There are different types of wood, but not all are equal when it comes to construction or woodworking projects. Hardwood is more durable And less prone to scratches, while Softwoods are more flexible And easy to work with. Before heading to the home improvement store, learn the best type of wood for your project.
Top types of hardwood for construction and woodworking projects
Hardwood trees grow much more slowly than softwoods, making the wood denser and heavier. They come from deciduous trees that change color in the fall.
Hardwood varieties are common for flooring and furniture because they are durable, can withstand scratches and dents, and have some fire resistance. Although more expensive than softwoods, hardwoods are also suitable for cabinet making and millwork.
Oak is one of the world’s most popular types of hardwood used for flooring, cabinetry, furniture, wall paneling, boat building and joinery. It is naturally rot-resistant and water-resistant.
There are two types of oak: red and white oak – both are light in color, but red oak has a reddish tint. Oak features a straight grain and takes stains well. One of its most notable drawbacks is its ability to color – the grain still shows through several coats.
Walnut is a high-quality hardwood known for its rich brown color and straight, coarse grain. It can last for decades in interior applications and is a top choice for flooring and cabinetry. Even when untreated and exposed to the elements, walnut wood can last up to twenty years.
Walnut is naturally dark, but you can stain it darker if you like. But you can’t stain walnut wood a light color. It does not take paint well because of its knots and grains.
Teak is a straight-grained wood that comes in shades from light yellow to dark golden brown. Its high natural oil content makes it resistant to moisture, rot and insects. Many builders use teak for flooring, boat building, and siding, but it’s also a top choice for outdoor furniture and decking for its natural weather resistance.
There are three grades of teak: A, B, and C Grade A teak is the best quality, coming from the center of the tree, which has the highest oil concentration.
Hickory is a dense, hard hardwood that is shock-resistant. It is the ideal choice for striking tool handles such as hammers, axes and mallets. It is a common building material for ladders, wagon wheels and panelling.
Hickory has an interlocking grain and is cream colored with purple or red streaks. Its attractive appearance makes it perfect for hardwood floors and cabinets, especially in rustic homes. A downside is that hickory is so dense that it is difficult to cut and shape.
There are two types of maple: hard maple, which comes from sugar maple or black maple trees, and soft maple, which comes from red maple, silver maple, boxelder, and big leaf maple trees. Hard maple varieties are ideal for furniture, flooring and cabinets, while soft maple is ideal for wood veneers.
Hard maple is very durable and features a fine grain and light color. Depending on the variety, it is usually cream in color but may have a reddish tinge or dark streaks.
Alder is an easy to work hardwood that won’t split with screws or nails. It is a good choice for furniture, millwork, doors and cabinets. Although high quality, alder is less expensive than many types of hardwood.
Most alder wood is honey colored but sometimes presents a red tint. It has a fine, even grain and takes stains well.
Birch is a versatile wood for home projects. It is heavy, strong and shock-resistant. Manufacturers use it in many applications, including children’s toys, broom handles, furniture, millwork, shutters, flooring, and decorative pieces.
Birch is a closed, straight-grained wood with an occasional wavy pattern. It can be pale white, yellow or reddish brown.
Cherry is a high-end hardwood with medium strength, flexibility and natural shock resistance. It is a common type of wood for flooring, cabinetry, furniture and millwork. One aspect that makes it so popular is its workability – whether using hand tools or machinery, it’s easy to shape.
The heartwood of cherry wood has a natural warm-red hue and the sapwood has a pale yellow shade. It doesn’t stain well, so it’s best to let the natural colors shine through.
Ash is a dense hardwood that is functional and shock-resistant. Manufacturers use it for striking tools, flooring, cabinetry, furniture, baseball bats, and handles for food containers. Although it is an easy-to-work wood species, there is a shortage in North America due to the spread of the emerald ash borer, an invasive pest.
Ash is beige to light brown in color and looks like oak. It has a straight open grain. Unlike oak, ash is not rot or insect-resistant, making it best for indoor use only.
Mahogany is a high quality and expensive hardwood. Some of its uses include furniture making, flooring, boat building, millwork and musical instruments. It is a durable and heavy type of wood that can last a lifetime with proper care.
Mahogany has a straight-grained pattern with few knots. It starts with a red or pink tint and turns red-brown over time.
Top types of softwood for construction and woodworking projects
Softwoods come from conifers, which are trees with cone-producing needles or spiny leaves that remain intact year-round. Softwood trees grow much faster than hardwoods and therefore the wood they produce is less expensive.
