One of the most common building materials used indoors, outdoors, and even to make fine furniture is wood. There are many different kinds of wood that can be harvested from forests all over the world, each with their own benefits and drawbacks. Finding out more about the various types of wood can help you select the best type of wood for your next woodworking project.
For instance, if you are putting in a deck or installing a fence, it's necessary to find a type of wood that is resistant to water, rot, and insects. Otherwise, you may be replacing the deck or fence in just a few months. Similarly, when you are building furniture or putting in a new floor, it's a good idea to research the type of wood you are using in order to make an informed decision about your construction materials. Use this guide to learn more about these 16 types of wood DIYers should know.
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Best for: Furniture, millwork, flooring, cabinetry, and toys.
Easily recognizable from the white to yellow coloring and distinct white bark with black streaks, birch wood is a popular and relatively affordable type of wood. Birch trees are commonly grown in the eastern U.S. and can grow up to 70 feet in height, despite the thin trunks.
DIYers can find white birch, yellow birch, and black birch wood to use in furniture making, toy making, millwork, flooring, and cabinetry projects. Birch is a dense hardwood that can be cut and formed with sharp woodworking tools. Just keep in mind that it tends to shrink a significant amount as it dries.
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Best for: Plywood layers, furniture frames, shelves, doors, and cabinets.
Commonly grown in the eastern United States, poplar trees can reach up to 160 feet in height and they produce a light-colored hardwood that tends to have a cream color. This type of wood is a softer hardwood, making it highly desirable for DIYers and amateur woodworkers that prefer to work with hand tools.
Poplar wood is used to make furniture frames and is also regularly used for creating plywood layers. It takes paint incredibly well, making it a good option for painted shelves, doors, and cabinets. However, it should be mentioned that it can be difficult to get a smooth finish with this wood unless you are using a fine-grain sandpaper.
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Best for: Veneers, plywood, furniture, flooring, cabinets, and musical instrument construction.
Beech wood is a type of hardwood known for having a straight grain and white to straw coloring. It is harvested in temperate forests throughout Asia, Europe, and North America, with beech trees growing up to 120 feet. However, the average height of these trees is only about 60 to 70 feet.
This type of wood isn't suitable for outdoor projects or in humid locations because it is highly vulnerable to insect damage and has a tendency to absorb moisture. Instead, use beech wood to make veneers or construct plywood. It is also a popular material for making musical instruments or building furniture.
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Best for: Fences, decks, closets, dressers, and chests.
Cedar wood is a popular softwood that comes in two common varieties, including white cedar and red cedar. While red cedar initially has an amber to reddish coloring, white cedar has a similar but duller appearance and can show yellow tones. Both types weather to a silver-gray color unless treated before they fade. This wood is a good choice for outdoor projects, like fences or decks, because it is naturally resistant to rot and insect damage.
Cedar is a lightweight, durable material that can also be used to make furniture, like closets, dressers, or chests. The insect-resistant materials helps to keep nuisance pests out of your stored clothing and important documents. Opt for red cedar if you are looking for a straight grained pattern, but if you want to apply stain or paint, white cedar is the better choice.Continue to 5 of 16 below.
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Best for: High-end furniture, cabinetry, paneling, flooring, wood carving, and musical instrument construction.
Whether you are looking for a quick snack or you are building high-end furniture, cherry trees have what you need. Cherry wood has fine, straight grain lines and a reddish-brown to blond color. These trees are commonly grown across the Midwest and the eastern United States, and can reach a height of about 35 feet.
This hardwood has tight grain patterns that give the wood a uniform appearance, making it an attractive option for furniture production, cabinetry, paneling, and flooring. It has a smooth finish when stained and sealed, and cherry wood can be used to make musical instruments. Cherry is also a common option for wood carving projects because of how well it responds to sharp milling tools.
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Best for: Furniture construction, wood carving, and boat building or repair.
