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The types of wood for woodworking projects that you have to choose from can seem almost limitless. The wood your piece is made from is going to make a big difference in how it looks, feels, and sometimes lasts. So, understanding the different types of wood and how they are used will help you choose the best one for your project.
Hardwood vs Softwood vs Engineered Wood…. What’s The Difference?
Before we dive into specific wood types you should understand they all fall into one of three main categories, hardwoods, softwoods, and engineered woods. We’ll cover each type of wood in detail below.
For now, don’t be mislead into thinking their names have anything to do with the hardness of the wood in question. It doesn’t. There are actually many hardwoods that are softer than most softwoods. Instead, wood is sorted by the type of tree the lumber comes from.
Softwood is the name for lumber that is milled from conifer or pine trees. Hardwood comes from deciduous or leafy trees. Engineered wood is just what it sounds like, man-made and often composite wood from different types of trees.
Softwood is the wood and lumber that comes from a coniferous tree or a conifer tree (known as Gymnosperms by the tree nerds of the world). Basically, any type of pine tree or tree that has needles instead of leaves and produces a cone. Common examples are white pine, cedar, and redwood.
These trees produce inexpensive lumber (about half as much as their hardwood counterpart) because they grow fast, straight, and without forking branches. This makes them easy to farm (meaning they are sustainable), cut, and mill.
Because they grow faster than hardwoods they tend to be a bit lighter (but not necessarily weaker) making them a great choice for housing and other construction as well as many diy woodworking projects.
Softwoods are excellent types of wood for woodworking beginners.
Types Of Softwood
Many varieties of cedarwood are available, and each has its own properties. The best-known species of Cedar is Western Red Cedar; it grows well throughout North America and Europe.
It is one of the softer woods, scoring a 1 on a 1-4 hardness scale, and has a very straight grain. Cedar has a lovely and distinctive aromatic smell that people tend to like and insects HATE. It is also quite resistant to rot when exposed to moisture. Its light reddish yellow color makes it a pleasing choice for many building projects including furniture.
You’ll often see cedars used for outdoor projects like decking and fences. It’s a good choice for these applications because it doesn’t splinter easily and resists rotting.
Cedar is not terribly expensive and can be found in most home centers.
There are many species of cypress trees and you may hear it referred to as gulf cypress, red cypress, tidewater red cypress, or yellow cypress. Overall they have a light yellow-brown color with an almost solid white sapwood. This is why you will sometimes see cypress planks with a white edge along one side.
Cypress is sturdy, strong, and extremely weather-resistant. It is an excellent choice for construction and things like decks and outdoor furniture. Surprisingly, it is a lovely wood for turning as well and is highly prized by woodworkers for making bowls.
As far as types of wood for woodworking goes, this is one of the good options for beginners.
Fir or Balsam
Fir or Douglas Fir is really easy to find and quite inexpensive. It is an incredibly stable wood and almost all home centers carry a good supply of it. This alone makes it a good choice for beginning woodworkers to work with.
As far as looks go, it is a red-brown color and has a straight obvious grain that isn’t very interesting. Don’t use Fir if you plan to stain your finished piece because it doesn’t take it evenly and your finished piece will seem “stripy”. Paint, oil and wax finishes are recommended.
There are many different species or varieties of hemlock wood but the most common is “Western Hemlock”. It has a uniform very light yellow color. It contains no pitch and is easy to work with.
Hemlock may be one of the best choices of wood for new woodworkers. it is an excellent choice for most woodworking projects including woodturning. It takes nails and screws equally well. Can be worked easily with both hand and power tools. It’s also easy to paint or stain easily without any bleaching.
Pine is another very popular choice among woodworkers. In fact, it may be the most popular woodworking wood of all because it’s inexpensive and widely available. It is a very common softwood and there are several different types of pines, including white pine, yellow pine, curly pine, pitch pine, and others. All these types feature similar characteristics, making them suitable choices for any project.
It has a distinctive yellow color, straight grain with dark brown streaks created by growth rings throughout its grain. Pine takes stain well, is soft enough to be a good carving wood. Pine grows fast and is farmed so is a sustainable choice for any woodworker.
White pine is known for its lightweight and high strength, while pitch pine boards are great for heavy-duty and outdoor building projects like flooring and roofing.
Many varieties of redwood are available, and each has its own properties. Also known as California Cedar, redwood is extremely durable and resistant to decay. Its distinctive appearance gives it character and value. Although it’s more expensive than other species of cedars, it’s still fairly affordable. You may see it labeled “cedar” instead of just “redwood.”
Redwood trees grow to heights of up to 400 feet with over a 12 foot diameter. Thankfully, most of the old-growth forests are now off-limits for the lumber industry but plantations or second-growth forests have been seeded and these trees grow so swiftly that in only 50 years they can reach enormous heights and be ready for harvest.
Because redwood is dense and heavy, it requires special handling techniques and is not recommended for beginning woodworkers. If you don’t know how to do this properly, then stick with another kind of wood until you learn.
