Choosing a wood type

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Forum topic by mortalwombat posted 07-10-2012 09:16 PM 1275 views 0 times favorited 9 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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65 posts in 2143 days

07-10-2012 09:16 PM

I’m completely new to this, so forgive me for asking such a basic question. What should you consider when choosing wood for a project? My old wood-shop days in High School were mainly scrap pine from the local lumber mill (which has since shut down). I assume hardness, and the appearance of the grain would be the two biggest things? My first project will likely be a bench for the entryway, and I will probably play with picture frames after that.

9 replies so far

View BTimmons's profile


2303 posts in 2480 days

#1 posted 07-10-2012 09:34 PM

A good starting place is to check out your local big box home centers to see what kind of hardwoods they stock. Here in Texas, we’ve got red oak in abundance, so that’s what you’ll find unless you visit a lumber yard. Red oak is an OK wood for projects, although it certainly isn’t my favorite. The grain is too huge and pronounced. Also the grain is coarse so it’s not the easiest to plane, and the table saw usually leaves burn marks on it a little too easily. Those can be cleaned up, though. That said, it’s a lot cheaper here than walnut, maple, or cherry.

Avoid pine and poplar on projects that you actually want to look at. Those are the most commonly available woods around here. They don’t finish well without a lot of coaxing and even then, they’re not really great to look at. They’re also very soft so they’re not the most durable.

-- Brian Timmons -

View PurpLev's profile


8535 posts in 3644 days

#2 posted 07-10-2012 09:37 PM

all boils down to the piece in question, and your own preference mostly. some projects require denses woods, some require closed cell lumber, and others are just about appearance.

even pine and poplar have their place both hidden and visible.

if you are starting out – start with something cost effective, and mix it up – get familiar with different types of lumber, how they cut differently , which one is easier to work with, and build your opinions on them all…

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

View jmos's profile


827 posts in 2365 days

#3 posted 07-10-2012 09:41 PM

Lots of factors; appearance, cost, durability and availability being big ones. If you are going to paint the piece you can go cheaper. Softer woods are less expensive but take more damage over time. Harder wood last better but are more expensive. Are you trying to match woods with other furniture? Do you like an open, bold grain, or a tighter grain? Are you planing on staining, or do you want a certain color naturally? Do you have a hardwood dealer close, or are you stuck with the big box stores? Do you want solid wood, or are sheet goods acceptable?

-- John

View oldnovice's profile


6843 posts in 3363 days

#4 posted 07-10-2012 10:45 PM

If you have a plan, from some source, with some pictures you can see the result in the type of wood that the plan used. If it is your own design then you are left with your imagination. If you have Sketchup (or some other CAD program with rendering capabilities) available you can render the design in different wood types, at least to some degree of overall appearance.

For the most part, jmos covered these points:
1. Durability, cost, availabilty
2. If the bench is a “classic design” the a change in wood type could be dramatic or traumatic.
3. Another factor to consider the tools on hand. Some woods are are harder to work.
4. The type of finish you are prepared to apply can also be a factor.

-- "I never met a board I didn't like!"

View mortalwombat's profile


65 posts in 2143 days

#5 posted 07-10-2012 11:25 PM

Thanks everyone!

View chrisstef's profile


17381 posts in 3002 days

#6 posted 07-11-2012 12:12 AM

I also like to think about the environment the piece will spend its time in. I chose cypress for an entryway bench due to its “outdoor” properties. High humidity and radical changes in temperature can effect the piece as well, making it swell and shrink. Some also hold up better in direct sunlight.

I think its pretty interesting the different properties of wood. PurpLev made a good suggestion by having you expose yourself (not like that) to as many kinds of lumber as you can and learn which ones you like and which you dont.

-- Its not a crack, its a casting imperfection.

View Brandon's profile


4152 posts in 2947 days

#7 posted 07-11-2012 12:23 AM

If you’re just getting started and haven’t worked with many different types of woods yet, I’d recommend visiting a local hardwood lumber dealer and just browse what they have, whether domestics or exotics. Plus, the local lumber yard I go to will sell a trash can full of cut-offs and short pieces for twenty bucks. That would give you a nice exposure to different woods. Who knows what you’ll like best?

-- "hold fast to that which is good"

View BTimmons's profile


2303 posts in 2480 days

#8 posted 07-11-2012 01:17 AM

“PurpLev made a good suggestion by having you expose yourself (not like that) to as many kinds of lumber as you can…”

Yeah. Not like that. If you thought splinters in your fingers were uncomfortable…

-- Brian Timmons -

View bondogaposis's profile


4723 posts in 2346 days

#9 posted 07-11-2012 01:51 AM

A lot depends on what you like. Price is another consideration and skill level. You are going to put a lot of pressure on yourself if you drop a couple hundred bucks or three on genuine mahogany for a bench but have no idea how to build it. On the other hand if you spend $25 for pine and mess up a cut and need another board, no big deal. Most of us look for a balance between our desires for fancy wood and price.

-- Bondo Gaposis

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