If you are an outsider to woodworking but want to dabble in it, you might be at a loss as to which wood is best for your initial woodworking projects. The reason is that there are myriads of wood types from which to choose. So, to give outsiders an inside look into the world of wood, it will be best to know the different hardwoods and softwoods for woodworking.
Wood comes in different types. Each type carries distinct properties and characteristics like density, color, finishing, and grain. Yet, picking the correct wood for your project is essential to success of your project. As such, you must be familiar with the different types of wood for woodworking.
In this articles, we will explore into the 13 species/types of most used softwood and 7 species/types of most used hardwood in the woodworking industry.
Hardwood Vs Softwood
When I was just starting in woodworking, I never knew there were many wood types. Yet, as I got immersed in many wood projects, I learned to differentiate between hardwoods and softwoods. One succinct difference between hardwood and softwood is the kind of tree from which the wood originates.
Hardwood, for example, comes from deciduous trees, meaning these trees shed their leaves during winter. On the other hand, softwood comes from conifer trees that do not shed their leaves during winter. Hence, if you live near a Fir, Pine, or Redwood tree, you will not notice that these trees shed their leaves during Fall or Winter.
Conifer trees produce needles and cones, while deciduous trees have leaves and seeds. The most common hardwood types include Maple, Mahogany, Oak, Cherry, and Walnut.
You might surmise that softwoods are soft. Yet, it is not always the case. Some hardwoods, for example, tend to be harder than softwoods and more challenging to handle. However, some hardwoods are also softer than some softwoods.
Hence, it is not the hardness or softness of the wood that determines whether they are softwood or hardwood. Instead, the tree from which the wood originates determines whether it is softwood or hardwood.
7 Most Popular Softwoods for Woodworking
Softwoods have secured a respectable place in woodworking because of their sterling properties that make them suitable for various woodworking projects. Below are the most popular softwoods used in woodworking:
1) Pine Wood
One sterling example of softwood is Pine. It has a soft wood characterized by light-yellow to white hues. Moreover, it is lightweight and features a straight grain. Pinewood exhibits remarkable resistance to shrinkage, warping, and swelling. It is easy to stain and shape. Nevertheless, it rots and decays quickly, especially if it comes in contact with soil.
Pine grows in many parts of the Northern Hemisphere, including the Himalayas, Nagpur, and Assam. You can use it to make different types of outdoor and indoor furniture. You can also use it to make door and window frames, paving materials, and flooring. Besides, you can use pinewood with a knotty texture for decorative purposes.
2) Cedar Wood
Another great softwood is Cedarwood. It is characterized by a knotty structure with red-brown hues and light lines. It is soft relative to other softwoods and features a uniform texture. Moreover, it is highly resistant to rot and insect attacks.
You will find Cedars in Assam and Kashmir. You can use Cedarwood for lining chests, drawers, and boxes. Besides, you can also construct storage closets and simple cases using this wood.
Firwood is also called Douglas Fir. It features straight grain with Reddish-brown hues. It exhibits uniform texture, and it is non-resinous. Besides, it has less resistance to rotting and decay. Fir is harder than other softwoods, and it does not stain easily. Thus, woodworkers usually use it in raw or unstained form or as a painted surface. You will find Fir in Central and North America, Europe, North Africa, and Asia. You can use it for making doors, furniture, plywood, windows, general millwork, veneer, and interior trim.
4) Spruce Wood
Spruce wood features a light hue with straight grain. It is similar to Pine in softness and is not weather-resistant. Thus, you need to treat it if you want to use it outdoors. However, it is best for use indoors.
Mature Spruce get often harvested to make musical instruments. The reason is that mature Spruce wood exhibits remarkable acoustic properties, making it a perfect material for making musical instruments. You can use it for utility purposes and framing interior walls. Spruce gets often referred to, together with pine and fir lumber, as SPF lumber.