Spruce is another strong wood used in construction that has a very light color with a straight and subtle grain. You’ll find it in most lumber yards lumped in with the other “fir”. It tends to swell so is not recommended for outdoor projects.
Mature spruce wood has excellent acoustic properties and is prized by woodworkers who make musical instruments like guitars, violins, and other string instruments.
Fun fact… The Wright Brothers first airplane was made of spruce!
Yew trees are slow-growing this makes it hard to come by though it is by no means is it rare. Yew wood is easy to work with. It is dense, strong, and springy.
In ages past, this wood was used to make longbows and paddles for canoes. Today it is mostly used to make cabinets.
All parts of the yew including its volatile oils are poisonous so it is not recommended for beginning woodworkers.
Hardwood is the wood and lumber that comes from leafy or deciduous trees. That means they are the kind of trees that drop their leaves and regrow them each year. The exception to this rule is Bamboo and Palmwood. Both of these are considered hardwood even though they are actually just a really big type of grass.
Growing more slowly than softwood trees, hardwoods tend to have a more dense structure. This creates some very striking wood grain patterning which makes them prized and more expensive than their softwood counterparts.
Hardwood is primarily used for “finish work” like floors, molding, furniture, cutting boards, and other useful or decorative objects.
Some common examples of hardwood are oak, cherry, and walnut.
Types Of Hardwood
Acacia wood is very durable. In fact, it’s more durable than oak or hickory because it is quite dense and doesn’t splinter easily. It also has water-resistant properties making it valuable for shipbuilding and for making kitchen items such as bowls and cutting boards.
There are over 1,350 species of Acacias growing around so specifics will vary depending on exactly which kind of Acacia you have. That said, this type of wood always has a very fine texture which gives your finished wood projects a fine smooth finish.
As far as color goes it varies between pale amber and deep mahogany. There is just as much variety in the grain. It can be straight as a rail or a convoluted wave pattern. No matter what kind of color or grain pattern you like, there is a piece of Acacia that will give it to you as no two slabs are ever the same.
A variety of products have been produced from acacia timber. It’s made into bowls, canoes, and ukuleles in Hawaii due to its natural resonance. In the Philippines, it’s used for everything from boat-building to cabinet making.
African Blackwood (rare)
According to most authorities, African blackwood is to be the hardest and densest wood in the world. With little or no grain, it is often completely black. It is sometimes a little bit lighter with a dark brown or purplish brown hue. The sapwood is easy to spot because it’s pale yellow and presents a high contrast to the black heartwood.
It’s very hard to work with hand or machine tools and blunts cutting edges like crazy. African blackwood is considered to be among the finest of all turning woods, as it can hold threads and other intricate details.
Another hardwood used for musical instruments, African Blackwood is used to make fine clarinet or oboe bodies. However, to make these woodworkers have to use metal-working equipment instead of woodworking equipment!
African blackwood is becoming rare and expensive, on par with true ebonies such as Gaboon. Large clear sections have occasionally been taken from older trees that yield bookmatched guitar backs, but since the tree grows so slowly, available boards tend to be narrow.
(Due to the heavy protections and availability of this wood, we have not yet found a suitable picture to display on our site. If you happen to have a piece or picture of your own and would like to share, please contact us! We’d love to display it.)
Alder wood is an abundant and relatively inexpensive hardwood, especially in the North American Pacific Northwest. It is on the soft side with a medium density that bends well enough.
When freshly cut it is almost white, but soon becomes light brown with a yellow or reddish tint. There is no visible boundary between the two types of wood, heartwood, and sap. The wood has a uniform texture and is fairly straight-grained.
It is great for turning. It can be sanded, painted, or stained to a nice finish. And you can use either screws or nails with equal ease. Alder wood blends with either cherry or walnut when stained.
Because it’s readily available and easy to work with Alder is popular with woodworkers of all stripes being made up into all sorts of things such as moldings, doors, shutters, kitchen utensils, bowls, and other turnings and even wood carving.
Applewood can vary from a light brown to a deeper red or brown in color. There are streaks of darker and lighter colors in the grain of like you might see in Olivewood. You can expect apple sapwood to be pale cream in color.
On some parts of the tree it can be wild, but overall the grain is straight with a very fine, uniform texture that is close to Cherry. However, Apple is heavier and harder than Cherry, so it’s an excellent choice for turning.
Apple can be difficult to work with due to its high density. However, it takes glue and stains well, finishes nicely, and is a good wood for turning projects. Also, it has a tendency to burn or scorch easily with high-speed power tools.
When it’s available, Apple is usually seen in very small sizes. It’s usually meant for small projects and specialized applications and will be rather expensive.
Some things you will likely see applewood made into include tool handles, turned items, mallet heads, small decorative wood items, and fine furniture.
Ash is a fairly easy wood to work with though it is becoming difficult to find. It is on the hard side and has a nice straight grain that takes stain evenly. It has many of the same properties as white oak and if you like to work with that you’ll enjoy working with Ash too.
Its color varies from white to pale brown. Home centers don’t tend to carry ash so you’ll have to look for it in more professional lumberyards.
