How To Choose Wood
We have listed the common characteristics of each wood group to help you choose wood, although the following applies to the majority of hardwoods and softwoods, there are some exceptions.
Which wood is best for indoor use?
Generally you don’t have to worry about durability for indoor use unless it’s being used a lot and especially in water soaked conditions, so you can use any wood.
When you purchase your stock, it is good to consider the durability of different woods. Some woods are considerably more durable than others. When researching durability of different woods, you may find woods are ranked by their levels of durability which will help you choose the best wood for your project. You can increase the durability of wood for outdoor use by using outdoor finishes such as preservative, paint or varnish.
Hardwoods and softwoods?
Softwoods, which are usually soft and less dense grained, mark more easily and as a result are less hard wearing for furniture. It is important to note that the terms ‘softwood’ and ‘hardwood’ doesn’t always mean the wood is physically soft or hard, it describes the growth of the tree. For example, balsa wood is a hardwood but it is exceptionally soft.
Coniferous trees are generally softwoods (common species are pine, spruce, fir and larch) and deciduous trees are hardwoods (common species are oak, ash, cherry, walnut).
Softwoods are generally easier to work with when using hand tools.
Well priced woods?
Oak and pine are commonly the two most available woods. Softwoods are generally less expensive than hardwoods. This is because they are more readily available.
Don’t use recycled wood for projects that will be used with food as you don’t know what it may contain. For example, it could contain lead paint or chemicals.
Darker and lighter wood?
Some woods change colour in the sunlight, for example Cherry turns darker after exposure to sunlight, whereas walnut goes lighter.
Ebony wood is the darkest coloured and is one of the most dense woods.
You can stain wood to change the colour, or you can apply a clear-finish to protect the wood but keep the natural colour.
Reading the grain?
Look at the surface of the wood for patterns, for example we generally look at where the knots in the wood are or were as this indicates more difficult grain patterns. It is useful to know the direction of grain when you are splitting with a chisel or planing as you can predict the best direction for splitting and planing wood.
Best wood to practise on?
Pine is the best to practise on as it is usually less expensive and easy to work, however it is also good to get a feel of other woods before you start a project.
Thoughts on buying wood:
You may have the option, depending on where you buy your wood, to get rough sawn or planed (smooth). It is wise to buy planed as this then saves time and effort.
Generally, 1 out of every 5 pieces will have some sort of distortion and we try to avoid them. Try to get something with the least amount of knots in because they always present a problem either with sawing, planing or finishing. Be sure to check for warping or splitting before purchasing your wood, it is best to avoid this.
Is it important to also look at the end grain?
It is important to check the whole wood. The reason we look at the end grain, generally, is to see if there any checking which can translate into long grain cracks.
I’m surprised that there was no discussion about how wood is sawn by the mill. Quarter-sawn boards behave differently than flat-sawn boards in most species. This can also affect structural and aesthetic uses of chosen wood.
Perhaps a future article can explore these aspects and how they might or might not be important with different species of wood.
My reason for leaving out the discussion on looking for quarter-sawn wood is because quarter-sawn, in many woods, is not necessary, not available and complicates issues at the beginner level.
What are the best woods for making spatulas, spoons, etc.? What woods should be avoided for these projects?
This information can be found on the materials list at the start of the spoon and spatula course.
first of all forgive my bad english, I hope you can understand me anyay. I would like to ask a question to Paul. As a beginner woodworker I am wondering which quality of wood am I supposed to look for when buying it to work on with hand tools. So my question is, are the boards that Paul uses for his projects (and the ones we see in his videos) usually ready to work on as they come from the woodyard or does he always need to square the wood before starting any project? Is the flattening of the faces and edges a step we do not see or is it something that can be avoided by finding a good wood supplier (I live in Italy and the planed boards I can find in the most shops are heavily out of square)?
I use both, sometimes I am forced to buy wood that is not machined well and therefore have to rework it.
Super new with a few questions.
One, how do I practice joints and planning and sawing without a bench? It seems like I need to before I’m ready for the workbench build since it uses all of those skills? And it seems like most stuff on this site still need one?
Two, is there any info on what construction lumber to get and how to prep it for Paul’s workbench on the master classes site? I can’t quite determine what I need based on the cut list, what I would have to prep and laminate that he didn’t, etc.
Three, related to this page, where to find wood? I’ve checked a dozen local places in the USA Midwest and found mostly rough sawn only, building material only, and won’t sell to individual places, in a 50 mile radius. Or do I need to break the no machines rule and get a planer since there’s nobody around that is doing flat sawn? I really hope not, for a lot of reasons. I did find one quarter sawn place, and an online place, but both were very expensive and could not pick through the stock.
Sorry for the long post but just having a little trouble getting started and feeling just a little defeated, but persevering so far in my search.
Sorry for the wait. Regarding your first and second questions, I recommend you watch Paul’s ‘How to build a workbench’ series on youtube. (link to Part 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ru2ZiNs_Wek ) In the series, he makes a workbench entirely in his garden with two saw horses and talks you through every step. You’ll find you don’t need previous experience to build the bench as the course is intended for woodworkers of every level which includes raw beginners.
As for your question on where to find wood, I’m afraid we can’t really help. As you rightly said, you will have to look around for timber suppliers. If you are serious about getting into woodworking and buying a planer is a possibility, there would be nothing wrong with that. Contrary to popular belief, the ‘no machines rule’ is not one Paul adheres to. In fact, we buy rough sawn timber ourselves and prepare all our stock using a combination of hand tools and a bandsaw. You may find this blog post insightful: https://paulsellers.com/2019/01/why-the-bandsaw/
I hope this helps, and sorry again for the delayed reply.