One of the pleasures of commissioning furniture is deciding on the materials. I work mostly in temperate hardwoods, in particular oak, ash, cherry, elm, walnut, and sycamore. Leaving aside mahogany, which is now used mainly for restoration work, these are the trees from which European furniture has traditionally been made. There is tremendous variety of character and colour here: it is extremely rare to conclude that none of them will work in a given setting.
The oak comes mostly from France or elsewhere in continental Europe, where there is a history of forestry managed for timber, and black walnut is imported from the United States. Otherwise I use British timber, which is available from a small number of mills, often planked from individual trees from estates or even gardens. Finding the best timber involves a constant search but the reward can often be fabulous boards with wonderful colour and figure and sometimes an interesting story.
Often these boards are just air dried – carefully stacked after planking to let the moisture evaporate gradually, minimising the stress caused by the drying process. Then, after a year or two, or perhaps more, when they are as dry as they will get in the outside air, they go in my kiln: nothing to do with firing ceramics, just gentle warmth, a dehumidifier, daily monitoring of the water that condenses out, and regular checks with the moisture meter until it reaches the equilibrium moisture content of indoor timber. I find that timber prepared in this way behaves better when it is worked than boards which have been aggressively kilned to meet commercial demands.
There is an account here of the felling and planking of an elm tree. Some of its wood was used in this hall cabinet.