White Ash is one of the most popular hardwoods for tool handles in North America due to its excellent shock resistance. It, along with white oak, is also often used for light-colored high-end furniture.
Ash wood is among the least expensive hardwoods available in the US, and should be compared to oak in terms of price.
If you are new to woodworking ash may not be the best choice for your woodworking project because the raw wood can irritate your skin and the dust can reduce lung function. It also has an unpleasant smell when being worked. So, please take all proper safety precautions while working with ash.
Balsa wood is extremely lightweight and easy to work with. It is a super soft wood yet strong enough to make models out of. So soft that you can work it with an Exacto knife.
It comes in different grades depending upon how much resin content they contain. Some balsa woods are stronger than others. If you want something really sturdy then go for Grade 1 which contains less resin. But if you’re looking for something soft and pliable then try grade 2.
The light wood of Balsa is perfect for model making. It is easy to find this wood in the form of blocks and small sheets at most any craft or hobby store at a very reasonable price.
As far as appearance goes, Balsa wood has a straight grain with a medium texture and is usually an off-white or tan color. It takes stain well and can be easily painted. The preferred method of fastening balsa is with glue NOT nails or screws. It is too soft and these will just pull out.
Also, power tools are not recommended for use on Balsa wood as they tend to give the wood a fuzzy texture.
Bamboo is great for woodworkers because it’s versatile, durable, and relatively inexpensive. You can buy bamboo by itself or mixed with other materials such as plywood. The grain of bamboo wood is really straight. It is as strong or stronger than oak which makes it an ideal wood for furniture.
We almost added Bamboo to the “engineered woods” section below because Bamboo lumber is always a composite of many strips laminated or glued together into the desired dimension. This site has a lovely overview of the process.
That said, you can choose between using solid pieces of bamboo or strips cut from bamboo poles. Solid pieces of bamboo are easier to handle but strips are cheaper but might be difficult to find.
Bamboo can be stained or painted with equal ease.
Beechwood is another common type of wood used in construction and furniture projects. Beech trees grow throughout Europe and Asia. In these areas, it is quite inexpensive.
Beech wood is known for having a distinctive aroma similar to maple syrup. That’s why some people call it sweet beech. Its strength lies in its ability to withstand extreme temperatures without warping or cracking.
The grain on beechwood is straight and fine. Though its appearance is often considered to be a bit bland especially when flatsawn. Beechwood is a pale cream color with pink or brown undertones.
The overall workability of the wood is good, but it has a lot of movement in service. This means that the wood is likely to warp when exposed to moisture. However, when you take that into account the wood is stable and strong, which makes it suitable for use in furniture. One of the best woods for steam bending.
Birch is easy to work with and being a common wood is inexpensive. Staining birch tends to yield blotchy results so you’ll want to consider other finishings. At least a small selection is usually available in most home centers but for more variety look in a professional lumberyard.
There are two types of birch, yellow and white. White birch, as you might expect is a very pale wood that looks a bit like marble. Yellow birch has a pale yellow color that darkens to a reddish-brown in color at the heartwood.
Birch has many uses and is such a pretty wood it is often made into fine furniture.
Bloodwood from Central and South America is one of the hardest woods around. Bloodwoods have been prized since ancient times for their beauty and durability. They were once called “the king of all hardwoods”. It is important to note that this wood is extremely rare and expensive.
As its name would suggest the heartwood of this type of lumber is a bright vivid red. If left unprotected it will darken to a deep red/brown over time. Especially when exposed to sunlight. Maintaining a protective coat of a proper varnish will slow or prevent this.
Bloodwood is really REALLY dense. This makes it hard on blades and other cutting tools. You should know it tends to be brittle and splinters easily. For this reason, as well as the cost, we do not recommend it for novice woodworkers.
Bocote wood is an exotic hardwood that comes from a tropical tree found only in Central America.
Grain patterns on this wood range from straight to outright crazy, with swirls turning every which way. The color can be golden brown, tan, or golden yellow with a HEAVY contrast to the grain pattern. It is a heavy, dense wood with a medium texture.
It is easy to work and turn. Takes glue well even though it is a rather oily tropical wood.
This wood is, though not RARE, rather hard to find and therefore quite pricy. It is used almost exclusively for fine vanity items like knife handles, custom pool cues, and fine furniture inlay. It takes a moderately high natural gloss and polishes well with either wax or polyurethane.
Bubinga wood is also known by several names including African Mahogany, and Zanzibar Ebony. It is native to East Africa where it grows naturally along riversides. Bubinga trees are enormous. Because of this, the Bubinga wood can come in WIDE widths without joints (up to 15 inches by 20 feet!) and so it is prized for use in tabletops and countertops.
Its lovely straight grain and deep rosy red color make it a cost-effective lookalike for rosewood. If you want to really bring out the deep tones of this wood finish it with tung oil.
Butternut or White Walnut
Butternut, also known as White Walnut, is a beautiful light-colored wood that ranges from soft pink to orangey gold depending upon how much sun exposure it gets. Butternuts grow throughout North America and Europe. In fact, they are commonly grown commercially in California.
