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Types Of Wood And Their Unique Qualities ~ Identifying Wood Types

Updated on October 13, 2013
A very unique card table, made from mahogany, ash and pine wood.
A very unique card table, made from mahogany, ash and pine wood. | Source
A forest of Aspen trees, tall and majestic
A forest of Aspen trees, tall and majestic | Source
A teak wood table. Teak withstands almost any type of weather, and still looks beautiful. It is used extensively to make outdoor furniture for this reason.
A teak wood table. Teak withstands almost any type of weather, and still looks beautiful. It is used extensively to make outdoor furniture for this reason. | Source

Types Of Hardwoods And Softwoods ~ And Their Properties

Sometimes when you go to add a piece of furniture to your home, you want to buy it already made. Other times, if you are handy, you might want to pick up the basic wood pieces and make it yourself. That's what we did recently with a bookcase. OK, so I use the term "we" very loosely. I helped to pick the wood, my husband actually made it! Our problem was trying to decide on what TYPE of wood to use for our new bookcase.

We ended up going with a sturdy red oak. We love the grain of the wood and how it looks. There are many types of woods, though, that work really well for furniture.

Wood types are different, as we found out when we went shopping for it. Some woods are smooth, while others are textured. Some have a really bold type of grain and others have interesting knots and what some people have called birds eyes, which I think look like holes. We noticed that the knots and birds eyes are especially prominent in softwoods, like pine.

The best place to start when choosing a type of wood to use for a project is to know the differences between different types of hardwoods and softwoods, and to know the definitions of hardwoods and softwoods.

Hardwoods - Hardwoods are best known for coming from trees that have either fruits or nuts on them. The leaves on hardwood trees change color and fall off seasonally. They have broad leaves and are very popular throughout the United States. There are hundreds of kinds of hardwood trees throughout the U.S. In fact, hardwoods make up 40 percent of all trees in this country.

Softwoods - Softwoods come from trees that normally bear different types of cones, like pine cones and other types of cones. Softwood trees are also sometimes called "Conifers", a word that comes from a Latin word that means "cone- bearing". The most popular types of softwoods include pine, spruce, redwood, cedar and fir.

Our Bookcase ~ Made From Red Oak Wood

Our bookcase, hand made by my husband out of red oak wood with metal accents. If you look on the bottom left side, our cat, Misty had to get in the picture!
Our bookcase, hand made by my husband out of red oak wood with metal accents. If you look on the bottom left side, our cat, Misty had to get in the picture! | Source

The Most Popular Types Of Hardwoods and Softwoods Used For Furniture

The top three types of wood most often used for furniture are oak, pine and alder, pretty much in that order. White and red oak are the two types found most often in the U.S. It is hard to find another type of wood that has been around as long as oak.

Oak Is The Most Popular For Furniture And Woodworking Uses ~

First used by American Colonists and by craftsmen for its excellent durability for furniture use, white oak is most often found in the southern U.S. and in the Midwestern states and in the eastern United States. Red oak, by contrast, is found mostly in north America and is native to farther northern places, found more in the north than any other type of oak.

The largest oak trees grow incredibly slowly and can live for 300 years. Oak is known for being exceptionally durable, strong and is able to handle nails and screws very well. It is most often used for furniture, flooring, decorative woodwork in homes, cabinets and even in shipbuilding. White oak is found in shades of near white to a dark grey color, almost going into the brown range. Red oak can be either more red or can also be a light pink-white shade or even a pretty shade of pale brown.

The grain of oak wood can vary from a patterned look in many attractive patterns, depending how the oak is cut. Patterns range from snowflake type patterns to watery designs to the appearance of fine lines and striping. Oak is well known for being very easy to stain and takes stain well, making it perfect for many popular applications.

Pine Is Second In Popularity ~ Especially For Home Furnishings

There are three major types of pine:

Radiata pine, found mostly in New Zealand and in South America

Southern yellow pine, found mostly in the southern United States is such states as Georgia, Florida, the Carolina's and even up into parts of Maryland, and west out to parts of Texas.

White pine is mostly found in northern areas, from Manitoba to Ontario in Canada to United States locations like Maine and Michigan. This is one of the tallest trees in the U.S. northeast, with few big limbs that run horizontally.

All three types of pine are easy to work with, tend to take stain finishes well and are soft, with mostly straight grains. They've become popular for home furnishings due to qualities like being easy to shape into many shapes, being lightweight and the ability this wood has to be glued effectively, making it a wonderful type of wood to use for furniture and for wood accents in homes.

Alder Is Third In Popularity For Furniture Uses ~

Alder is related to birch wood and it is mostly found from the southernmost areas of California all the way to the northern reaches of Alaska. This is an interesting wood because it tends to be really consistent in its color and tends to range from almost white to a pink-brown color. There is no distinct grain pattern, making it nice for those wood furnishings where a distinctive grain design is not wanted. It is smooth, easy to finish and very durable.

Woods That Are Wonderful For Other Uses

Ash Is Great For Baskets, Food Containers And For Sporting Goods ~

One of the most popular woods to be used for things like food containers, basket making and for creating windmills back when they were first created, is ash. Ash wood comes in several beautiful colors and since it has no taste, it can be used effectively for food containers.

Ash comes in white, black and brown. It is strong and durable, yet it can be flexible enough to bend, like when it is used to create baskets. Ash is most often bent by using a steam process. Ash can handle most types of finishes, with the exception of paint. It is normally finished with a varnish or stain.