Larch is native to temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere. Its wood exhibits poor to moderate ability to resist fungal attacks. Nevertheless, it shows durability and resistance to pests and rot because it has resins. Its wood also exhibits tiny knots.
You can use Larch for making utility poles, fence posts, and veneer. You can also use it for boatbuilding, flooring, construction, and interior joinery.
Its heartwood features a medium reddish brown to a yellow tinge. Its sapwood, however, is nearly white. You can easily cut and machine this wood, though it is harder than many softwoods. It is a perfect choice for many building projects.
One species of Larch is the Siberian Larch whose young timber has a light color. As it ages, however, it turns dark and silvery.
Hemlock wood offers moderate strength and is lightweight. Besides, it exhibits low resistance to rot and decay. It is also non-resinous. You can find this wood in Canada, the United States, Eastern Asia, and England.
This wood tends to shrink like other softwoods. You can use this wood for construction and as lumber, planks, joinery, boards, doors, crates, and subflooring.
Yew is another softwood native to central, western, and southern Europe. Its heartwood is durable and tough. Yet, the best yew timber is derived from trees in mountainous areas because the wood exhibits high elasticity. For this reason, you can bend it with ease without breaking it. It is, likewise, highly resistant to insect attacks.
Yew belongs to the hardest softwoods. Its density tends to be more like those of hardwoods. Besides, it is pretty flexible as wood and very durable. Its specific gravity ranges anywhere from 0.55 to 0.67. Its Janka Hardness rating is also remarkable at 1,520 lbf. You can use the Yew wood for making veneer, bows, cabinets, furniture, musical instruments, and carvings. Its heartwood has an orange tinge to a purplish hue. Its sapwood, however, presents a tan or pale yellow color.
13 Most Popular Hardwoods for Woodworking
Setting aside technicalities, you will find most hardwoods in the market significantly denser and harder than most softwood lumber. You will find graphs and charts detailing the Hardness rating of hardwood species. But if you are not yet familiar with most hardwoods, below is a rundown of the most popular hardwoods used in woodworking:
One remarkable hardwood is Hickory. It is tough and outstandingly good-looking. You will see its visible grain that provides a traditional and rustic look to this hardwood furniture. Floorboards made of Hickory show a natural variation of colors that range from rich cocoa brown to white. Because of its versatility, it gets more often used in modern bungalows and rustic retreat houses.
One of the exotic hardwoods is teak. It has a golden-brown shade and is very tough. When it comes to hardness, it is in the mid-range. Nevertheless, you need to sharpen or replace your cutting blades when you work on this wood. Teak is one of the most costly hardwoods because it requires a long growing cycle. Thus, you will only find teak in specialty lumberyards and stores.
You can use teak for outdoor furniture or crafts. It is attractive and weather-resistant. Traditionally, it has been used for building boats. Teak has natural oil, which makes it challenging to stain or glue. Because of this oil is not used for making utensils and other projects requiring skin contact for extended periods.
Another tough wood is Rosewood. It sports a Reddish dark-brown color and comes with a peculiar fragrance. You will find it hard to work with Rosewood because it is tough, and you will need to engage in sufficient polishing when dealing with this wood. Rosewoods come in different varieties like Brazilian Rosewood, Honduran Rosewood, East India Rosewood, Madagascar Rosewood, Amazon Rosewood, etc.
Rosewood is a precious wood. It gets used in many musical instruments. It gets also used for piano cases, art projects, tool handles, furniture, and decorative veneers. Besides, an extract from Sheesham, Indian Rosewood, is usually used for curing eye and blood disorders. It also gets used for curing leprosy.
Poplar belongs to the list of the softest hardwoods. It is easy to work with and shape, and it is inexpensive. It may not be the most beautiful wood in the world with its white hue and streaks of green and brown. But still, it is used for many applications. You will find this wood sold in many larger home stores, though if you want high-quality Poplar, you can find it at lumberyards.