This wood has a rich history of being used in furniture making. It was first brought to the United States in the early 1800s. Today, butternut wood is still used in many different types of furniture including dining room tables, coffee tables, sideboards, desks, and bookcases.
Butternut wood grain is very similar to maple with lovely striations. However, unlike Maple, Butternut does not split readily. And because of this, it is often glued up instead of sawed down.
The color of butternut wood is usually lighter than most woods being a very light to medium tan.
Butternut wood is easy to work with and turns beautifully. If finished properly, it requires no special care except regular cleaning.
Canarywood is multi-hued and each piece is striated from orangish pale yellow to dark red-brown. It’s actually safe to call it naturally streaked if not rainbow-colored. Note these colors tend to mellow with age.
It is an extremely tight and uniformely grained wood. Like its color, Canarywoods density can vary but on the whole, it is a dense, heavy, strong wood.
This wood comes from Central and South America. It grows from Panama down thru Brazil. Considering it is imported lumber, it is readily available and can be found at rather reasonable prices.
Canarywood is said to have good acoustics and is often used for speaker enclosures.
Cherry wood is such an elegant-looking wood. It is in high demand for fine furniture of all types. The grain pattern is unique and interesting while its rich color is overall red with a lovely golden brown luster.
For such a beautiful wood Cherry is really easy to work with. It has a straight grain and machines well. You’ll want to use a gel-based stain or a sanding sealer before staining to keep your finished products from becoming blotchy. Or consider leaving it natural with only a coat of oil to bring out the natural beauty of this fine wood.
Considering how beautiful it is, Cherry wood is not terribly expensive wood. It does cost more than maple or oak but not as much as walnut. All things considered, it is one of the good and popular types of wood for woodworking beginners.
Solid wood cherry stock is readily available. It comes in almost every conceivable form and dimension including planks, squares, dowels, plywood, and weed edge tape.
Chestnut (lots of variant species)
When we talk about Chestnut wood we are actually talking wood from a “family of trees” so it’s really several varieties of wood all under one umbrella.
That said, American chestnut, is usually what people are referring to here in North America. It can be found in a variety of shades from pale white through medium brown. It tends to develop a reddish brown hue as it ages.
Unfortunately, in the early 1900’s, there were massive die-offs of American Chestnut trees due to a fungal disease called blight that wiped them out almost completely. This left us without any native hardwood forests like we had prior to that unfortunate event.
That makes American Chestnut one of the rarest woods and very expensive as virtually all large pieces come from reclaimed lumber found in old homesteads and barns.
Ebony wood is rarely used in woodworking today because it is now critically endangered and it’s illegal to harvest wild ebony trees in most countries around the world. So you will need to look into buying some pre-harvested logs. They should be labeled as being harvested legally.
An ethical way to source some Ebony wood for a special project is to find some reclaimed wood. Back in the day, Ebony wood was used to make the black keys on pianos and pipe organs as well as many of the things we use it for today.
I can remember an ancient pipe organ in my grandmother’s barn that just sat there broken and gathering dust. If you discover such a find you can repurpose the wood and give it new life with a clear conscience.
Ebony wood is used for making musical instruments, inlays, and other exotic items. Its name derives from the fact that when cut, it looks black. But once dried, it turns a deep mahogany color.
Ebony is also known by other names: African Blackwood, Ivory Tree, and Zebra Wood.
There are many varieties of elmwood so I’m going to focus on two common ones. The first is Common Elm, or English Elm. This variety grows throughout Europe and Asia. This attractive wood has a medium reddish brown color. In addition to its widespread availability, it is relatively inexpensive compared to other hardwoods.
Unfortunately, this species of wood isn’t suited for beginners. Its interlocking grain makes it hard to work with. The surface tends to become fuzzy when planing.
Common Elms have been grown commercially since Roman times and they still grow abundantly in parts of England and Germany. Though a fungal disease spread by beetles, called “Dutch Elm Disease”, has killed off millions of trees in recent years.
American elm is another type of elm tree that is more suitable for beginner woodworkers. Fungal attack by Dutch Elm Disease has affected Elms in the United States as well. But because this variety grows fast new growth trees keep it relatively plentiful. Meanwhile, fungal-resistant variants are being developed.
Elm is commonly available at home centers and hardware stores. You may even see it sold online. It is often used for hockey sticks, furniture, baskets, and papermaking.
As the name suggests Greenheart wood has a pale olive green color with darker streaks. It is extremely dense and heavy which gives it great strength and durability. People don’t often make furniture out of greenheart. It is safe to think of it as marine construction lumber. Lots of dock pilings are made from this because it weathers so well in warm, wet conditions.
It is not easy to work with and requires skillful techniques to shape properly because of it’s density. However, if you do get your hands on some it turns well and folks have been known to make small turned wood items from it as well as pool cues and fishing rods.
This wood comes from the heartwood of tropical rainforest trees in northern South America. It is very Unfortunately, these trees are becoming increasingly scarce. As a result, prices tend to skyrocket.
You’ll probably only encounter Greenheart if you’re lucky enough to live near a forest where these trees thrive.
