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.


Outdoor use?

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.

  • Pine
  • Spruce
  • Larch
  • Douglas Fir
  • Oak
  • Ash
  • Cherry
  • Walnut
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.

Recycled wood?

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.

4 Comments

  1. Tim French on 1 April 2019 at 5:18 pm

    Is it important to also look at the end grain?

    • Izzy Berger on 4 April 2019 at 11:23 am

      Hi Tim,

      Paul says:
      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.

      Kind Regards,
      Izzy

  2. Bob Hutchins on 6 April 2019 at 12:26 am

    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.

    • Izzy Berger on 16 April 2019 at 7:17 am

      Hi Bob,

      Paul says:
      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.

      Kind Regards,
      Izzy

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