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Hook harp, Bohemia
MFA #17.1786
MFA 17.1796


Over 50 species from the genus Abies with the exception of the Douglas fir which is of the genus Pseudotsuga. Fir trees are found in North America, Europe and Asia, primarily occurring in mountain ranges. These are large trees reaching heights of 80 m with trunk diameters up to 4 m. Wood from fir trees is soft, light color, straight grain and has a coarse texture. The timber is resistant to insect attack and has been used for ship building and general construction, usually for interior framing. Fir trees are popular Christmas trees due to their aromatic foliage and their tendency to retain dried leaves. The Canada balsam fir (A. balsamea) produces an oleoresin used to mount samples on glass slides for microscopic analysis. Burgundy pitch is obtained from the silver fir (A. alba) found in the Alps, Caucasian and Ural mountains. Other common firs are the white fir (A. concolor) , noble fir (A. procera), and grand fir (A. grandis).

Synonyms and Related Terms

Abies; sapin (Fr.); abeto (Esp., Port.); abete (It.); White Deal; Norway spruce; Douglas fir; balsam fir; noble fir; silver fir; grand fir

Physical and Chemical Properties

  • Color: light color
  • Grain: straight with coarse texture
  • Density = 28-33 ppcf

Working Properties

Fir tree studs typically have a high grading for appearance and strength. The soft wood readily accepts plastic or metal fasteners with a high retention. The wood is less rot resistant than pine and can be used for exterior applications when painted or sealed.

Resources and Citations

  • The Wood Database: Abies species
  • Alden Identification Services, Microscopic Wood Identification: Link
  • H. A. Alden, A.C. Wiedenhoeft, "Qualified Determination of Provenance of Wood of the Firs (Abies spp. Mill) Using Microscopic Features of Rays: An Aid to Conservators, Curators and Art Historians" AIC Poster, reprinted online at
  • R. J. Gettens, G.L. Stout, Painting Materials, A Short Encyclopaedia, Dover Publications, New York, 1966 Comment: Firs include two species: Abies (true firs) and Picea (spruce)
  • F. H. Titmuss, Commercial Timbers of the World, The Technical Press Ltd., London, 1965
  • Dictionary of Building Preservation, Ward Bucher, ed., John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York City, 1996
  • Van Nostrand's Scientific Encyclopedia, Douglas M. Considine (ed.), Van Nostrand Reinhold, New York, 1976
  • The American Heritage Dictionary or Encarta, via Microsoft Bookshelf 98, Microsoft Corp., 1998