Poplar gets often used for furniture that you would paint. It also gets used in furniture parts that are not visible. Moreover, you can use it for drawer slides and dresser frames. You can also use it to build model craft and scale model projects. However, you must take extra care when working with this wood because it gets easily dented.
5) Oak Wood
Another popular hardwood is Oak. It belongs to the most widely utilized hardwoods. Moreover, you can classify Oak wood into two types: White and Red. The Red Oak, also called Black Oak, has a distinct grain that leads to an excellent finish.
Oak is solid and heavy wood with light color. It is easy to work with and offers excellent resistance to fungal attacks and moisture. You can find Oak in many parts of the world, including Asia, North Africa, America, and Europe.
Oak, of course, is an excellent wood for your household projects. It is also suited for office furniture making. Thus, you can make cabinets and bookshelves out of Oak.
Because of its high moisture resistance, you can also use it for outdoor furniture. Thus, it gets used for boats and ships. Moreover, it gets used for timber-framed structures and flooring.
6) Maple Wood
Another beautiful hardwood is Maple. You can find hard and soft Maple. The soft Maple is preferred by many, for it is not difficult to work with. However, both Maple types are still harder than many wood types.
Maple exhibits very fine and straight grain with remarkable stability. Maple wood is not too expensive. It is relatively costly. Because of its exceptional stability and great looks, it is more often preferred for making furniture.
The Soft Maple, of course, is ideal for furniture making. You can also use it for flooring. Nevertheless, purchasing maple wood from home stores will be hard. So, you can probably buy this wood from lumber yards.
7) Ash Wood
Ashwood is another hardwood that is heavy with a porous ring feature. It is, however, popular for its high strength and elasticity. It features noticeable grain that is somewhat similar to those of Oak. It also has light brown to white colors. You will find it easy to work with, and it holds screws and nails well. It also comes out well with a finish.
Ash is not the most preferred hardwood in the market today. For this reason, it is not very expensive. It gets often used for steam-bent pieces of furniture and structural frames. Manufacturers also use it for making guitars, frames, drum shells, ladders, sports equipment, and baseball bats. You can also use it as decorative veneers.
8) Mango Wood
Mango Wood is another hardwood known for its high strength and density. It also features an attractive grain pattern with unique grain that brings in several colors and tones. Its tones range from dark brown to light shades with green and a faint pink tinge. It is water-resistant and more lightweight compared to other hardwoods. You can use it for furniture and kitchen cabinets as well as bookshelves.
9) Beech Wood
Beechwood is solid and hard. It is likewise heavy, characterized by tiny pores. Moreover, it has a light-pink tone and is not that expensive. It is dimensionally not stable, but it is tough. You can work this wood with ease, and it resists splitting. However, it exhibits less durability if used outdoors for a prolonged period. Beech is found in North America, Asia, and Europe.
You can use Beech for framing. You can also use it for woodturning or bending. You can also use it for flooring and plywood. Besides, you can use it for making many household items. However, it is seldom utilized for decorative veneers. Moreover, it is good firewood.
Mahogany is another hard, strong wood with tones ranging from deep red to reddish brown. Compared to other hardwood, it is a bit soft. It features straight grain with a medium texture. Many woodworkers love to use this wood because of its ease of workability and excellent appearance. It gets often used for making guitars and pianos.
Mahogany is seldom grown or farmed. As such, its use is not so sustainable. Because of its lack of sustainability, you will rarely find this wood in most local home stores. Thus, you need to visit lumberyards to find this wood deliberately. Because it is rare, it is also expensive.
11) Cherry Wood
Cherrywood is also called Fruitwood. It sports a reddish-brown hue and is solid and hard. It exhibits high resistance to warping and bending, and features closed grain. You can use Cherry wood for carving, and it is easy to polish. You can find Cherry in Asia and Europe. In Asia, it is mostly found in India in the mountainous regions of Uttar Pradesh, Kashmir, and Himachal Pradesh.
