores. These trees have a slower growth rate.

Softwood comes from gymnosperm trees. These are trees which usually have needles and cones. Tracheid’s (a type of water-conducting cell) transport water and produce sap. Under a microscope, softwoods have no visible pores. These trees have a fast growth rate.

It is the density of the wood that depicts it strength and hardness. The denser the wood, the harder, stronger and more durable it is.

How Does Wood Grow?

Wood grows from the inner pith outward in rings and is comprised of five (5) layers. At the very center is the pith. The next layer is the Heartwood. Heartwood is made up of dead cells that no longer serve any purpose except to support the tree. Next is the sapwood, which carries water, minerals, and plant sugars between the roots and the leaves. Sapwood is lighter in colour than the heartwood. Outside the sapwood, close to the surface, is the cambium, a thin layer of living cells. These cells manufacture the wood as they grow. The cambium is covered by the final layer, the bark.

The cambium grows rapidly at the beginning of each growing season (springtime), creating light coloured wood we call “springwood”. As the climate warms, it slows down and produces a darker wood we call “summerwood”. The summerwood is somewhat denser and harder than the early springwood. As the weather turns cold, the cambium becomes dormant until the next spring. This cycle produces distinctive growth rings throughout the seasons and is what attests to the beautiful colour tones found in Mylen’s wood products.


Heartwood is the preference of most because of its rich colour tones. This is a matter of personal preference, as some might debate that when working with lighter woods, such as maple, sapwood is preferred for it creamy white hues.

As the cambium grows, it generates two types of wood cells, longitudinal cell and ray cells. Mostly produced is the long, narrow longitudinal cells that align themselves with the axis of the trunk or protruding limb. These are what give the wood its grain unique characterization. The cambium also produces a smaller number of ray cells that line up in waves extending out from the pith, perpendicular to the axis.
As the wood grows outward, the living protoplasm inside the cells dies and deteriorates, leaving behind just the cell walls which are composed mostly of cellulose fibers, givingcells the wood its strength. The fibers are bound together with lignin, an organic glue-like substance which aids in making the fibers rigid and woody. The longitudinal cells become part of the sapwood, which moves sap up and down the tree and the ray cells store plant sugars. After several seasons, the older sapwood turns to heartwood. This happens when the sap dries up, and mineral compounds called extractives form on the cell walls. These chemicals turn the wood darker, giving each species the distinctive colour tone it is known for. They also affect its strength, stability, and hardness.


How is Grain Texture Defined?

The size, type, and arrangement of the wood cells differ with each species of wood, and this is what affects the appearance of the grain. The texture of the wood is determined by the size of the longitudinal cells. Wood species with large cells have a coarse texture, while those with smaller cells have a fine texture.

Hardwoods have vessel elements. When these vessels are sliced open, they leave tiny hollows in the wood called pores. These pores give the hardwoods a distinct look from softwoods, which have none. Certain woods, such as oak, have a larger concentration of pores in the springwood, which give it the pronounced open grain texture it is known for. While other woods, such as maple, have the pores distributed evenly throughout the spring and summer wood which give it the much less distinct, softer grain texture it is known for.

Wood doesn’t always grow straight and even. The longitudinal and ray cells often grow in unusual patterns which are strikingly beautiful. These patterns are call Figured Grain. Figured grain can be found in many variations such as curly (circular pattern), wavy (wave-like pattern), arched (U or V pattern), spiral (funnel-like pattern)

Mineral Streaks

Mineral deposits form in the wood as the tree extracts nutrients from the soil. This is commonly found in many wood types and causes a blackish to grey streak usually going in the direction of the wood grain.


There are different types of knots, both occurring from a branch or limb protruding out from the tree trunk. Sound knots occur from living branching/twigs that grow with the tree. Unsound knots occur when the branch becomes injured or otherwise dies while still attached to the tree. Unsound knots are similar to sound knots, but instead of having living wood in the center of the knot, there is only a dark plug of dead or decaying material.

Pin Knots

Also referred to as worm holes. A pin knot is a structurally sound knot, less than ¼” in diameter.

Pitch/Gum Pockets

Usually caused by an injury to the tree such as insect attack or from a fire. These are mineral-like streaks of colour that only naturally occur in cherry wood.


The mature, usually darker wood extending from the sapwood to the pith. Heartwood is the dead cells of the tree that are for no other purpose than to support the tree. Heartwood is the deeper toned wood that fully displays each species unique colour variations.