Used in shipbuilding, teak wood is one of the best options for boat building and outdoor construction projects. Teak has a natural oil that makes it highly resistant to rot and insect damage. This keeps it in good condition, even when it is submerged in water as the base of high-end yachts and ships.
The teak tree is typically harvested from southern Asia, South America, and Africa, as well as other tropical regions around the world. It has a straight grain and a coarse, uneven texture with a brown coloring. Teak can also be used to make furniture or as a go-to material for amateur woodcarvers.
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Best for: Walls, ceilings, flooring, and building construction.
The relatively low cost of Douglas fir wood paired with its high density that holds screws and nails well make fir wood a common choice for construction lumber. In most homes, Douglas fir wood is used to make the frame work for the floors, ceilings, and walls, so if you are finishing the basement or putting in a raised floor, it's likely that you will want to invest in Douglas fir lumber.
Douglas fir trees can grow up to 300 feet in height and the wood produced by these tree is a hard, durable softwood that is resistant to rot and insect damage. However, Douglas fir wood is not a good choice if you plan to stain because the stain tends to get absorbed in an uneven, splotchy pattern.
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Best for: Fine furniture construction, custom cabinetry, high-end flooring, and boatbuilding.
Grown in Central and South America, as well as West Africa and the West Indies, Mahogany is a well-known luxury-grade hardwood that is popular for making fine furniture, custom cabinetry, and high-end flooring material. It's resistant to rot, insect damage, shrinking, swelling, and warping, making it a good choice for boat building and outdoor furniture.
Mahogany trees can reach more than 150 feet in height and they produce a rich red or brown-red wood that has a smooth, tight grain pattern. The wood is durable, strong, and resilient, though you will need to pay a higher price for this luxury construction material.Continue to 9 of 16 below.
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Best for: Furniture construction, woodturning, carving, and cabinetry.
Walnut trees can grow up to 120 feet tall and they produce tasty walnuts, as well as a dark brown wood with a medium-smooth texture. Walnut wood usually has straight grain lines, though it can also have wavy lines or noticeable irregularities that give each piece a unique appeal.
This hardwood is highly resistant to rot, but it is not resistant to insect damage, so it isn't recommended for use on outdoor woodworking projects. Instead, use walnut wood to make indoor furniture or cabinetry that is resistant to shrinking and warping. It is also a popular choice for woodturning, carving, and shaping.
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Best for: Furniture making, woodworking, paneling, and shelving.
If the goal is to find a type of wood that is easy to cut, carve, and shape, then pine is an excellent option. Pine wood is commonly used to make pressure treated lumber for outdoor construction, but if it has not been pressure treated, then pine is vulnerable to insect damage and rot, so it's best for indoor use.
There are many pine variants, including sugar pine, white pine, ponderosa pine, and southern yellow pine. It has a pale white or yellow appearance and tends to have a lot of knots and unique grain patterns. This type of wood also takes stain well when paired with wood conditioner and bonds to paint well. Use it to make indoor furniture, paneling, shelving, or just for DIY woodworking projects around the home.
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Best for: Flooring, veneers, musical instrument construction, butcher blocks, work tables, and sports equipment.
Maple trees can grow to heights of 115 feet and can stretch to 100 feet in width, forming large canopies between the trees. There are several variants of maple tree, including red maples, rock maples, and sugar maples. This type of wood is dense, tough, and durable, so it is a popular choice for making baseball bats, hockey sticks, and butcher blocks.
The wood has a light coloring that ranges from white to amber with relatively tight, straight grain lines. However, you can also find maple with wavy grain patterns, known as curly maple. This wood can also be used for flooring material, veneers, work benches, and even in the construction of musical instruments.
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Best for: Furniture, wooden dishes, cutting boards, flooring, and decorative woodworking pieces.
Grown and harvested in Australia, Africa, and other tropical regions around the world, Acacia trees are relatively short, only growing up to about 40 feet in height. Acacia wood has a light brown to dark mohogany color, with irregular, wavy grain patterns.
