What is the best type of wood for your furniture?
Wood is one of the most commonly used materials in the world, and almost any type of wood can be used to build furniture. Each type of wood has its own unique characteristics, which in turn can add different degrees of warmth, emphasis and beauty to its surrounding decor.
We’ve put together this handy guide to help you choose which type of wood is right for your furniture. With our guide we will give you the low down on some of the most popular wood types available and explain their different characteristics as well as the differences between hard and softwood, grains and color.
We also clear up any fears you may have over Medium Density Fibreboard, how common it is, and we explain how a veneer can give any piece of furniture that expensive finishing look.
HARDWOOD VS. SOFTWOOD
Hardwoods come from broad-leaved trees (deciduous trees that drop their leaves every year and produce seeds) whereas softwoods come from conifer trees (trees that have needles and do not produce seeds).
Hardwood trees are very slow growing trees compared to softwood trees, this tends to make them produce dense wood. Items made from hardwoods are more likely to withstand years of wear and tear. However not all hardwoods are always hard, poplar and basswood are examples of these.
Hard woods are usually much darker in color and soft woods are usually lighter. Hardwood is commonly more expensive than softwood.
MANUFACTURED VALUE WOOD TYPES
Fibre board is an inexpensive manufactured wood made from the breaking down of hard or soft woods into fibres which are then bonded together with wax, resin and heat to create a dense piece of wood. One of the most popular fibre boards is MDF - constructed of medium density fibres that are known for their strength and durability and lend themselves ideally to furniture products.
MDF (Medium Density Fibreboard)
MDF is very strong and is considerably more popular than people think. In-fact many will be surprised as to how much MDF furniture is around them. With its strong/dense structure, your furniture is likely to last a lot longer than you expect, however it’s not solid wood, but it is a fraction of the price of solid wood. MDF is extremely popular with Ikea, another leading furniture retailer. In the majority of cases, furniture built with MDF will have a wooden veneer bonded to it to give it an expensive looking finishing touch.
Particle Board (Chipboard)
Chipboard is a manufactured wood, made from wood chips and shavings that are bonded together with resin. Chipboard is extremely popular when making furniture, especially Ikea furniture. It is a dense wood and is commonly used with a veneered surface which is used for flat-packed furniture and work surfaces.
Plywood is a very strong manufactured wood as it is built-up of layers of wood veneers which are bonded together to create a flat smooth sheet of wood. It is popular in the furniture and flooring industries due to its inherent strength and resistance to warping due to the bonded cross-ply construction.
A veneer refers to a thin layer of wood which is cut from the circumference of a tree. It is then bonded onto a dense piece of wood, which is typically MDF, chipboard or plywood. Veneers are available in many sizes. Many people mistakenly assume that veneered furniture is cheaper than solid wood; however, veneers quite often are used in high end furniture pieces and it can be more costly than solid wood. The way to find out if your piece of furniture is veneered is by looking at the edges, and checking if the grain lines run off the top and over the edges of the wood. As a veneer is real wood, it will accept stains and finishes much like solid wood.
Mahogany is one of the most popular hardwood tropical trees. Mahogany wood is prized for its beauty, durability, and color. It is relatively free of voids and pockets. The color darkens over time. As a result, it is a popular choice for furniture.
Color – Reddish-brown to blood red.
Density – Medium texture and moderately heavy.
Grain – Straight.
Common Uses – High-end furniture, interior millwork, exterior doors, windows, and trim.
Finishing – Sanding sealer.
Walnut (black walnut) is one of the most popular woods for furniture in the U.S. The dimensional stability, shock resistance, strength properties, and the rich coloration are the reasons behind its popularity.
Color – Lighter pale brown to a dark chocolate brown with darker brown streaks. Sapwood is pale yellow-gray to nearly white.
Density – Medium texture, fairly lightweight.
Grain – Moderately open grain.
Common Uses – High-end furniture, carving, flooring accents, musical instruments, and gun stocks.
Finishing – Should be finished with oil-based polyurethane
III. Red Oak
Oak trees are native to the northern hemisphere. There are around 600 species of oak, both deciduous and evergreen. Oakwood is remarkably strong, heavy, and durable. It is also resistant to fungal attacks.
Color – Pinkish red to blonde
Density – Very hard and strong.
Grain – Varied and openly porous grain patterns.
Common Uses – Furniture, cabinets, molding, trim, flooring, paneling, turning.
Finishing – Natural finish or oil, but they may vary.
Ash trees are medium to large trees that grow in most parts of the world. Ashwood feels smooth to the touch. It is durable, tough, and flexible. It has excellent nailing, screw holding, and gluing properties. Hence, carpenters love to work with ash wood. However, it produces a distinct and moderately unpleasant smell while working on it.
Color – Light, creamy-brown.