Hickory (Shagbark most common)
Shagbark hickory (Carya ovata) is an American tree species in the beech family, native to eastern North America. It is most common in the Appalachian Mountains but can be found throughout the eastern United States.
Light to medium brown with a usually straight grain, it is one of the hardest and strongest woods to grow in the US. Compared to White Oak or Hard Maple, Hickory is denser, harder, and stiffer. When strength or shock resistance is important, this wood is a very popular choice.
Hickory dulls blades quickly. Therefore it is considered difficult to work because it is prone to “tear out” if your router bits aren’t kept very sharp.
Ipe is one of the hardest and densest of the tropical hardwoods of Central and South America, belonging to the genus Metopium. Ipe is also sometimes referred to as Brazilian Walnut due to its similar characteristics. And is often called this in the flooring market.
The heartwood color of Ipe can vary greatly from a slightly yellow olive-brown, to darker black-brown though it is usually a rather red-brown. No matter its shade it usually has a darker stripe pattern giving it a rather pronounced grain.
Because it is so dense and hard Ipe wood is difficult to work with. It dulls blades like crazy and is another wood prone to tear out. That said, straight-grained pieces turn well. So, please consider one of these types of projects if you find yourself with a piece of Ipe wood.
We are used to exotic woods coming from places like Central America but Ironwood, often called Black Ironwood, this tree is a small shrublike tree that grows in southern Florida.
Its heartwood comes in colors of red, orange, violet, and brown. The lighter color sapwood is a very pale yellow-tinged white making for a strikingly beautiful hardwood.
Ironwood is aptly named because it is considered by many to be one of if not THE heaviest wood on earth. Because of this, it is rather difficult to work with.
Unfortunately, this wood is not usually commercially available outside the hobby industry in areas where it grows. But if you can get your hands on a piece it makes up into lovely small turned items.
Jatoba (known as Brazilian Cherry among flooring sellers) is a very strong, hard, and stiff wood. It is a striking wood of orange or reddish-brown with contrasting grey streaks.
Its interlocking grain makes Jatoba hard to plane. And being a very dense wood it tends to dull blades quickly. That said, it takes stain and glue well and is a nice wood for steam bending.
It is a relatively common wood in its region of Central and South America and an inexpensive import here in the United States. Jatoba is used in shipbuilding, flooring, railroad ties, tool handles, cabinets, turned objects, and other small items.
Koa or Hawaiian Koa is a medium gold or reddish-brown wood much like Mahogany. Brown streaks can often be found running its length like beautiful ribbons of color.
It is very easy to work. It sands well, stains well, and finishes well. However, there can occasionally be issues when gluing it.
As the name indicates, Hawaiian Koa grows only in Hawaii, and though it is not endangered most of its once plentiful stands have been turned into grazing land so supplies are limited especially in the mainland US states. Accordingly, it is quite expensive wood.
Honduran Mahogany is known as “genuine Mahogany” is one of the most popular woods for woodworking you will ever find. It is beautiful and easy to work with and an ideal choice of wood for furniture making.
The heartwood color of Mahogany varies from pale pink-brown to darkish red-brown. Important to know is it tends to get darker as it ages.
Mahogany is an incredibly important part of the lumber industry of Central and South America. Sadly, it has been seriously exploited so exports are limited to wood coming from certified sustainable sources. What this means for you is higher prices at the lumberyard.
Other excellent woodworking projects for Mahogany include musical instruments, carving, turned items, cabinets, and boatbuilding.
Hard Maple or Sugar Maple is the most commonly used of the literally dozens of Maple wood species available to today’s woodworker. Unlike other hardwoods, it is the sapwood that is usually used instead of the heartwood.
Maple’s sapwood is a very white wood varying only a little between nearly white to a cream off-white color. Sometimes it has a very slight golden or reddish tone.
For such a dense wood, Hard Maple is a pretty easy wood to work with. In fact, it’s only a little more difficult than its Soft Maple counterpart. But be warned, it has a tendency to burn with high-speed cutters like routers. It finishes, glues, and turns well. Can be a little fussy when taking stain so be sure to use a gel stain, toner, or preconditioner to avoid blotching.
Fun Fact: Because of its hardness, springiness, and durability over 75% of the baseball bats used in the US Major Leagues are made from Maple wood.
Best known for adding a smoky flavor to BBQ, Mesquite heartwood is a rich dark brown with darker wavy lines running thru it. This is another wood that darkens as it ages.
Because the trees are short and twisted, growing in the desert of the American Southwest each piece of Mesquite wood is unique. You should expect a surprise or two (knots and wormholes) inside each square or plank.
Honey Mesquite is exceptionally stable, meaning it doesn’t expand or contract very much at all due to changes in humidity. This makes it very valuable to segmented woodturners.
Usually available only in smaller irregular pieces instead of the usual “board feet”.
Mopane heartwood is dark reddish-brown with black streaks. The sapwood is well defined and yellowish when present. The color of this wood tends to darken as it ages.
