Types of Wood – What’s The Best For Your Project?

Types of Wood – What’s The Best For Your Project?

Want to try your hand at some of the DIY woodworking or furniture projects you have seen on Pinterest or HGTV? Maybe you start by going to the home improvement store and as you make your way to the lumber section, you realize there are different wood types for different purposes. How do you know the best types of wood for furniture or woodworking projects you want to tackle? I’m going to give a brief rundown of the most popular types of wood and what they are best used for.

Wood Boards Stacked

What Type of Wood Should I Use For Furniture?

There are so many types of wood, how do you know what type is best for furniture projects? I get this question a lot! The truth is, you can use almost any type of wood for furniture and each type will deliver a different result.

While you can use almost any type of wood, the project and the overall outcome you desire will help you narrow down and choose the wood that is best for you.

Woman woodworking

Categories of Wood

Hardwoods

  • Wood from slower growing, seed-producing trees
  • Typically stronger and will hold-up longer than softer woods
  • More expensive

Softwoods

  • Wood from faster growing, needle-producing conifer trees
  • Although not typically as hardy as their counterparts, they can still last for years if used in the proper way
  • Usually more budget-friendly

The Most Popular Hardwoods

Planks of Oak

Oak

This is one you are likely familiar with or hear about most often. There is white oak and red oak. The red oak is the kind you will typically find at the local home improvement center. White oak is the type you will see in most projects but you will want to go to an actual lumber yard to get it; it’s a little easier to work with to achieve different stain outcomes since it doesn’t already have the red tint.

Oak is one of the most popular hardwoods used for furniture, cabinetry, flooring, and other wood details throughout a house. It is also used for some outdoor furniture projects as long as it’s sealed properly.

Poplar

While it is considered a hardwood, it’s one of the softest hardwoods and not the best looking option for furniture…which is likely why it’s price point is low compared to the other hardwoods. It is a good option if you are needing the strength of a hardwood in places that are less likely to be seen or if you are creating a project that you plan to paint instead of stain.

Walnut

This is one of my favorites due to it’s beautiful warm coloring, but it’s expensive and not readily available at most home improvement centers. It’s used frequently to embellish projects primarily made of other woods. Upscale, custom home builders may offer walnut cabinets, but they are likely making the face/doors of walnut and the cabinet box is probably made from a less-expensive wood.

On the plus side, if you do splurge on walnut, you’ll save some cost on the finish as you won’t want to stain/paint it. You can just seal it and let it’s natural color do all the work!

Cherry

This is another expensive option that you’ll have to go to a lumber yard for. Cherry wood is also commonly used in furniture and similar to walnut, you can just finish it with an oil to enhance it’s natural reddish brown tone.

Maple

Although it’s pretty popular, ranking right up there with oak, maple is a yet another one you’ll have to make a trip to the lumber yard for; they don’t tend to carry it at the local home improvement centers. Hard maple is a bit too hard to work with, but soft maple (I know, the name seems deceiving, but it is still a hardwood) is a solid, sturdy choice for nearly any project and can be a bit more cost-effective than some of the other hardwoods. This is a lighter colored hardwood and it typically used in projects that you want to keep on the more natural, creamy side.

The Most Popular Softwoods

Forest of evergreen trees

Cedar

Cedar has a reddish tint and is most often used for outdoor projects because it resists moisture. Some people also like to use it in thin sheets as a backing in their closet as it has a really nice smell and is said to keep moths away. You can find it easily at your home improvement center, but unless you are using it for patio furniture, fencing, decking, or the closet you will most likely not use cedar as your go-to wood of choice.

Fir

This is one of the most common softwoods and is used primarily for building structures as it’s pretty hard for being a soft wood. It’s also cheap and easy to find! You may hear it called Douglas Fir. This is a good option for some of the DIY/craft type projects you’ll encounter and best used when you plan to paint the finished project.

White Adirondack Chaise

Pine

This is my go-to wood for most DIY/craft projects. It’s easy to find, cheap, and lightweight. It will take paint or stain well. Most often the 2-by’s at your home improvement store are made of pine (2×4, 2×6, etc.) One thing to keep in mind, since pine is a softwood, it can scratch and dent easier than hardwoods, so it’s not the best for use with fine furniture projects or in really high traffic areas. It’s also a popular material for outdoor projects like our recent DIY deck extension and our DIY Hinged Deck Rail Dining but if you plan to use pine outside, it must be properly sealed from time to time or it will warp.

What About Manufactured Wood?

Most people tend to shy away from manufactured woods because they are said to be ‘fake’ wood or flimsy. The thing is, these types of wood are very popular or they wouldn’t still be readily available. You just have to make sure you use them for the proper projects!

The desk below was one we used to own and it was made of particle board and MDF with a cherry veneer. It was a beautiful desk that we owned for years and received many compliments on. The only issue we had is that after disassembling and reassembling multiple times for moving purposes, the manufactured wood started to have problems in certain spots. This prompted us to sell it with our house so it could remain in place permanently.

Cherry veneered desk

Veneer

This is a very thin slice of wood from the outer circumference of a tree that is glued onto another piece of wood. This is to give a finished appearance and to hide the edges of some projects made out of cheaper woods. Walnut, Oak, and Cherry are popular wood veneers. I don’t personally tackle any projects that call for a veneer.

Plywood

Plywood is multiple sheets of veneer glued together with their grains alternating directions to provide strength. The outer veneers are typically a better quality than the inner plies. It’s good to use for avoiding warping, cracking, expansion and contraction. Plywood isn’t pretty and is therefore mostly used in areas where it won’t be visible, like the boxes of cabinets, backing, sub-floors, and in other areas of construction. It’s good for cost-savings as it’s cheaper than solid wood options.

Particle Board

This is engineered wood made of wood chips and sawdust held together with a sticky resin and pressed to create a board. (*Note: the resin contains formaldehyde.) This is used to save cost and usually in places where a veneer or some other coverage will be applied. It is low density on the fiberboard spectrum which also makes it weak compared to other options. It can not hold-up to moisture. I don’t typically use particle board for my projects. 

The stuff we typically encounter is commercial-grade particle board which is of the lowest density and if you kick it too hard, it will crumble. Industrial-grade particle board has a higher density and when combined with a proper protective coating, like a laminate, it can be good for certain projects. You will find that some highly manufactured furniture and closet organization systems are typically made using particle board covered in a type of veneer.

Wood chips and wood curls

MDF (Medium-density Fiberboard)

This is sort of like particle board as it’s made from the particles of wood, but it’s stronger and more dense. Small scraps of wood are put through a machine that basically turns it to a pulp which is mixed with a resin and a wax and packed tightly to form the sheet of MDF. (*Note: The resin contains formaldehyde.)

This is also a type of board used in highly manufactured furniture that is covered in a veneer or laminate. Like particle board, it doesn’t hold up well to moisture. This is another material that is sometimes good to use for cabinet boxes. Again, this isn’t one I typically use for my projects.


Slab of live edge unfinished pine

There are so many options out there to choose from…even more than I covered above. I think you’ll find that these are the types of wood you hear about most often. I find I use plywood, pine, cedar, and oak the most. Hopefully this will give you a bit more insight into the different types of wood so that you have an easier time choosing what’s best for your project. If you would like a FREE Printable DIY/Craft Project ‘recipe’ card to keep your projects more organized, scroll down and sign-up below and I’ll send it to you!

If you have questions, please leave me a comment.

Until next time,

Into DIY signature

P.S. – Here’s another project I did recently using pine – Live Edge HairPin Leg Table

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