What wood to use for secondary wood?

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Forum topic by Minorhero posted 12-05-2014 10:51 PM 1336 views 0 times favorited 14 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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373 posts in 2845 days

12-05-2014 10:51 PM


I am in the design phase of a pretty big jewelry armoire. I have never built a chest of drawers or done any kind of case work before. The outside will be made from walnut. The secondary wood is still undecided. My local hardwood supplier sells Ash, Beech, and (Soft) Ambrosia Maple all for about the same price. I have never worked with any of these woods before. Is one superior to the others?

14 replies so far

View JAAune's profile


1854 posts in 2557 days

#1 posted 12-05-2014 11:48 PM

In my experience, kiln-dried ash is a pain to work with. It’s tough to cut and work with hand tools. The air-dried stuff is very pleasant however.

I’ve never used beech but do enjoy working with maple. I’m more familiar with the hard varieties though but I do often choose maple anytime I have to pick a wood for it’s workability and price instead of for appearance.

-- See my work at and

View ElChe's profile


630 posts in 1576 days

#2 posted 12-06-2014 12:03 AM

Birch? Stains well and easy to work with.

-- Tom - Measure twice cut once. Then measure again. Curse. Fudge.

View Minorhero's profile


373 posts in 2845 days

#3 posted 12-06-2014 01:13 AM

Local guy is literally felling his own trees (or other folks trees if he can get them cheap enough) and drying them in his own kiln. Birch is not to be had here. But there is lots of beech, soft maple, and ash. Good to know about ash being difficult to work with though. Anyone have experience with beech?

View TheWoodenOyster's profile


1317 posts in 2175 days

#4 posted 12-06-2014 04:30 PM

I have used soft maple and ash. Maple is easy to work with, but even soft maple is hard, so be ready. But it works relatively easily and is straightforward. I have had some tearout issues with it, but I think I was using hard maple. It was just sold to me as maple, so I don’t know if it was hard or soft. I like ash alright, it is hard too. In my opinion, it isn’t as good looking as maple, but that is personal preference. Never worked with beech.

-- The Wood Is Your Oyster

View lndfilwiz's profile


108 posts in 1840 days

#5 posted 12-06-2014 04:45 PM

American Beech is a very hard wood to work with. A close friend had beech made into hardwood flooring. He had to drill each nail hole to place it. It turned out very nice but he said he’d never do it again.

-- Smile, it makes people wander what you are up to.

View a1Jim's profile


117417 posts in 3817 days

#6 posted 12-06-2014 05:09 PM

Although I don’t see it on your list a wood used very often is Poplar if that’s not available then I think I would go with soft maple.

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

View ChefHDAN's profile


1230 posts in 3089 days

#7 posted 12-06-2014 05:12 PM

+1 poplar

-- I've decided 1 mistake is really 2 opportunities to learn.. learn how to fix it... and learn how to not repeat it

View bobro's profile


320 posts in 1551 days

#8 posted 12-06-2014 07:25 PM

Beech is the most popular hardwood in Europe. European beech averages a little harder but they’re about the same, which is in the same range of hardness as white oak or the hardest maples, give or take a little variation according to tree and climate and so on. I’ve found it actually quite nice to plane and saw with hand tools, but slow to chisel and drill because it has some kind of resilience or something, as lndfilwiz pointed out.

Soft maples are much softer than beech yet still strong and tough. I’d go for soft maple in your case, just an opinion of course.

-- Lao Ma: You are so full of anger and hatred. Xena: Everybody's gotta be full of something.

View dbmguy's profile


33 posts in 1816 days

#9 posted 12-06-2014 07:57 PM

What about basswood?

View Yonak's profile


986 posts in 1761 days

#10 posted 12-06-2014 08:52 PM

IMO, pairing with a classy wood like walnut would require another fine furniture grade wood. For me that would rule out ambrosia maple, poplar and basswood. Beech, historically, has not been regarded as a high quality wood, normally used as the structural part of furniture in the industry. However, I sort of like beech with it’s characteristic specks in the grain. I find it easy enough to work, but must note that I use mostly power tools.

Maple would look good and I have had no problems working with ash, even kiln baked, although it does give it a somewhat harder surface. One of my first projects was a chess table made of walnut and ash. It ended up looking OK, but I didn’t account for the walnut dust getting trapped in the open pores of the ash. I didn’t blow it out well before finishing. It was an early lesson.

If you’re interested in something with less of a contrast in color, you may consider butternut or sassafras, both open-grained like the walnut. Either would pair well, in my opinion.

View ric53's profile


194 posts in 1760 days

#11 posted 12-06-2014 09:49 PM

I’d use clear maple. Just my opinion. Looks great with walnut.

-- Ric, Mazomanie

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Craftsman on the lake

2846 posts in 3678 days

#12 posted 12-06-2014 09:55 PM

Poplar as a semi hard wood that works well. If you can get some fairly clear pine and aren’t going to put a finish on it then it is extremely easy to work with, strong, and doesn’t split easily. Great for framing out cabinets.

-- The smell of wood, coffee in the cup, the wife let's me do my thing, the lake is peaceful.

View Redoak49's profile


3744 posts in 2229 days

#13 posted 12-07-2014 02:58 PM

I like using ash for the inside of cabinets such as frames and guides. I also use it for drawer sides. I have no problems with it sawing, planing or routing dovetails. I also have very little trouble with warpage of the boards. In addition, it is cheaper than beech or birch or sometimes even poplar. It is also available in wide widths.

My guess is that ash will only be available for a few more years as the majority of the ash trees in the midwest are dying or dead. I had to take down 8 of them on my property this year from the emerald ash borer. Everywhere that I look, the ash trees are dead or dying….so sad.

View waho6o9's profile


8539 posts in 2817 days

#14 posted 12-07-2014 06:04 PM

Knock it out of the park like this one from majeagle1 with curly maple
and walnut:

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