Woodworking 101: A Guide to Choosing the Right Type of Wood

 

Written by Lew Amicone

Whether you’re heading to your workbench to start a woodworking project or planning a construction project, you have many different woods from which to choose. Wood falls into three different categories: hardwoods, softwoods, and exotic hardwoods. Each type of wood has specific characteristics and properties that make it more or less appropriate for different purposes, so it’s important to explore your wood options and choose the one that best fits the project and your budget.

Hardwoods come from deciduous, or broad-leaved, trees. These woods are dense, strong, and durable and are often used for making furniture. Hardwoods tend to be more expensive than softwoods. Softwoods come from cone-bearing trees such as pine and fir. Softwoods are acceptable for making both furniture and doors, but generally, these woods are used as lumber to make studs and roof trusses.

Oak

Oak may be the most-used hardwood in building construction: It’s often used for buildings, roofs, flooring, and cabinets. The two main types of oak are white and red; white oak is used more often for furniture construction.

  • White oak resists moisture well. When cut correctly, oak will resist warping.
  • Oak has a very visible wavy grain, which can be highlighted with a clear finish.

Cherry

Cherry is a hardwood that is strong and versatile. With its reddish-brown color, cherry is ideal for both indoor construction and furniture.

  • Cherry tends to be one of the most expensive hardwoods, primarily due to eco-friendly harvesting methods.
  • Cherry finishes nicely, and it ages well.
  • Cherry has a slightly wavy grain.

Maple

Maple is a hardwood with a light color. Maple is easy to carve and manipulate with equipment you may have at your workbench, such as a hand lathe. Maple’s hardness makes it popular for interior items such as cabinets and dressers.

  • Maple stains easily, so it’s possible to use a dark stain on maple to make it resemble mahogany or cherry.
  • Maple is often used for musical instruments such as guitars and violins.
  • Maple spoons and drawer knobs are also popular.

Hickory

Hickory is a heavy hardwood, but it has a wavy grain that can make it a challenge to work with. Items made from hickory tend to have a long life span.

  • Hickory has traditionally been used for rustic furniture.
  • Hickory’s flexibility also makes it ideal for wagon parts such as wagon wheel hubs, spokes, and axles.
  • Hickory is also used for tool handles.

Walnut

Walnut is another popular hardwood, and it tends to have a high price tag. Walnut is ideal for interior trim and accents.

  • Walnut has a straight grain and texture.
  • Walnut’s rich color makes it popular for both interior accents and furniture.

Pine

Pine is an affordable softwood often used for interior window sills and door frames. Pine’s straight grain makes it a good choice for construction.

  • Pine varies in color from pale to yellowish.
  • Seasoned pine is required for woodworking projects so the finished products won’t warp.
  • Pine is ideal for painting.

Cedar

Cedar is a common and popular softwood often used in projects involving doors, beams, fencing, posts, and closets. One of the best attributes of cedar is its resistance to decay.

  • Cedar is known for its scent, which helps to repel insects.
  • Cedar is durable and easy to work with because it is lightweight.

Mahogany

Mahogany is an exotic hardwood that is endangered. Thus, mahogany is not used as much today as it once was.

  • Mahogany resists rotting and decay.
  • Mahogany is known for its straight and even grain, so it’s ideal for furniture.

Teak

Teak is an exotic hardwood that grows natively in Asian rain forests. Because each cedar tree needs to grow for about 60 years before harvesting, teak is an expensive wood.

  • Teak has a distinctly earthy scent.
  • Teak was initially used mostly for building boats.
  • Teak’s inherently oily finish makes it challenging to glue and stain.

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