Which wood is best?

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Forum topic by Clarence posted 02-17-2010 02:44 AM 908 views 0 times favorited 2 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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125 posts in 3128 days

02-17-2010 02:44 AM

I have been intrigued by wood and have “worked with wood” in various ways most all of my life, though only marginally as a “woodworker”. Making a living, plus moving around a lot and generally getting my life in order hindered me from doing the fun, creative type woodworking I’ve wanted to do since I was a kid. Most of what I’ve done has been the nitty-gritty stuff of rehabilitating old houses, clearing land and building sheds, garages and outbuildings.

With retirement coming up this summer, I have been preparing to indulge myself. I have been buying tools like a mad-man. (Most of the stuff I haven’t even used yet.) I’m also converting a shed into a floored, walled tool shop. Next year I’ll build a new shop/studio/hangout/cave from the ground up.

As I prepare to pursue “woodworking” I have come to realize that I really don’t know that much about wood from the perspective of a woodworker, and here at last is my point:

I would like to see discussion of the different properties of various species of woods, specifically those that are common to the southern U.S. I would like to know their characteristics in regard to general appearance, beauty, their structural strength and stability, their machinability, their carvability, their ability to take a finish, which ones are decorative but little else—all the things that are important to a master woodworker and which lead him/her to choose that wood for some project he or she undertakes. I don’t want to choose the wrong wood for some project I put a lot of time and effort into.

I have varying degrees of access to many types of wood. On my own land I have lots of oak (red oak, white oak, live oak, pin oak, post oak, etc.); elm, walnut, pecan, pear, sweet gum, black gum, hickory, sassafras, persimmon, wild cherry, cedar. In the area there is also cypress, beech, poplar, cottonwood, sycamore, Arizona ash, river birch, magnolia, bois d’arc, red bud, dogwood, mulberry, and I’m sure dozens of others I’m forgetting.

Whatever I use I plan to mill myself, either by using my own Alaskan rig or by hauling it to a band saw mill. I plan to build some furniture items and some fine cabinetry, but I also plan to do various forms of carving.

Sorry this was so long, and I realize this is a very broad topic, but I just wanted to throw it out there. Thanks for the input.

-- Getting old is a good thing, but being old kinda stinks.

2 replies so far

View Scott Bryan's profile

Scott Bryan

27250 posts in 3844 days

#1 posted 02-17-2010 03:15 AM

I really don’t think there is such a thing as a “wrong” wood for a given project. So much depends upon individual taste and preferences. So I really think that the wood you choose for a project should be based largely on personal taste and preference.

Probably the easiest wood to work with in my opinion is oak. It machines well, takes stain nicely and finishes without any problem other than the grain being quite prominent and it is a very porous wood. But these simply add character.

Another wood that is pretty easy to work with is walnut. Like oak it machines well and I would never add stain to it. It is such a gorgeous wood that only needs a clear finish to bring out it beauty.

My personal favorite is cherry. It is a little more finicky to work with since it has a tendency to blotch if stained (which I never do) and it will burn if blades and bits are not sharp or run at the right speed. But it is a gorgeous wood that, like walnut, really only needs a clear finish. Mother Nature will take care of the rest and the color will only improve with age.

But all the wood mentioned in your post have merit. Having access to such a wide inventory of woods presents you with a wonderful wood assortment to experiment with.

-- Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful- Joshua Marine

View NathanAllen's profile


376 posts in 3166 days

#2 posted 02-17-2010 05:40 PM

I’m a big fan of hobbithouseinc, do a google search and be prepared to spend a few days lost in the fact sheets.

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