which wood is best, for beginner / amateur?

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Forum topic by Holbs posted 11-22-2012 08:16 PM 1501 views 0 times favorited 23 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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954 posts in 1118 days

11-22-2012 08:16 PM

I just received my “The Complete Illustrated Guide To Joinery” by Gary Rogowski, which many recommended here on the forum as a fantastic book to learn joinery.

Of course, i would like to take a couple weeks if not a couple months learning by hands on approach with expendable pieces of wood and try out pretty much everything in this book one at a time. I do not want to go straight for oak or cherry wood right off the bat until lots of practice has ensued. Which wood at the box stores is “viable” for expendable joinery? I only have 1 hardwood supplier in all of northern nevada (sadness) and would like to stay away from costly lumber while i’m training myself. So home depot / lowes it is.

-- --- If attacked by a mob of clowns, go for the Juggler

23 replies so far

View RussellAP's profile


3052 posts in 1376 days

#1 posted 11-22-2012 08:24 PM

Keep your practice to hardwood, softwood is a totally different ball game. Softwood like pine and cedar has lots of knots and the fiber just falls apart when you try to do anything fine with it. Hardwood like oak and walnut cut like putty and rarely splinter or flake in precise corners. If you use any power tools the softwood will just snap off when you try to mortise anything under 3/4 of an inch. Plus not that many real life uses for fancy joinery with pine because most of your furniture makers use hardwoods.

-- A positive attitude will take you much further than positive thinking ever will.

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404 - Not Found

2544 posts in 2058 days

#2 posted 11-22-2012 08:27 PM

I see lots of people on here use (or repurpose) old pallets. If there’s a motorcycle dealership near you, pop in and ask if they have any packing materials you can have – lots of oak pallets apparently.

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10850 posts in 2204 days

#3 posted 11-22-2012 08:35 PM

pine , fir ,poplar etc. is great wood to practise with
just grap the cheapest you can get
maybee there is knots in it but that is possiple to work around
thugh you shuold beaware that softwood like pine will tell you if your chisels is sharp enoff
or need to be honed when you do endgrainwork dovetails or tennonwork
many will tell you that its sometimes easyer to work with hardwood when it comes to endgrainwork
maybee I do not know yet

don´t forget scappieces/cutoffs to practice on later in your journey :-)

good luck

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2202 posts in 2248 days

#4 posted 11-22-2012 08:45 PM

I think one of the best woods for practicing joinery is poplar. It’s cheap and just hard enough to stay together when doing intricate cuts. I’m sure there are others, like ash, beech, etc. but poplar is the one we seem to get down here in Texas.

The issue with the pines, firs, and spruces is that they tearout when doing machine joinery. They are enjoyable to work with hand tools…really sharp tools can reduce some of those issues.

-- jay,

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Dave G

244 posts in 1137 days

#5 posted 11-23-2012 12:02 AM

Poplar works like typical hardwood. The mistakes and efforts I make in poplar are the same I make in cherry and maple and beech. Poplar is very very much like soft maple. Oak is different from all those and gave me some new learning when I first started with it.

Unfortunately the box stores charge as much for poplar as I pay for cherry at a hardwood yard.

-- Dave, New England - “We are made to persist. that's how we find out who we are.” ― Tobias Wolff

View derosa's profile


1567 posts in 1925 days

#6 posted 11-23-2012 01:19 AM

I’ll second going for pallets or call around to some cabinet shops and see if they will sell their scrap for cheap and tell them why you need it, they may just toss it your way. Industrial places and repackaging places get some really heavy duty pallets. Best is if you have a sawzall, I find the runners half the time aren’t worth the trouble with the nails they use, so slice out the middle for actual lumber and slice off the ends for practice pieces. I’ve got 2 pieces of 1.25×6x36” pieces of clear white oak and another 3 that are only 4” wide, just make it battery powered and you don’t even need a truck.