This wood is really difficult to work with because it dulls cutting edges very quickly. That said, it is an EXCELLENT wood for turning. It also has wonderful acoustic properties and is quite often used to make truly lovely woodwind musical instruments.
As far as cost goes, Mopane is quite pricy and is one of the most expensive imported African hardwoods.
Oak (Red & White)
Oak is another great option for beginners looking to get into woodworking. Like pine, red oak is fairly inexpensive and readily available. However, unlike pine, red oak tends to feature darker tones and richer hues. It has surprisingly beautiful grain patterns for a commonly available lumber type.
When choosing red oak, look for pieces that are free of knots and blemishes. If you want to stain or finish your project, then go ahead and do so. Otherwise, leave the piece unfinished.
Confusingly, white oak has a darker color than red oak. It is more of a brownish tan color and red oak is more wheat colored with a tinge of pink. But how they look is the extent of their differences. When you are working with them you will not notice a difference.
The color of olive wood is a beautiful golden color with streaks of dark brown running thru it. The most prized pieces have wavy, burl, or crazy grain streaks. The color of this lovely wood deepens with age.
Somewhat easy to work, though wild or interlocked grain may result in tearout during surfacing operations.
How easy this wood is to work with depends a great deal on the type of grain it has, becoming more difficult the more movement there is in the grain. Curly or crazy grain Olive wood is prone to tear out during preparation. Finished pieces tend to swell and shrink along with the humidity levels. Turns very nicely. Glues work well on this wood.
The fruit of this tree is much more valuable than its lumber. Because of this availability is quite low and usually limited to pruned branches making prices quite high.
Pearwood is a very pale pink with a very fine almost indistinguishable grain. It is sometimes steamed to make the pink more pronounced. It is also often dyed black and used as a very nice substitute for Ebony.
Pear is a very easy wood to work with even for woodworking beginners. It cuts, glues, nails, and screws easily. It is also very easy to turn.
This is a very popular and readily available hardwood in Europe but has limited availability here in the United States. This, unfortunately, drives prices up.
Due to the limited availability of this wood, we have not yet found a suitable picture to display on our site. If you happen to have a piece or picture of your own and would like to share, please contact us! We’d love to display it.)
The wood from pecan trees has wide creamy color sapwood and light pinkish-brown heartwood. The grain has a coarse texture and is usually straight but can have a bit of wave to it on occasion.
Pecan is one of the hardest woods native to North America. Because of this strength, it is difficult to work. It dulls blades quickly and is therefore prone to tearout. It takes stain well. Glues well and is easy to steam bend.
Common uses for pecan are tool handles, flooring, and fine furniture.
Pink Ivory is a rare hardwood that is found only in a small part of the South African Continent. It was once reserved for Zulu Royalty.
As the name implies all Pink Ivory is pinkish in color. It can range from pale pink to dark reddish pink but the most prized pieces are nearly neon pink when finished. Sadly, this wood’s color can dull with time. Hopefully, someone will figure out why this happens so it can be prevented.
This wood blunts cutting edges badly and is rarely used in board form. It is used almost exclusively for small fine-turned items like handles, pens, and even rings. Surprisingly, I have also seen quite a number of guitars made of Pink Ivory Wood
Poplar is considered a “utility hardwood” and is one of the most commonly used in the United States. This means it is almost never used for its appearance but rather for useful or industrial items such as crates, paper, plywood, pallets, and upholstered furniture.
The heartwood of Poplar is a cream color with streaks of grey or green and is rather soft. We can highly recommend it for beginning woodworkers to use because it is easy to work in all ways. Just keep in mind this wood is quite soft so you’ll need to use finer grit sandpaper than you think for finishing to keep it from fuzzing a bit.
All in all, an excellent wood for learning woodworking. It is one of the most economical hardwoods available.
Purpleheart is another of these woods that changes color with age and exposure to UV light. When fresh cut it is a grayish purple color. Shortly after being cut the lumber takes on a deep eggplant purple hue. Over time it darkens to a deep purple-brown color. This color change can be slowed dramatically with a UV inhibiting finish and keeping the finished piece out of direct sunlight.
Challenging to work with, Purpleheart secretes a gummy resin that clogs tools if it becomes heated by high cutter speeds. You also have to be careful when you plane it to avoid tearout.
Common uses for Purpleheart wood are furniture, flooring, inlays and accent pieces as well as novelty wood items.
Considering it is an imported hardwood, Purpleheart is widely available and comes in a good selection of lumber widths and thicknesses. Surprisingly it is in the low to medium price range for this type of lumber.
Brazillian Rosewood, considered one of the most beautiful of the tropical hardwoods, gets its name from the distinct rose scent it produces when being worked.
Its heartwood is a dark chocolate brown wood with black streaks. The streaking sometimes forms a pattern called “spider-webbing” which makes those pieces of Rosewood even more valuable. The sapwood can easily be identified as it is a light yellow color.
Brazillian Rosewood is easy to work with, finishes well, and it turns well. It can be difficult to glue because this wood has a very high natural oil content.