Acacia wood is resistant to rot and insect damage. It's also water-resistant due to the high density of the wood. This makes it a good choice for outdoor furniture, but it can also be used to make wooden cutlery, dishes, and cutting boards. Some people lean into the unique grain pattern of acacia wood to craft custom furniture and to make attractive flooring materials.
However, this type of wood is susceptible to cracking when exposed to large temperature variations, so if you live in an area that experiences hot summers and freezing winters, acacia may not be the best option for outdoor woodworking projects.Continue to 13 of 16 below.
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Best for: Fences, decks, outdoor furniture, and ground-contact projects.
In most cases, pressure treated wood is made with pine or Douglas fir wood. These species of tree are known for being resistant to rot and insect damage, making them a good choice for outdoor projects. Pressure treated wood is created when pine or Douglas fir wood is cut to dimensional sizes, then sealed in a tank. Once in the tank, the air is extracted to create a vacuum, then a solution of water and preservative agents is added. The vacuum in the tank helps the wood draw the solution deep into the core.
This process increases the resistance of the wood to rot and insect damage, allowing it to last longer without breaking down. Use pressure treated wood to make fences, decks, or for ground-contact projects, like planter boxes, outdoor stairs, or structural posts.
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Best for: Construction lumber, decks, fences, outdoor furniture, and veneers.
The high resistance to rot and insect damage allows redwood lumber to be used for decks, fences, and outdoor furniture. This type of wood comes from redwood trees, which can grow to be higher than 350 feet. Redwood trees grow in a small area of the Pacific Northwest in the United States.
This softwood is lightweight and easy to work with, making it a popular option for construction lumber. The wood ranges in color from pale white to a reddish brown, and it has tight, straight grain lines. However, it should be noted that redwood trees are not as abundant as other tree species, so the price of redwood materials tends to be higher.
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Best for: Boatbuilding, barrel construction, flooring, furniture construction, millwork, and cabinetry.
Red oaks and white oaks are common across the United States and they can grow to be up to 85 in height. Both red and white oak are dense, durable wood with straight grain lines and a rough texture. The main difference between the two variants is the coloring. Red oak wood has a reddish hue, while white oak tends to be pale yellow with a wavy, contrasting pattern.
Due to the high level of resistance to rot and insect damage, oak is a great option for boat building and outdoor construction projects. It is also regularly used to make wine and beer casks or barrels. It takes stain well, though you may need to use multiple coats of paint if you want to fully cover the grain lines.
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Best for: Tool handles, sporting equipment, furniture, cabinetry, and flooring.
The high weight-to-strength ratio of ash wood makes it a popular choice for pool cues, hockeys sticks, baseball bats, and tool handles. This wood is also commonly used to make furniture, cabinets, and flooring materials. It's a lightweight hardwood that is strong and resistant to physical impact.
Ash trees come in a variety of different types, including black ash, green ash, white ash, and blue ash. These trees grow up to 60 feet tall, but they can also stretch to 80 feet in width. Ash wood has a light white to gold coloring, and may have gray streaks throughout the wood. It absorbs stain evenly and bonds well to paint, making it a good option for painting and staining projects.
When you are planning your next woodworking project, it's important to take some time to consider the type of wood that would work best, based on malleability, durability, cost, rot-resistance, insect-resistance, and how the wood takes stain or paint. If you are going to be building a deck, putting in a fence, or making outdoor furniture, opt for a type of wood that is highly resistant to rot and insect damage, like teak or cedar.
For furniture building or musical instrument construction, it's a good idea to look for a type of wood that is easy to work with, like cherry or beech. Affordable Douglas fir wood can help you stay on budget while completing cost-effective home renovation projects, like finishing the basement. However, it's also important to consider your own personal tastes. Look at the colors, grain patterns, and the way in which the wood absorbs stain or bonds to paint to find the right wood for your next project.