There’s a great post today over at Dummies.com on various types of wood used in woodworking! (The below story is partly excerpted from that; go see the full article for more!)
Here are some of the key points:
Softwoods aren’t weaker than hardwoods. Softwoods come from coniferous trees such as cedar, fir, and pine and tend to be somewhat yellow or reddish in appearance. Because most coniferous trees grow fast and straight, softwoods are generally less expensive than hardwoods.
It’s also relatively easy to find sustainably grown softwoods (woods grown on tree farms to ensure a endless supply of wood); this means you’re not contributing to the deforestation of the world and will always have a supply of wood for your projects.
- Cedar: You’ll typically see western red cedar, and it’s aromatic. Great for outdoor projects and priced moderately.
- Fir: Inexpensive, used for building (and some furniture-making)
- Pine: Great for furniture, partly because it takes stain so well. If you use ponderosa pines, be sure to seal it!
- Redwood: Good for outdoor projects, and straight grained. As you might expect, it’s usually red.
Most woodworkers love to work with hardwoods. The variety of colors, textures, and grain patterns makes for some beautiful and interesting-looking furniture. The downside to hardwoods is their price. Some of the more exotic species can be too expensive to use for anything more than an accent.
Some hardwoods are becoming very hard to find and are being harvested without concern to their eventual extinction (Brazilian rosewood comes to mind). Not only is this hard on the environment, it drives the price of the wood so high that making furniture out of it is out of the question for most woodworkers. If you can, try to buy wood from a sustainable forest (commercial tree farms that ensure the supply of the wood). Check out the National Hardwood Lumber Association or SmartWood.com for ways to support sustainable forestry.
- Ash: Pale and straight-grained, but you won’t find it unless you go to a lumberyard.
- Birch: Tough to stain (so you may want to paint it), and it’s inexpensive for a hardwood. Comes in yellow and white.
- Cherry: This might be our favorite wood on the list, but it’s in high demand, so it’s getting more expensive.
- Mahogany: Good for furniture, but quite expensive. Often reddish, and can be a beautiful deep red color.
- Maple: Only somewhat available, but if you get “hard” maple, it’ll be tough to work with. “Soft” mail is a bit easier.
- Oak: White and red varieties, and the white variety is great for outdoor furniture.
- Teak: Getting rarer, but good wood to use for high-quality outdoor furniture.
- Walnut: Easy to work with, but expensive. If you’re looking for a rich brown wood, this might be your best bet – but a special order may be necessary.