You can use Cherry wood for furniture making like tables, cabinets, and shelves. You can also use it for decorative carving.
12) Walnut Wood
Walnut wood is another versatile wood and is popular for its fine texture. It has dark to light chocolate brown colors and features straight grain. Moreover, it is durable and robust.
Walnut is hard and heavy with high warp resistance. It accepts finishes well, and it sports remarkable woodworking qualities that you would surely love. However, it is costly. You can find this wood in Asia, America, and Europe. In Asia, it is mostly found in Kashmir, Jammu, Himachal Pradesh, and Uttar Pradesh.
Walnut wood is perfect for making dining table sets, veneers, coffee tables, gunstocks, musical instruments, and other decorations. This wood was used in Ancient Times as building materials before the introduction of cement.
13) Birch Wood
Birch is another immensely popular hardwood. It is of the genus Betula. You will find a dozen species of this wood in North America. The most common species are the Yellow, White, and Black Birch, and the most commonly used in woodworking are the White and Yellow ones.
Birchwood gets used for fine furniture. Yellow Birch is also called Golden Birch and is used chiefly for making elegant furniture. It has an excellent grain pattern with light color. Over time, however, Birch wood tends to sport a yellow tone.
How to Select the Best Wood for Your Specific Woodworking Projects?
When selecting wood types, you must thoroughly consider your project’s demands and requirements. You cannot just choose any wood available there. It will be best to have criteria to zero in on the ideal lumber for your projects. Below is a rundown of the succinct factors you need to consider when selecting wood for your projects:
The heavier the wood, the tougher and more solid it is. Hence, when selecting wood, you should opt for heavier ones. Yet, be wary of choosing unseasoned green wood because this wood is heavier and has higher moisture content. Hence, when testing for the wood weight, ensure that the wood is already seasoned. You should only use seasoned heavy timber for your projects.
Another critical factor to consider is the wood’s workability. Various factors come together to determine the workability of wood. If it has irregular grain, for example, it will be challenging to work with. Besides, if it has high resin content, you might find it hard to work with because the resin might clog the teeth of the saw while you cut.
Another factor you should consider is its resistance to outdoor and natural elements like fungal attacks or moisture.
When cutting freshly cut timber, you might find the wood with shiny looks. Besides, it might give off a sweet smell. This odor indicates that the wood is of good quality. Excellent wood will react well with sanding and finishing. Besides, before using wood, look for defects that might detract from the overall finish of the wood.
Extent of Wood Contraction and Expansion
Another factor you should consider when choosing wood is the tendency of wood to Shrink or expand. Some wood types are more susceptible to this tendency due to the vicissitudes of weather. So, before choosing wood, you need to figure out if the wood would have this tendency.
If your project doesn’t require dimensional stability, this tendency is forgivable. However, if you will use the wood in large projects requiring dimensional stability, it will be best to research the wood before purchasing it.
Some wood types exhibit higher resistance to elements like moisture, UV light, and weather changes. You would need wood that doesn’t warp and swell. Such properties are crucial to your projects, so you need to carefully consider the durability factor to ensure that you will not ruin your project over time.
When choosing the ideal wood for your woodworking projects, you must first consider the wood’s price, the climate in your place, the intended usage, and the tools you have. Lumber exhibits varying colors and densities. They also vary in resistance to moisture and water and changes in the weather. If you use wood for large outdoor projects like fences, you need to consider using moisture and pest-resistant lumber.
If you use it in areas that will not be seen, you can go for not-so-good-looking wood. Choosing suitable lumber will help you do excellent projects that could last for decades. Of course, there is also pressure-treated lumber that you can use for your woodworking projects. So, it will be best to know when to use natural lumber and engineered wood.
Liam is a 37-year-old woodworker and interior designer who loves to make every furniture project an art piece. He is very experienced in furniture design and woodworking project planning.