Chinese Furniture Woods

A pair of huanghuali wood Qing Dynasty side tables, 18th/19th century or earlier

p4A ItemID F7996129
A carved Qing Dynasty table, possibly huanghuali, the top inset with porcelain medallion depicting Buddha's eightfold path, China, mid-19th century

p4A ItemID F7992164
A huanghuali coffee table, China, 20th century

p4A ItemID F7981274
Chinese huanghuali cabinet, early 20th century

p4A ItemID F7972856

Chinese Furniture Woods

Chinese furniture uses many types of wood that are not only known by their Chinese names, but also share their Chinese names with several other types of wood, so confusion may easily result. The three most valued types of wood are huali, zitan, and jichimu.

Huanghuali

A member of the rosewood family, huali is a tropical hardwood that grows in China with a wide range of hues, and whose Chinese name means “yellow flowering pear” wood.

Traditionally the Chinese referred to the wood as “huali”, but about one hundred years ago the modifer “huang” – meaning “yellowish-brown” – began to be used to refer to old huali wood whose surface had mellowed to a yellowish tone due to long exposure to light. Occasionally the term “lao” (old) is encountered to refer to darker huali woods.

Zitan

Of a purplish or reddish-black color, Zitan is considered the most precious type of timber for Chinese furniture because of its rarity and because it was imported at great expense for that purpose.

Another member of the rosewood family, Zitan is a very dense wood and will, in fact, sink in water. Its fine grained texture is especially suitable for intricate carving.

Jichimu

A third important wood type in Chinese cabinetmaking is Jichimu. The name of this exotic wood translates as “chicken-wing wood” as it has grain patterns that look like bird feathers.

Hongmu

Another important wood type in Chinese cabinetmaking is Hongmu. Known in early times as “suanzhi,” its name comes from the pungent odor released when it is worked. Most of the dark heavily carved Qing period furniture is made from hongmu. Also called “blackwood,” Hongmu can resemble Zitan but lacks its deep lustrous surface and its “crab-claw markings.” There is also a light variety of Hongmu which can be difficult to distinguish from huanghuali.

Other Woods

Other more common timbers used in Chinese cabinetry include oak, elm, maple, chestnut, poplar, birch and nanmu.

Reference note by p4A editoral staff; updated 07.2012.


About This Site

Internet Antique Gazette is brought to you by Prices4Antiques.