The living wood of pale colour near the outside of the log, between the bark and the heartwood. Sapwood is known for its lighter colour tone. Sapwood matures/ages much in comparison to heartwood.


A swirl or twist in the grain of the wood that does not contain a knot, most commonly found in Black Walnut.


Crazing is defined as small indents, voids or pores found on the wood substrate. While some might find this look less desirable, others will say it is what makes their wood unique.


All wood matures over time. Specifically, this can be noted on cherry wood. Wood species, as well as wood type (heartwood vs sapwood), will mature differently, however, all will promote a heightened degree of warmth, depth, and consistency to the wood.

End Grain

End grain is the end of the cut/routered wood and is softer than other areas of the wood. This causes more absorption of stain/paint into the wood resulting in a darker finish that cannot be avoided.

Wood Species

There are so many elements which contribute to the natural growth and life history of your wood. Now that we have a better understanding of how wood grows and how colour tones, grain patterns, and textures are formed, let’s explore what wood species is right for you and your home.


Mylen uses Red Oak found in the Eastern Regions of the United States. Oak is a hardwood that has a prominent straight, open grain with a coarse, uneven texture that ranges in colour from pink to green. Oak is sometimes streaked with black mineral deposits and may vary from a closely knit grain to a sweeping arched pattern. Oak is a porous wood which means that colours will vary from light to dark with variances being especially noticeable in natural and light finishes. Although darker stains will reflect less colour and grain variances, the texture of oak will always be apparent due to its porous nature. Oak is an excellent choice for individuals looking for a warm, timeless feel that blends well with most design styles.


Maple can be a soft, medium or hardwood. Mylen uses mostly hard maple with its origins in the Eastern United States. Maple is a light wood in colour that occasionally contains mineral streaks with a light tan or reddish hue which darken with stain. Maple has a closed grain pattern that is less pronounced but can range from wavy or curly in the pattern. Hard maple dries very slowly with a high rate of shrinkage. This means that expansion and contraction are more apparent in maple than in most other species. Although its grain patterns are more consistent, maple accepts stain unevenly in comparison to any other species. Due to this unique characteristic, the finished result can be largely varied with colour patterns that tend to appear somewhat blotchy in nature. Maple is a great choice for individuals looking for a light, airy feeling where other textures might be competing in the room.


Cherry is a multicoloured hardwood found mostly in the Eastern Regions of the United States. Referred to as a luxury wood due to its use on high-end furniture and cabinetry, cherry is well known for its closed smooth grain and unique colour that matures and deepens over time, just like fine wine. In its raw states, it has a pinkish-brown hue with occasional shades of white, green, pink or even gray with a fine, uneven texture. Cherry is also distinguished by such characteristics as sapwood, mineral streaking, fine pinholes and pitch/gum pockets. These are some inherent features entirely natural to this elegant hardwood. Enhanced by exposure to sunlight, the natural colour of cherry will both mature and mellow over time, resulting in a final colour that is sometimes several shades darker than it started. Cherry will deepen to a much greater extent and at a faster pace than other species, although sapwood will not mature to the extent of normal cherry heartwood. The luxurious features exclusively found in cherry make it an ideal choice for anyone looking to bring a naturally rich feeling into any room of the home.


MDF stands for medium density fiberboard and is an engineered wood product that is made by breaking down hardwood and softwood residuals into wood fibers. This is often done in a defibrillator, combining it with wax and a resin binder. Panels are then formed by applying high temperature and pressure. MDF is a very dense fiberboard ideal for use in applications where expansion and contraction of wood is a concern. Its smooth surface makes it ideal for painted applications and router lines leaving crisp profiles with no splintering or tear-out. There are no voids, pores nor grain patterns in MDF. For individuals looking for painted cabinets, MDF is the no-brainer choice due to its smooth finish and one piece construction that dismisses expansion and contraction factors found in natural wood.


Hickory is a very hard, durable wood known for its strength and durability. Found in the Eastern Regions of the United States, hickory claims the most dramatic colour and grain variations due to its combination of sapwood and heartwood. With its closed grain patterns, the colours can range from very light cream to deep reddish-brown and occasionally nearly black. Veneer panels and finished sides may appear striped due to grain variations. These unique variations are a hickory trademark and make this wood a number one choice for individuals seeking the full natural beauty of wood.