-- --Rev. Russ in NY-- A posse ad esse

View Dave G's profile

Dave G

244 posts in 1137 days

#7 posted 11-23-2012 01:25 AM

I don’t know why but those stores that sell wood stoves and pellets for wood stoves have great piles of pallets.

-- Dave, New England - “We are made to persist. that's how we find out who we are.” ― Tobias Wolff

View rance's profile


4197 posts in 2250 days

#8 posted 11-23-2012 01:43 AM

For starting out, I would strongly suggest POP ( Plain Ole Pine ). I can often get it Free from dumpsters where they are building houses. Those loooong dumpsters. I rather like the knots:

You can make finished pieces, or just use it for practicing. Yes, it has its limitations. However, LOTS can be done with it. One big reason I suggest Pine is that you are not as afraid to mess it up. And if you are successful, then you can have a usable piece when you finish. Poplar & Mahogany would be best for practicing hand-cut dovetails. Oh, and have scary sharp chisels.

What tools do you have? What kind of proejcts would you like to concentrate on? Do you need already dimensioned lumber or do you have a Jointer & Planer?

-- Backer boards, stop blocks, build oversized, and never buy a hand plane--

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1243 posts in 1143 days

#9 posted 11-23-2012 02:11 AM

free stuff!!!!!

-- Joel

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2656 posts in 2320 days

#10 posted 11-23-2012 02:20 AM

I have been using white pine for more than 30 years with no regrets.
1) Corner hutch made in 1983 (recent pic)

2) Toy Box made recently

3) Shelf

And then there is cedar bought milled on one side and both edges…some 1×3 pickets.

And Red Oak. I buy as much as I can at the hardwood seller when they have short pieces (<48 inches) on sale 50% off.

Gitchasome and get to slinging sawdust.

-- Handcrafted by Mike Henderson - Channelview, Texas

View Holbs's profile


954 posts in 1118 days

#11 posted 11-23-2012 02:21 AM

rance: i have a joinery book, planer, joiner, router, table saw… lots of goodies. but what i dont have are chisels. I guess that is next on the shopping list.

i’m not worried about knots or strength, as these will be expendable training exercises. seems popular is a good choice to start with.

there is a “cabinet finishing” shop infront of my work. i’ll have to ask them next week for bottom-feeding spare parts.

-- --- If attacked by a mob of clowns, go for the Juggler

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899 posts in 1182 days

#12 posted 11-23-2012 02:22 AM

I think pine is a perfectly fine wood to start with. Pine is a lot softer than hardwood but it’s not crepe paper. Sharp tools can usually cope with the knots.

As far as starter hardwoods, I too suggest poplar. It’s probably the cheapest of the hardwoods. It’s also not so terribly hard that it will be impossible to shape.

Cherry and walnut are nice but they cost a lot more and you won’t feel free to screw things up (i.e. learn) on such expensive wood.

Don’t get poplar at Home Depot though. It costs an arm and a leg there.

View ShaneA's profile (online now)


5836 posts in 1687 days

#13 posted 11-23-2012 02:24 AM

Unless you are using construction type lumber, HD and Lowes wood prices are quite high compared to hardwood suppliers. Always look on CL for some scores, and online as well. I think poplar, as mentioned is a good wood to start with. Beyond that, Birch in my area is not too expensive and can have a nice appearance. I am really not a red oak fan, but that is just me.

View johnstoneb's profile


1548 posts in 1262 days

#14 posted 11-23-2012 02:38 AM

Pine or poplar are good for practice and finished pieces. I see from your profile you are near Reno. Google hardwoods reno see what comes up and then visit some of the cabinet shops see where they get thir wood. Reno is big enough there should be a couple of hardwood suppliers.

Boise, ID

-- Bruce, Boise, ID

View NiteWalker's profile


2728 posts in 1666 days

#15 posted 11-23-2012 03:58 AM

+1 on poplar or pine.
If you’re making serviceable projects, go with pine. It takes on a great look as it ages. Just for practice, poplar. Both are great starter woods. Poplar is excellent for shelves.

-- He who dies with the most tools... dies with the emptiest wallet.

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