In addition to its beauty, Rosewood has excellent acoustic properties. Because of this it is often made into acoustic guitars. Other common uses for Brazillian Rosewood are fine furniture, flooring, cabinets, turned items, and other small specialty goods.
Due to its fame and high demand, Brazillian Rosewood has been over-exploited in recent years. This tree is now endangered and worldwide restrictions have been placed on the exportation of this wood. It is illegal to transport raw wood, lumber, or finished goods across international borders.
Your best bet if you want to work with this exquisite wood is to search for reclaimed wood samples.
First off, you should know that sandalwood trees are protected in the wild. It is illegal to ship sandalwood lumber out of India. Luckily, there are plantations filled with these wonderful trees maturing in Hawaii and Australia. It is also being farmed in China, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and its native India. So assume you’ll be seeing more and more Sandalwood in the years to come.
Sandalwood trees grow straight and tall. Reaching up to 40 feet. The grain is nice and straight, too. Making this a lovely lumber for hardwood floors.
The heartwood is a lovely cinnamon color with dark black streaks.
Due to the limited availability of this wood, we have not yet found a suitable picture to display on our site. If you happen to have a piece or picture of your own and would like to share, please contact us! We’d love to display it.)
Sassafras wood looks a lot like oak or chestnut. It’s a light brown wood with darker brown streaks on occasion.
You can work Sassafras both power tools and hand tools with equal ease. Also of note, it is very stable once dry so humidity is not your enemy with this wood. It stains, glues and finishes well.
Not grown commercially, at least on any large scale, because Sassafras is too small and shrubby a tree. You can often find small quantities of some lumber and turning blanks at lumberyards here and there. The price for them is usually quite reasonable.
Sycamore is a common tree found across most of the United States. Like Maple, this wood is mostly sapwood with very little heartwood. The sapwood is a very white wood often with flecking from the quartersawing that give it a nickname of “lacewood”.
If steam bending is your thing, Sycamore is NOT the wood for you. Otherwise, it works very easily no matter what kind of tools you prefer to use, hand or power tools.
Moderately priced, Sycamore has a lot of uses including high-end furniture, veneers, interior trim, paper, particleboard, flooring, pallets, tool handles, etc. Pretty much, if it can be made out of wood, someone is making it out of Sycamore.
Teak heartwood is a golden brown that darkens as the wood ages. It grows on plantations in Central and South America as well as in some parts of Africa, Australia, and Indonesia.
In all ways, Teak is super easy to work with. It is a woodworker’s dream wood. The only drawbacks we see are the rather high silica content in the wood which blunts your cutting blades faster than normal. And the wood has a very high oil content so you’ll need to wipe it down with solvent before gluing or finishing.
A very stable wood, Teak is considered by many to be THE most weather and decay-resistant wood in the world. So it is no wonder it is often used to make high-end patio furniture.
Other uses for this wood include carving, boatbuilding, turnings, exterior construction and small wood objects like knife handles, bowls, and kitchen utensils.
For all the reasons stated above, Teak is one of the most desirable tropical hardwoods in the world. Because of that, even though there is a good supply of it from plantations around the world, Teak is still extremely expensive lumber.
Walnut wood ranges from brown to dark chocolate brown. It has streaks of even darker brown running thru it. It can also have figured grain patterns like crotch, curl, and burl.
As a rule, Walnut is easy to work with when the grain is straight. With the figured grain pieces, you need to be careful when surfacing the pieces to avoid tearout. It stains well if you want to do that. Most Walnut is not stained. It glues well and is easy to steam bend.
Insanely popular in North America, it is almost hard to overstate how much American woodworkers love Walnut. It is also plentiful and easy to get. Note that bords are often on the narrow side.
Walnut is considered a “premium domestic hardwood” and it is priced accordingly.
Wenge wood is native to central Africa. It is a lovely medium to very dark brown with black streaks. When finished with wood oil it is nearly black and can be used as a substitute for Ebony.
This wood is very difficult to work with either hand or power tools. It blunts tool edges and sands unevenly. It is very splintery and you need to be careful when handling unfinished wood with your bare hands.
Wenge trees have been listed as endangered because it became so popular that their numbers have been cut in HALF in only the last 3 years. When you can find it, Wenge wood is available in wide boards and veneer sheets.
It is commonly used in paneling, musical instruments, turned items, and veneer.
Zebrawood comes from West Africa and is, as its name suggests, striped like a Zebra. It has long streaks of both light cream and dark blackish-brown wood.
Working with Zebrawood presents some challenges for woodworkers. Sawing it is no real problem but it is hard to plane because of its interlocking grain. This makes tearout a common thing if care is not taken. It is easy to glue and finishes well.
Zebrawood is extremely rare. It is one of the most exotic hardwoods available and therefore one of the most expensive hardwoods, too. Though, it is not as expensive as Ebony or Rosewood.
This category includes everything else besides real wood. These are all manufactured wood products that do not occur in nature. It includes plywood, particleboard, MDF, OSB, etc…
If you’re wondering where those weird-looking sheets of wood come from, they are usually composites of multiple materials. Small strips of wood or even “sawdust” that’s glued together to form strong durable (though not attractive) sheets.