Black Walnut

Walnut is a hardwood, however, is not as physically heavy as other hardwoods. Found in the Eastern Regions of the United States, black walnut ranges from dark brown to purplish black with grayish coloured sapwood. Alike cherry, black walnut is valued for use with high-end furniture and cabinetry due to its wide range of patterns including curly, waves, closed swooping grain and burls. These unique features make walnut a choice wood for the wood lover looking to bring deep warmth with striking grain patterns to the room.


Alder is a hardwood that is notably softer than most other hardwood species. Found on the Pacific Coast of North America, alder has a very even-textured grain pattern that accepts stain well. Alder has a fairly straight, faint grain pattern with colours ranging from pale pinkish-brown to almost white. Because alder has a low strength and shock resistance, it will dent and damage more easily than other species. For the individual looking for the subtle, soft and uniformed look, alder is a clear choice.

Your Home, the Final Environmental Factor

We now understand that wood had its own life before coming to live in your home. It is important to note that there are also many things to expect as the wood adjusts to life in your home with new environmental factors such as interior lighting, humidity, tobacco smoke, ovens, ranges, natural gas furnaces and fireplaces, chemicals, etc…These factors can continue to promote changes in your wood product and can be limited through proper maintenance and care.

It is very important that customers purchasing wood cabinets have an understanding of how household environments can effect wood with expansion and contraction. The natural response of wood to changes in humidity is usually more dramatic than most people realize. For example, a solid wood drawer that slides freely in January but sticks tightly in August is an all too familiar example of the dimensional response of wood to changes in atmospheric humidity. Likewise, a cabinet door panel is likely to shrink during cold, dry winters and expand in humid summers. Mylen uses a ‘floating’ panel that is dimensioned to allow for the expansion and contraction of the panel during different atmospheric conditions in the home throughout the year. However, this natural response of wood to relative humidity conditions cannot be viewed as defective or non-conformance. Every effort is made to mask this occurrence, especially when a darker stain is used. This contraction of wood is a normal occurrence and it is the customer’s responsibility to maintain the humidity levels in their home. Wood is a natural material requiring a stable environment and proper humidity control. We recommend between 40% to 55% humidity level in the environment. Avoid large humidity variations to ensure the product’s stability. Moisture-rich environments such as humid climates, waterfront properties, and non-air-conditioned homes, may create significant fluctuations in the wood and possibly cause defects in the product such as; open joints, stile and/or rail bowing, unfinished lines on finished products, cracking, warping, twisting, and sizing variations. Please be aware of this issue as it does occur in all solid wood products.

As discussed above, your natural wood product will continue to mature/age with time. While all wood matures at a different pace and to a different degree, it is important to understand that the environmental factors surrounding your wood product will attest to the aging process. For example, a cabinet door that is positioned in direct sunlight will mature faster and deeper than a cabinet door that is positioned away from direct sunlight, such as on a lower cabinet in the island. As your wood product matures it will mellow in tone creating multiple colour tones throughout your cabinets in a fashion completely unique to the wood you have purchased. This is in part what makes each Mylen kitchen unique to its owner.

Wood Grade

So far we have discussed the natural and environmental factors surrounding wood. What we haven’t discussed is how we differentiate between the different grades or quality of the wood. Because all wood is different, it is important that we don’t take on a “wood is wood” approach where all wood of the same species is grouped together without rhyme or reason. It is the grading process that ensures you don’t receive a knotty, colour inconsistent cherry wood with many gum pockets when you were hoping to achieve a more uniformed clean look to your cherry wood. Mylen uses wood that is selected for colour, pattern and structure stability. The wood is then classified into categories as outlined in the chart below. Mylen’s standard category of use is Select and this is the benchmark for all other grading categories. Mylen uses select grade woods as we feel this offers the true warmth and inviting nature of wood most people are looking to achieve for their home. If you prefer a more rustic approach or perhaps a little more uniformity, we recommend changing your grade selection to better suit your tastes.

Time to choose

Mylen is happy to manufacture your cabinets with any wood of your choice. When making your selection, keep in mind that the final colour has a lot to do with the finish you are applying and less to do with the actual wood species you choose. The only real right and wrong here is when it comes to paintable cabinets, in which case MDF is a clear choice. Aside from this, we feel that all wood is wonderful and perfect. The wood you choose mostly comes down to the look and feel you want to achieve when entering your home.

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