In general, softwoods are less dense than hardwoods, making them more susceptible to divots, scratches and water damage. But they are much lighter, an advantage in many applications. Common uses of softwood include plywood, decking, wall paneling, furniture and shelving.
Pine is one of the most commonly used woods in construction and paper products. Common applications include flooring, cabinetry, framing, decking and plywood.
There are three types of pine: white, yellow and red. Color ranges from pale to warm yellow with a distinct wavy grain. It sometimes turns brown with age and takes stains and paints well.
Cedar is naturally rot, insect and moisture-resistant, making it a top wood for outdoor projects. Builders use cedar as shingles and decking for boats, canoes, outdoor furniture and siding. It is also suitable for indoor flooring, wall paneling and furniture.
Cedar has a natural pink to red or purple hue that turns silver gray if unsealed. It has a straight grain, often with knots throughout.
Fir, also known as Douglas fir, is a durable softwood with some insect and rot-resistant properties, although not to the same extent as cedar. It is a high-quality wood, less expensive than many comparable species. Common applications include flooring, doors, trim, cabinets, boat building and furniture. It has the best weight-to-strength ratio of any wood.
Fir is light brown but may have yellow or red patches. The grain pattern can be straight and even or wavy depending on the cut and the tree.
Spruce is a medium weight wood that shares common characteristics with pine. Manufacturers use it to make boats, airplanes, framing, and musical instruments. It is easy to work with but prone to dents and scratches, making it not an ideal furniture or flooring material.
Spruce is a light wood but can be cream, yellow or red in color. It has a straight, even grain, making it easy to work with.
Poplar is a light but strong wood. It has good performance and is inexpensive, lending itself well to furniture, plywood, wooden toys and millwork applications. It is suitable for hand or machine tools and likes paint. One of its most significant downsides is that it dents and scratches easily.
Poplar can show white to pale yellow and green or purple streaks. It has a straight grain, low luster, and is silky to the touch.
Redwood lumber comes from redwood or giant sequoia trees. It is a lightweight but strong type of wood, making it versatile. Common uses include trim work, paneling and windows. Because it is naturally rot and insect-resistant, it has a variety of exterior applications such as fencing, decking, posts, pillars, and outdoor furniture or decking.
As the name suggests, redwood has a pale pink to red hue and is coarse with a straight grain. Since it’s a dark wood, you won’t be able to stain it a light color, but it does take paint well.
Other types of wood
Sometimes, the materials you need for a home project fall outside the softwood or hardwood categories – such as bamboo, engineered wood, or pressure-treated wood.
Bamboo is a type of grass with a wood-like structure. Since it continues to grow even after harvesting, it is one of the most environmentally friendly building materials. It has many uses including flooring, furniture, wall panels and scaffolding. It comes in poles, veneers and planks that you can use to build.
Bamboo is light in color, from amber to blonde. It has three different types of grain, including strand woven, horizontal or vertical.
Engineered wood is a manufactured product that combines materials through heat or pressure. Engineered wood materials may include wood fibers, scrap wood, glue, or sawdust. The end product looks like wood but is stronger and more durable.
Because there are so many types of engineered wood, uses vary and may include building furniture, wall paneling, beams, interior doors, sheathing, flooring, and more.
Check out the types of engineered wood here:
- High-density fiberboard (HDF) – Manufacturers make HDF by compressing wood fibers, sometimes adding waxes and resins. HDF comes in sheets like plywood and is stronger than MDF. Applications include flooring, cabinetry, furniture and countertops.
- medium density fiberboard (MDF) – MDF is a less dense version of HDF, containing wood fibers, wax and resin. You can use it for furniture, cabinetry, shelves and baseboards.
- Oriented Strand Board (OSB) – OSB is a man-made alternative to plywood. Strands of wood are mixed with waterproof resin and treated with heat and pressure. You can use OSB for roofing and siding, and for many of the same projects you would use plywood.
- cross laminated timber (CLT) – CLT is a strong engineered wood used by manufacturers for roofing, sheathing and flooring. The manufacturing process involves gluing dry wood together in stages.
Pressure treated wood
Pressure-treated wood is regular wood that manufacturers inject with a chemical preservative to protect against insects and moisture. You should use pressure-treated wood on exterior projects where moisture is an issue. Most manufacturers do not recommend it for indoor use due to its pesticide content.
The three most common types of pressure-treated wood are pine, cedar, and fir.