As an interesting side note, ash is also used to create some types of sporting goods, like baseball bats and sticks for the sport of hurling, which is played mostly in the UK and especially in Ireland.

Maple Is Versatile For Many Kitchen Uses ~

Maple has been used for years for things like airplane propellers in the earliest days of aviation, to the heels of women's shoes. It is used today for furniture and for many kitchen uses including flooring, counter tops, cutting boards and for beautifully crafted kitchen islands.

The color of maple ranges from a red-brown shade all the way to a cream colored shade. The patterns of the grain are mostly straight, with occasional curliness known as burl shapes. Maple is incredibly strong and durable and is resistant to being dented or to abrasions, making it perfect for uses like flooring and for kitchen furnishings, which often take a beating with use.

Teak And Balau Are Popular For Outdoor Furniture ~

Two amazingly popular woods used for outdoor furniture are the tropical varieties of Balau and Teak wood. These woods are incredibly weather resistant and have very fine grains that weather well, no matter what the elements send their way. Both of these woods are popularly used for things like ship building, the building of wharfs and for bridges, as well as for outdoor furniture.

Both Teak and Balau start out as naturally colored woods and eventually as they are left outdoors, they weather into an almost grey looking, weathered patina. Both types of wood are versatile, strong and known to be resistant to things like mold, weather, insects and mildew. One of the most attractive attributes is that they can be left outdoors with very little worry. They will withstand most of the elements beautifully.

Teak can be a bit more expensive, due to not being as plentiful nor as easily grown as Balau. Balau tends to be more plentiful and can sometimes be found for about one half of the cost of teak, making it more popular than teak for many outdoor applications. Both types of outdoor woods are best treated with clear, water based protective finishing products instead of with stains or other finishes.

Cherry And Mahogany Are Popular For Expensive Furniture ~

For those who want very hearty furniture with a lot of character, you can hardly do better than to choose furnishings made from cherry wood or mahogany.

Cherry has been used for furniture making since early Roman and Greek times. In modern times, cherry wood is often used to craft such furniture styles as Mission, country styled and Shaker furniture. This richly colored wood that comes in shades of dark red to a deep brown red color. It ages so beautifully it has become popular especially for furnishings that are finished in colored finishes and varnishes, to beautiful glossy finishes.

Mahogany Exudes A Sense Of Excellence ~

Some of the finest furnishings in the world are crafted from very heavy, beautiful mahogany wood. Mahogany wood achieved the height of its popularity in the 1950's, but recently has made a comeback in popularity for those who love the red woods. Mahogany is incredibly strong, durable and resists decay beautifully. Furnishings crafted from pure mahogany are often said to practically last forever.

Mahogany can either have a straight grain, or several attractive pattern types, including curly designs and stripes. In fact, it is more prized if it has a unique grain styling.

Your Wood Project ~

No matter what type of wood you choose, with excellent instructions and good woodworking skills, your project should turn out beautifully. It helps to know a bit about the different types of wood, so you can make the best decision for your unique project.

The most satisfying part of making a piece of furniture yourself is in knowing that there is only one of that type of furnishing in the world, uniquely handcrafted by you.


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    • KathyH profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Waukesha, Wisconsin

      Glad you like this, B. Leekley! :) Hopefully it gave you some hints on good qualities to look for. Thank you for commenting! :)

    • B. Leekley profile image

      Brian Leekley 

      5 years ago from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA

      Up, Useful, and Interesting. I learned a lot from this hub and might sooner or later put it to use if I ever help choose wood furniture.

    • KathyH profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Waukesha, Wisconsin

      Thanks so much, Dianna!:-) I'm so glad you found this informative!

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      5 years ago

      I love the look of wood in the home. We changed our carpeting to all wood in the home and it is so much more beautiful and durable. Plus, the allergies are kept down. This is a great article on the types of wood available for many uses.

    • KathyH profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Waukesha, Wisconsin

      Hi Msdora! So glad this was educational for you! Thanks so much for reading and commenting, I really appreciate that! :-)

    • KathyH profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Waukesha, Wisconsin

      Bobbin lace sounds so interesting, kids crafts! I was into crafts years ago. I think I need to get back into crafting again! Thanks so much for your great comment! :-)

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      5 years ago from The Caribbean

      Educational for me. Didn't even know the difference between hardwood and softwood; I knew that I liked cherry and mahogany but I didn't realize why. Thank you. Voted Up!

    • kidscrafts profile image


      5 years ago from Ottawa, Canada

      Great hub, Kathy! Wood is such a rich material! I love the touch of wood; it's not cold like laminated furniture for example!

      At one time in my life, I was doing bobbin lace and we could order fancy bobbins made with all kind of woods some more rare than others. It was a treat to see them all aligned while making a project!

      Thank you again for this interesting hub! Voted up and interesting!

      Have a great week!

    • KathyH profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Waukesha, Wisconsin

      Thanks so much, Faith! I didn't realize until we decided to do this project how many choices there are in types of wood. :) You learn a lot when you take on DIY projects like this. So glad you found this helpful. Thank you so much for the great votes and shares, I appreciate that! :)

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 

      5 years ago from southern USA

      Great hub here, Kathy! I have always had the hardest time deciding upon which wood is better for what purpose, and here you have provided such insight to such.

      Up and more and sharing

      Blessings, Faith Reaper


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