Sometimes they consist of 2 or more layers of wood glued together with another material between them. Other times they might be 3 sheets of wood laminated together with fiberglass. Or maybe even plastic! When I say “plastic” I mean polymers such as ABS and PVC.
Types Of Engineered Woods
As the name suggests, Fiberboard is a man-made wood product produced from wood fibers mixed with a binder that has been matted together and steam pressed into a solid sheet or another form. For those unfamiliar with this product, it is useful to think of it as REALLY HEAVY and STRONG cardboard or paper.
It is used when you need the strength of wood but when you don’t want or need it to be seen. Some examples are sound deadening in walls or floors, structural sheathing and it has some roofing applications.
There are three main types of Fiberboard:
- Low-Density Fiberboard or LDF
- Medium-Density Fiberboard or MDF
- Hardboard (high-density fiberboard or HDF)
Another benefit of fiberboard and one that is used to great advantage by the automobile industry is that it can be formed into almost any shape you can mold and press. They use it to make dashboards, door panels, and the like.
Because of its low cost and high strength Fiberboard is an extremely popular wood product.
Oriented Strand Board
Oriented Strand Board or OBS (we always call it “Beaver Board”) is another engineered wood product used mostly in the construction industry. It is made of largish wood flakes or “strands” that are criss-cross layered together with a binder or glue and steam pressed into sheets.
OBS is more weather or moisture-resistant than plywood and is suitable for both indoor and outdoor uses. It has been found particularly sturdy and useful in load-bearing situations. It is used extensively for subflooring, roofing, and sheathing,
You can seal or paint it but you will never get a finish that will hide what it is. This product is best for situations where the wood will not be seen.
Particleboard, also known as chipboard in Australia and the United Kingdom, is another engineered wood product made to be used but not seen. It is made up of small wood bits, essentially sawdust, bound together with glue and pressed into boards.
This type of wood sheet or plank is super strong, extremely durable and much less expensive than any other wood type. Particleboard is used extensively in construction and for some low-end furniture or cabinetry.
It can be painted or covered with wood veneer if it is going to be seen
Particleboard has one major disadvantage. You cannot get it wet and it expands like crazy in humid environments. Sealing this wood product is a must.
Plywood is made from multiple thing sheets, plys, of natural woods layered and glued together to form a large, strong sheet. It is usually made from softwood such as pine, spruce, fir, or cedar. Hardwood plywood does exist but its uses in high-load construction are being replaced by the far less expensive OSB.
Plywood is used extensively in the construction industry for things like flooring, subflooring, sheathing, and roofing.
Recently some woodworking artists have been elevating plywood to high-art status by taking advantage of the striping effect of plywood’s “end grain” by creating some amazing plywood furniture pieces and patterns.
What are the most common types of wood you will use in woodworking?
Hands down Pine or Fir is the most common type of wood used in woodworking. It is easy to find, inexpensive, strong, and easy to work. Pine boards come in every dimension imaginable. It can be used for everything from soapbox derby cars to furniture.
Walnut and Oak are also VERY popular choices for woodworking because they make lovely furniture and cabinets, are easy to work with, are readily available, are not too expensive, and have a cache of “fine furniture” about them.
Note: Almost any type of wood finish can be used with both Pine and Oak. Perhaps this is another reason they are so popular.
What’s the Best Wood for Beginner Woodworking?
In the end, what kind of wood to use comes down to personal preference. But keep this in mind. As a new woodworker, you will make mistakes. That is unavoidable. So, chose a wood you like the look of that is easy to work with and inexpensive. The following are some good options…
- Pine is one of the best woods for new woodworkers to start with because it is soft, easy to work, readily available anywhere, and quite affordable. It stands up to indoor and outdoor projects when well sealed.
- Cedar is almost as readily available as pine, not much more expensive, and is also easy to work with. It is much more weather and rot-resistant so if your project is something like outdoor patio furniture we’d recommend trying Cedar.
- Oak is another easy to obtain wood. It comes in many sizes. Is fairly inexpensive, easy to work with hand or power tools, and finishes well.
Is hardwood harder than softwood?
No. Some softwoods are much harder than some hardwoods. The names are confusing but all they do is tell you the type of tree the lumber or wood came from. Hardwoods come from leafy trees and softwoods come from evergreen (think pine or Christmas) trees.
How to buy lumber for woodworking?
The best place to find quality lumber will be at a professional lumberyard near you. Find one with a friendly knowledgeable staff who can help you chose the right lumber for your project.
There are also many wonderful online lumber retailers like “Woodworkers Source” which is based out of Arizona. They have staff on hand to help you just like they would if you walked into one of their in-person locations.
Etsy! Recently we discovered a whole new world of lumber, especially specialty woods on Etsy! You can find everything from pallet wood, reclaimed wood, whiskey barrel tops, fine lumber lengths, and exotic bits like Litchteberg Wood.
What is the hardest wood to work with?
Purpleheart and Wenge are both really difficult kinds of wood to work with.
What’s the strongest wood to build with?
Hickory is the hardest commonly available commercial wood.