Density – Tough, flexible.
Grain – Open-grained with occasional brown streaks.
Common Uses – Flooring, millwork, boxes/crates, baseball bats, and other turned objects such as tool handles.
Finishing – Takes all finishes.
Birch trees are widespread in the Northern Hemisphere. Though it is closely related to Oakwood, it is much harder. Birch plywood is probably the most widely used as it is hard, stable, affordable, and readily available.
Color – Heartwood is light reddish brown with nearly white sapwood.
Density – Hard, medium weight.
Grain – Usually straight or slightly wavy with small pores.
Common Uses – Plywood, boxes, crates, turned objects, cabinets, seating, millwork, furniture, interior doors.
Finishing – Takes all finishes.
Maple trees are mostly native to Asia. But they are also found in Europe, North Africa, and North America. The maple wood is sturdy, resistant to splitting, and durable. It can be wiped clean with a damp cloth, making it ideal for kitchen furniture.
Color – The heartwood is typically a darker shade of reddish brown. Sapwood color ranges from nearly white to an off-white cream color. But it can be reddish or golden hue.
Density – Moderately hard but strong.
Grain – Closed and generally straight, but may be wavy.
Common Uses – Everything from furniture and woodenware to flooring and millwork.
Finishing – Takes all finishes.
Cherry wood comes from the cherry fruit tree. Cherry wood has rich color, smooth grain, and flexibility, making it a popular choice for furniture manufacturers. It also steams easily, making it ideal for use in curved designs.
Color – The color is light pinkish brown when freshly cut. It darkens to a medium reddish brown over time.
Density – Stiff, strong, medium weight, and moderately hard.
Grain – Closed and straight.
Common Uses – Cabinetry, fine furniture, flooring, interior millwork, veneer, musical instruments, paneling, turned objects, and small specialty wood items.
Finishing – Light to natural finishes are recommended.
Beech trees are deciduous and native to temperate Europe, Asia, and North America. Beech wood is quite durable and resistant to abrasion and shock. Because beech steam-bends as readily as ash, carpenters love to work with this wood. It also provides an elegant and dated look to furniture. However, it is not dishwasher safe.
Color – Pink to reddish brown heartwood, sapwood is creamy to pink.
Density – Very hard and heavy.
Grain – Straight with a fine to medium uniform texture.
Common Uses – Chair legs and backs, crates/pallets, railroad ties, flooring, food containers, toys, musical instruments, and woodenware.
Finishing – Takes all finishes.
Teak is a tropical hardwood tree native to India, Myanmar (Burma), and Thailand. Teakwood is one of the hardest and most durable of all natural woods. It is resistant to rotting, sunlight, rain, frost, and snow, making it suitable for outdoor construction and furniture. However, it is expensive and sometimes hard to find.
Color – Heartwood is golden or medium brown and darkens with age.
Density – It is heavy and strong.
Grain – Grain is straight. Occasionally, it can be wavy or interlocked.
Common Uses – Boat building, veneer, furniture, exterior construction, carving, and turnings.
Finishing – Finishes best with wood lacquer.
X. East Indian Rosewood
The rosewood trees grow in tropical environments including countries such as Brazil, India, and Madagascar. Rosewood is durable when dried properly. It comes with white chalky deposits that may dull tools and present problems with finishing. However, it is one of the toughest woods.
Color – Heartwood can vary from golden brown to deep purplish brown, with darker brown streaks.
Density – Hard, heavy and strong.
Grain – Usually narrowly interlocked.
Common Uses – High-end furniture, musical instruments, veneer, and turned wood objects.
Finishing – Finishes well, but requires initial seal coats.
Pine: has a uniform texture and is very easy to work with. It finishes well and resists shrinkage, swelling and warping. It is widely used in house construction, paneling, furniture, molding and for making wooden boxes.
Hemlock: is lightweight and machines well. It is uniformly textured and has low resistance to decay. It is mainly used for construction lumber, planks, doors, boards, paneling, sub flooring and crates.
Fir: is uniformly textured and has low resistance to decay. It is non-resinous, works easy and finishes well. Fir is used for making furniture, doors, frames, windows, plywood, veneer, general millwork and interior trim.
Redwood: is light, durable and easy to work with. It has natural resistance to decay and is good for making outdoor furniture, fencing, house siding, interior finishing, veneering and paneling.
Spruce: is a strong wood that finishes well and has low resistance to decay. It possesses moderate shrinkage and is light. It is a good option for making masts and spars for ships, aircraft, crates, boxes, general millwork and ladders.
Cedar: is a reddish wood with sweet odor. It is very easy to work with, uniform in texture and is resistant to decay. Cedar is extensively used in chest making, closet lining, shingles, posts, dock planks, novelties and Venetian blinds.