There are different types of wood today. Some are excellent for making furniture while others are not. If you’re into woodworking, it’s important that you know the different types of wood, so you know what to use for each of your projects.
Apart from furniture making and other woodworking projects, wood have several uses. The early man used it for lots of things, such as making fire for cooking, hunting, self-defense, shelter and so on.
Today however, one of the most important uses for it is construction. It has several essential properties that makes it very desirable for construction purposes. It has both tensile and compression strength, it’s hard, can bend and can withstand shock. It’s also abundant and very common.
However, wood for furniture and other construction purposes comes from trees, and there are different types and species of trees, with different characteristics that makes it either good for furniture/construction projects or not.
Some trees are not very useful when cut into timber. They have very rough grain / texture, with several knots. While others rot or warp easily. That’s why you just can’t use any wood for construction or building purposes.
Every wood you see today is unique. You’ll not find two pieces of wood that are exactly the same in terms of appearance even if you cut them from the same tree, because wood is fibrous and does not follow a strict pattern during growth.
When cut, the saw blade exposes the growth layers of the wood, showing the pattern of fibers or grains that run through the wood.
Thus every bare woodwork you make today can be said to be unique because every wood is unique.
With that said, let’s look into the different types of wood you can use for furniture or woodworking.
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Types of Wood
Talking about types of wood, one of the simplest ways we use to classify wood used for making furniture is according to their hardness. Hence, wood can be classified into two major types. Hardwood and softwood.
Hardwood is usually obtained from flower bearing trees while softwood from conifers or seed bearing trees.
Examples of hardwood include oak, maple wood and walnut. As mentioned earlier, these are flower bearing plants. They lose their leaves annually and as each year passes, they grow denser wood fibers which makes the wood harder.
Related: Tips For Using Reclaimed Wood
Characteristics or properties of hardwood
Hardwood is durable or less likely to decay compared with soft wood.
Although not all types of hardwood are ideal for making furniture, but hardwood is very good for making antique furniture that will last for several lifetimes.
It grows slowly compared to softwood. That’s why costs much more than softwood. Although some hardwoods come at a price comparable with most softwoods. An example is gum.
Hardwood has low sap content, it’s dense and thus has resistance to fire. That is why it’s commonly used for wood flooring.
Still talking about the types of wood you can use for your projects, here’s what Steve Ramsey of Woodworking For Mere Mortals has to say in the video below.
List of common hardwoods
The following are the best and most common hardwoods for furniture and woodworking.
Walnut varies from light pale brown to a dark chocolate brown with darker streaks of brown running through it.
It’s one of the most common wood used for furniture in the United States due to its dimensional strength, shock resistance and rich coloration. It has density ranging from medium to fairly lightweight.
It’s used for making high-end furniture, musical instruments, flooring accents, gun stocks and carvings.
Oil based polyurethane are the best finishing you can use for walnut.
Oakwood is one of the most common types of wood you’ll find all over the world with more than 600 species recorded till date.
But of all the species known today, the most common ones you’ll normally find in your local lumberyards are red oak and white oak.
Both of these oak species have the same light brown color, with red oak having hints of red in it. They both have straight grains and visible growth rings.
It’s resistant to fungal attack, it’s hard and strong. Some of the common uses of red oak include cabinet making, furniture, flooring, moldings, and paneling.
Mahogany is an exotic hardwood popular favored for making high-end furniture, windows and trim, interior millwork and exterior doors.
It typically has a rich, reddish-brown to deep reddish-brown color that darkens with age and exposure to light.
It has a medium texture and it’s moderately heavy, with grains that run straight or interlocked, which creates a beautiful and appealing figure when used for furniture.
Mahogany is very durable, with good resistance to decay and insect infestations. This is why is used for both indoor and outdoor applications.
It is very easy to use as well, because it’s relatively easy to saw, plane, sand, and carve, making it a favorite among woodworkers.
It also takes stains and finishes well, allowing for a smooth and lustrous finish.
Ash wood is obtained from ash trees that usually grow in most part of the world. It’s one wood that has excellent gluing, screw holding and nail holding properties.
Although it has some distint and moderately unpleasant smell, carpenters still love to work with it because of its more appealing properties such as durability, flexibility and toughness.
In terms of color, ash comes in light and creamy-brown. It has an open grain with occasional brown streaks running through it.
Ash takes any type of finish you apply to it. You can use it for flooring, making baseball bats, tool handles, boxes and crates.
