Sapwood Vs Heartwood: Which To Choose For Your Woodworking Project?

Have you ever been in this situation: you stay home on a rainy day, running out of things to do, and you take a look around your room. Out of nowhere, an image of a bookshelf just pops out of your mind. And that leads you to settle for a project so-called ‘the perfect bookshelf’. Then, you look up some ideas but have no idea where to begin. 

Suggestions will be given that you need to understand the kind of wood that works best for your project. In fact, knowing to select the right type of wood is a must when it comes to woodworking. 


A project might fail or succeed based mostly on which part of the tree will be used. When viewing a cross-section of a tree, there are two colored solid wood circular portions visible: heartwood vs sapwood.

This article will be covering the similarities and differences between the two types and how they will be applied in various woodworking projects.

Overview of Sapwood & Heartwood

So where are heartwood and sapwood located inside of the trunk? Take a look at this photo:


The trunk of a tree consists of the following parts:

  • The Bark is the first layer as well as the dead tissue which prevents the tree from the harm of extreme weather, insects, fire, and other possible threats.
  • Behind the Bark is the Cortex. Stored carbohydrates or other compounds such as latex, resins, and oils might be found in cortical cells.
  • The next layer is the Phloem with the purpose of transporting food and water throughout the tree
  • Next is the Cambium. On one side, it generates new phloem, while on the other, it produces new xylem.
  • Finally, the Xylem which is the largest part is composed of both sapwood and heartwood. The name, in fact, indicates the position of the part as it is in the central position in the tree.


Sapwood is identified as the lighter-colored part. Water is transported up to the leaves through this section, which also serves as a storage area for extra food. 


Heartwood, on the other hand, is the part with a darker color. It is the result of the ring growth of sapwood. Heartwood remains undecayed if the outer layers of the tree are still intact. Biochemicals, which differ from species to species, are stored in the heartwood for lengthy periods of time.

Similarities Between Heartwood & Sapwood

Since they are two parts of the same tree, heartwood and sapwood have something in common. These two parts are both located in the xylem after years of growth. Sapwood is the beginning of young wood and gradually when it retires or dies, it becomes heartwood. 

Furthermore, both can provide the mechanical support needed by the tree. In white oak, sapwood in the transition zone between newly created heartwood and innermost sapwood is more decay-resistant than sapwood that has recently developed heartwood. 

As the tree develops in size, the heartwood forms the tree’s spine, giving maximum support to the tree itself. Regardless, there are a few differences in texture and characteristics of Sapwood and heartwood.

Heartwood Vs Sapwood: 5 Main Differences


The color of heartwood is darker than sapwood. In the case of Tigerwood, the heartwood is a medium reddish-brown color with irregularly spaced dark brown to black streaks. Sapwood is brownish-white to gray in color and clearly distinguishable from the heartwood. The older the tree gets, the darker the wood will become.

Wood durability; Heartwood & Sapwood - Charltons Gates and Fencing



The presence of extractives in the heartwood makes this type of wood more stable and thick. If the organic substance that clogs the pores is less soluble, the weight can be altered throughout the transformation process. This is especially true in rosewood, where up to 15% more weight can be added.


Heartwood mostly consists of old, dead cells and is really thick. Sapwood, on the other hand, comprises a diverse range of cell types, the majority of which are alive and physiologically active. Therefore, it is softer than heartwood.

“sapwood cells”_Souce


Some wood species’ heartwood has the ability to withstand an assault by one or more groups of decay agents. When a standing tree’s sapwood dies, a sequence of complicated chemical processes transforms the sugars stored in the sapwood into a variety of poisonous chemicals that protect the inner heartwood of some species from attack. 

In addition, the heartwood is insect and fungal infection resistant, whereas sapwood is more susceptible to fungal diseases and insect assaults.


Due to different compounds between the two parts, heartwood gives the main mechanical support to the stem, whereas sapwood is important in the transmission of water and nutrients from the roots to the leaves.

Which Is Better For Woodworking: Heartwood Or Sapwood?

The heartwood, as previously stated, is the tree’s deadwood. It has a greater density than sapwood. It improves the overall health of the tree. Consequently, the heartwood is favored for woodworking because it is less prone to fungus and retains less moisture than sapwood, resulting in less shrinkage as it dries. 

Heartwood is used to build furniture, floors, roofs, and a variety of other wooden items. The majority of the furniture you see is made of heartwood. To produce a sturdy, lasting, and attractive application, some woodworkers prefer to utilize heartwood. On the contrary, sapwood is only applied in conjunction with heartwood for a minor portion of the furniture. 

Although sapwood is a less preferable option in woodworking, Sapwood from some species that have a high hardness can also be used. Sapwood has enough hardness to be used in the application because of the species.


To sum up, hope that this article has cleared your doubts when it comes to choosing between heartwood vs sapwood. 

The latter choice has a comparatively high moisture content. This is beneficial to the live tree, but it is detrimental to the woodworker since sapwood shrinks and moves significantly when dried, making it more vulnerable to rot and fungal staining.

All in all, if you want to become a professional carpenter or at least, you want to have a DIY bookshelf, heartwood might be considered as your go-to choice. And remember to visit our website daily to learn more about woodworking.