Shopping for window shutters can become confusing because of the huge variety of materials used and promoted as superior. The construction methods of a shutter unit, including the materials used, contributes greatly to the overall cost of shutters purchased. However, a well-constructed unit made out of high-quality materials will also last longer and look better than something less than ideal. Following is an outline of various woods and synthetic materials that are often used in building shutters.
(Tilia Americana Linnaeus, or the American Linden)
Basswood is absolutely the best wood for building window shutters. The Basswood tree can be found from Quebec south to Delaware and the Atlantic coast west to Eastern Kentucky with an average height of 65 feet. Basswood is a renewable resource and careful forest management ensures tree harvesting is done responsibly, balancing growth with removal. Each year the United States grows about twice as much hardwood as it harvests.
Basswood shutters are very straight and has a fine uniform texture with an indistinct grain. Basswood machines well and is easy to work, and screws and glues well and can be sanded and stained to a smooth finish. It dries fairly rapidly with little distortion. Basswood has fairly high shrinkage but good dimensional stability when dry.
Popular uses for basswood include drafting tables, broom handles, carvings, turnings, furniture, moldings, millwork, musical instruments, woodenware, food containers, and surfboards.
General Basswood shutter characteristics:
- Does not warp
- Lightweight yet very strong
- Uniform grain for a beautiful stain finish
- Low in resin and tannin which may bleed through finish
- Renewable resource which is replenished as it is harvested
- Superior gluing and finishing properties
Oak shutters are very heavy. Oak shutters add much weight to window jambs and screws require pre-drilling. Oak shutters are not suitable for painting. Oak shutter louvers tend to warp.
Maple shutters are very heavy. Maple shutters add much weight to window jambs and screws require pre-drilling. Maple louvers are hard to tension uniformly.
Poplar shutters mill and paints well. Mineral streaks and a green color make poplar unsuitable for staining. Poplar is moderately heavy for shutters. Poplar is widely available, but less costly. Poplar is best used for millwork and trim that is nailed in place. Popular produces a lesser quality shutter.
Cedar shutters mill and finish nicely. However, color varies greatly for staining. Cedar is soft and can dent and scratch easily. Tilt bar staples do not hold well.
Cedar shutters work wonderfully for exterior shutters. The outstanding durability and resistance to decay of incense cedar makes it ideal for exterior use where moisture is present. This wood gives long service with little maintenance in such as mud sills, window sashes, sheathing under stucco or brick veneer construction, greenhouse benches, fencing, poles, trellises, and shutters. Incense cedar is also used extensively for exterior siding because it is dimensionally stable and holds paint well, in addition to being durable. Oh, yes, and bugs hate it!
Alder is our second choice for shutters. Alder is a smaller tree so only shorter lengths are available, thus tall shutters require finger joints.
Pine is a softwood. Many different species and grades of pine is available, so quality tends to be inconsistent.
Synthetics, Plastics, Vinyl, Fauxwood, and Poly
Many synthetics incorporate “wood” in their name, but most contain no wood – usually called faux wood or poly shutters. Made from stock size components with few, if any, custom options. Come in limited white colors, and cannot be stained. Look, feel, and sound like plastic. Relatively new product so limited customer satisfaction experience. Synthetics are less costly to manufacture. Heavy and tend to sag. All synthetics are manufactured from nonrenewable resources.