Birch is closely related to Oakwood but it’s much harder. Of the two though, Birch is probably the most widely used as it’s readily available and affordable.
It’s a hard and stable wood you can use for making plywood, cabinets, seating, furniture, boxes, interior doors, millwork and turned objects.
In terms of finishes, you can apply any type of finish on birch wood.
Maple has a particular property that makes it ideal for making kitchen furniture. It can be wiped clean with a damp cloth.
It’s one wood native to Asia but you can also find it in Europe, North America and North Africa. It is moderately hard but very strong and resistant to splitting.
The grains are closed and run straight but may be wavy in some maple woods.
You can use maple wood for furniture, kitchen or woodenware, millwork and flooring. Maple takes all finishes applied to it.
Cherry wood exhibits a rich light pinkish brown when freshly cut, but it darkens to a medium reddish brown over time. It’s from the cherry fruit tree.
It’s a popular choice of wood among furniture makers because it has a smooth grain and it’s flexible, making it ideal for making complicated curve furniture designs.
Cherry can be used for making cabinets flooring, furniture, veneer, interior millwork, musical instruments, and small specialty wood items among other uses.
Light to natural finishes are the best for cherry wood.
Beech wood provides and elegant and dated look when used to make furniture. The wood is very hard, heavy but flexible with grains running straight through and a fine to medium texture distribution.
You can use beech wood for making pallets, chair legs and backs, flooring, musical instruments, woodenware and food containers.
Beech takes any kind of finish you apply on it.
Softwoods can be found quite easily and some of them include pine, cedar, spruce, fir, redwood and juniper.
The trees of softwoods are seed-bearing and evergreen, contains more moisture and thus they’re easy to fell.
Softwoods grow tall and straight, which makes it easy to cut straight lumber from them.
Characteristics or properties of softwood
Softwood trees grow faster.
It absorbs adhesives and stain quickly because it lacks vessels.
Softwood is fine and has a lightweight structure which makes it ideal for making furniture pieces.
It has high sap content and it’s usually light in color.
Because of its abundance relative to hardwood, it’s commonly used as a building material such as in timber framings, fittings, interior and exterior wall cladding, formwork and floor covering. Some types of softwood such as pulpwood are used for making paper and cardboards.
It has low resistance to fire.
List of common softwoods
The following are a list of the more common softwoods you’ll often find in most lumberyards.
There are different species of pine wood such as Parana pine, lodgepole pine, eastern white pine, pitch pine and scot pine, but it’s quite easy to identify them.
Pine is one type of wood you’re run across quite often especially if you live in North America.
It has a distinct yellow color, with the yellow varying to light brown and pale yellow in some pine woods you’ll come across.
It has straight grains with growth rings that exist as dark brown lines throughout the wood.
Pine can be used for making construction lumber, making doors and windows, furniture, exterior millwork, moldings, pattern making among other uses.
Almost all species of pine finishes well, but you have to seal with a water-based or oil-based polyurethane seal.
Cedar wood planes and shapes easily and it’s highly aromatic, although its nail and screw holding properties are only moderate.
Red cedar is also known as aromatic red cedar and it’s the common name for the various cedar species you’ll find spread throughout eastern United States.
The color ranges from a re or violet-brown heartwood to a pale yellow or whitish sapwood. It has a hard texture but it’s lightweight, with straight grains and many knots.
Uses include making of outdoor furniture, carvings, fence post, closet and chest linings, bird houses, bows and other small wooden items.
Cedar accepts most finishes but does better with oil finishes.
White spruce is an ideal pulpwood used for making paper and cardboard. It can also serve as construction lumber, for making crates and millwork.
It has a fine grain that runs straight through it and it’s moderately hard.
White spruce has excellent screwing and nailing abilities but it’s only slightly resistant to decay.
You’ll find larch trees in the cooler northern hemisphere. Its color ranges from yellow to medium reddish brown heartwood to an almost white sapwood.
It’s moderately or poorly resistant to fungal attacks, but makes up with its resistance to pest and rot due to the presence of natural resins.
Larch wood has medium weight and very good strength. It has straight or spiraled grains with an oily texture.
You can use larch wood for making fence posts, veneer, boatbuilding, construction lumber, flooring, exterior and interior joinery.
Western Hemlock wood
Western hemlock wood can be used for making pallets, framing, pallets, cabinets, boxes, millwork, joinery and every plywood.
It ranges in color from a light reddish brown heartwood to a slightly lighter color in the sapwood. In terms of density, it’s soft and light and it has grains that run straight with coarse uneven texture.
