Working with Wood: The Best Wood for Furniture Making
If you’re in the market for new wood furniture, you may be wondering if certain woods are better than others.
The answer is yes…but it also depends on what kind of furniture you’re looking and where you’ll be using it.
We’ve created a comprehensive list of the most common woods used in furniture making to help you find the right choice for your needs.
Hardwood vs. Softwood
Before we start looking at specific wood types, it’s important to understand that wood is broken into two categories: hard and soft.
As you might expect given its’ name, hardwood is a dense wood made from slow-growing deciduous trees. Because of its durability, hardwood is often used to make the high-end furniture seen on upscale showroom floors.
Softwoods come from fast-growing evergreen trees. Because it often has knots, softwood is great for creating a more rustic aesthetic. It is also cheaper than hardwood and more readily available at hardware stores.
Common Hardwoods Used in Furniture
Just saying the name conjures images of strength and fortitude. Oak is an incredibly durable wood for furniture making. It is also incredibly heavy.
Oak is readily available in most countries and has a high tannin content, making it resistant to insects and fungus. Red oak is most used in furniture making thanks to its stunning grain pattern and high durability.
Hickory is so hard that creating furniture from it is incredibly labor intensive. That being said, hickory furniture is unbelievably durable and will easily hold up to everyday wear and tear.
Another advantage of hickory is the fact that it is stain resistant, making it a great choice for families with young children. Like oak, hickory has a wonderfully unique grain pattern and can add a level of sophistication to your home.
If you’re looking for long-lasting and timeless furniture, you can’t go wrong with walnut. This rich and luxurious wood instantly reminds me of swanky, home libraries where the aromas of old books, scotch, and the faint whiff of tobacco mingle perfectly.
While walnut is considered a hardwood, it is quite easy to carve, allowing furniture makers to create intricate designs within the wood. The color of walnut varies from exceptionally light to quite dark, allowing it to blend into any décor.
I’m including mahogany here because many people assume it’s a high-end, desirable wood, but you’ll be hard pressed to find furniture pieces made of solid mahogany these days (unless you’re shopping antique stores). Most contemporary “mahogany” furniture is mahogany veneer over some type of particle board.
Not only is solid mahogany furniture impossibly heavy, it is highly unstable since it absorbs more humidity from its environment than any other type of wood. As the humidity in the environment changes, mahogany will expand, shrink, warp, and eventually crack.
Common Softwoods Used in Furniture
Pine is easy on your pocketbook, lightweight, and can be found in most lumber yards or home improvement stores. It is one of the strongest softwoods, making it a great option for furniture (though, being a softwood, it is susceptible to nicks and dings).
Pine wood takes stain and paint wonderfully but looks equally lovely when left unfinished. Many people covet the natural knots found in the wood grain as it adds a lovely rustic quality to furniture.
If you’re looking for outdoor furniture, do yourself a favor and go with fir. It laughs in the face of rain and turns its nose up at humidity. It is the yin to mahogany’s yang…the two are polar opposites in how they react to weather.
Fir wood won’t warp or split and is one of the more economical wood options. Some drawbacks to fit—it is difficult to stain and the wood itself doesn’t have a lot of character (ho-hum grain patterns and few knots for visual interest).
Cedar offers the best of both types of wood—it is nearly as hard as oak, making it resistant to wear and tear, and it holds up wonderfully in a variety of temperatures and humidity levels.
Cedar is the go-to wood for outdoor furniture, due to its weather resistance and the fact that it naturally repels bugs and fungus growth. Cedar also tends to stay cooler than other woods in high temperatures. Why? The wood is porous and holds pockets of air, creating its own insulation and remaining cool even when in direct sunlight.
The right wood for your home is going to depend on where the furniture will live within your space, what you’ll be using it for, and the size of your budget. Here’s to finding fabulous furniture you’ll enjoy for years to come!
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