The best finish you can apply to western hemlock wood are clear finishes. Most of the western hemlock tree species are native to the west coast of North America, in the coastal rainforest of Alaska and British Columbia.
Engineered wood, also known as composite wood are wood products manufactured by binding several layers of wood fibers, veneers, particles with adhesives.
They’re often used and chosen over solid wood due to their increased dimensional stability, improved strength properties, and enhanced resistance to certain environmental factors.
Engineered wood come in various forms, and can be tailored to suit specific applications. They are also available in a wide range of sizes, making it easier to go for the exact material size that meet your project’s requirements without having to saw or dimension large timber pieces into smaller ones for your projects.
Here are some common types of engineered wood products you can use for your projects.
Plywood has several woodworking applications, including cabinetry, furniture making, flooring, sheathing, and decorative paneling.
It’s engineered wood made by stacking and gluing together multiple thin layers of wood veneer or plies, with the grain of adjacent layers running perpendicular to each other. This cross-grain design makes it very stable, and prevents it from warping or twisting when used for furniture-making applications.
Plywood is available in various thicknesses, ranging from thin sheets to thicker panels.
It is graded based on the quality of the face and back veneers. Higher-grade plywood has fewer defects and a more attractive appearance, while lower-grade plywood may have more imperfections but is still structurally sound.
The higher the grade, the higher the price.
MDF – Medium Density Fiberboard
MDF stands for medium density fiberboard. It’s simply an engineered wood product from wood fibers, wax, and other adhesive resins. It’s made by breaking down wood fibers into small particles, combining them with resin or glue, and then pressing them into sheets.
MDF is known for its uniform and smooth surface, making it a versatile material for various woodworking applications like furniture making, cabinetry, interior doors and decorative panels, moldings and trim, speaker enclosures and so on.
It has a very smooth and even surface due to its consistent structural density. This makes it an ideal substrate that can be finished with paint, veneers, laminates, and other decorative materials.
The smooth surface allows for precise machining, cutting, and shaping, making it suitable for intricate designs and detailed work.
Just like plywood, MDF also comes in a wide range of thicknesses, from thin sheets to thicker panels, designed to meet different project requirements.
While it offers many advantages, it’s important to note that it is not a suitable material for outdoor use because it swells and deteriorates when exposed to moisture. There are better engineered wood products you can use for outdoor applications.
HDF – High Density Fiberboard
HDF which is short for High Density Fiberboard is similar to MDF but with even higher density and a more refined surface. Just like MDF, it’s made by compressing wood fibers, adhesives, and sometimes additional additives to form dense sheets or panels for woodworking applications.
The result is a board that is more stable and less prone to warping, swelling, or shrinking when exposed to changes in humidity or temperature.
It also has excellent dimensional stability, which makes it suitable for applications where precise dimensions are crucial.
HDF boards have several woodworking applications. It used for making interior doors, laminate floors, cabinets, furniture, wall panels, speaker walls, display shelves in retail stores, wainscoting and so on.
It’s also a very popular material choice for DIY enthusiasts, due to its smooth surface. You don’t have to do a lot of sanding when you use it for your project.
Particleboard also known as chipboard is a type of engineered board manufactured from wood particles like wood chips, sawmill shavings or sawdust, which are combined with resin, and then compressed into dense sheets or boards. It is less dense than MDF, and more affordable too.
The density of particleboard can vary depending on factors such as the type of wood particles used, the adhesive formulation, and the manufacturing process.
Unlike MDF and HDF boards however, the edges are generally not as smooth or finished as the surfaces, so edge banding or edge treatment may be required for a polished look. This also makes it less than ideal for intricate or fine woodworking projects.
As for application, it’s frequently used in the construction of budget-friendly furniture, including bookshelves, retail store shelves, dressers, tables, and cabinets.
It’s also commonly used as the substrate for kitchen and bathroom cabinets. Veneers or thin laminate boards are applied to the visible surfaces to improve it’s appearance.
Just like MDF, particle board is susceptible to moisture damage, and thus it’s not recommended for outdoor use or environments with high moisture levels like bathrooms.
The major conclusion here is that when choosing wood for your furniture making projects, there are 3 major categories you can choose from, which are hardwood, softwood and engineered wood.
In each of these 3 broad categories are different types and species of wood, each with peculiar properties and characteristics that makes them ideal for certain types of projects.
This article alone does not contain all the types of wood in the world, but it contains some of the best ones ideal for furniture making and other types of woodworking projects.