While it’s easy to go to a lumber yard and fall in love with a beautiful piece of wood, that doesn’t mean you should buy that plank and bring it home.
Choosing the right wood for your project often depends on what you’re making. As noted by the folks behind woodworkwiz.com, not having the right materials can stall a project before it even gets off the ground, so take the time to source quality supplies and double-check that they’re suitable for your task.
For example, when you’re building a wood projects that’s going to sit outside, you have to pick material that will stand up o the elements. Sometimes that means paying extra and searching for old-growth timber. For other DIYers, that may mean purchasing chemically treated wood planks that will stay straight in humid conditions.
Older growth trees with tighter rings will likely be more stable, but the wood, which is harder to find these days, will usually be more expensive. Also, plantation grown wood can have a lot of knots given the conditions that the tree was grown in. So you may not get as smooth of a grain as you might see in a slow growth specimen. Here are some of the major categories of wood that will help you make decisions.
Hard and Soft Woods
While two of the biggest categories for lumber are hard woods and soft woods, you shouldn't expect the woods in those niches to live up to their descriptors. Case in point: balsa wood, that light material you use to make model airplanes, is actually a hard wood.
Hard woods come from deciduous trees (the ones that lose leaves). Soft wood trees have needles and are known as coniferous.
Before you start picking out planks, research what works the best for the type of project you’re doing. Maple could be good for cabinets. Walnut is often employed in doors and furniture; it’s also used by woodturners to create balusters and bowls. Red and White oak are both popular choices for furniture pieces and flooring.
The rose-shaded Saligna can be nice for a cutting board. It's a light to dark pink colored wood used for builds that require a hard wearing surface. The wood is heavy with a coarse texture and can be used for shelving, cutting boards and cabinets. Meranti ranges from pale red to reddish brown. Given its high durability, its often used on windows and door frames.
Cherry works great with dark stains and tends to absorb the tone a lot better. The density of mahogany wood means it stands up well to the elements and can be used outside. Some woodworkers even build boats out of the material.
Some softwoods are susceptible to scratching, dents and warping. That said, they’re often used for framing houses. Who cares if one of the rafters hidden under your roof gets a dent?
Knotted Pine is a yellow softwood used for accents in furniture and picture frames. It takes a stain color very well and has a beautiful pattern.
Chemically Treated Wood
Chemically treated woods are used for roof trusses, decks and other architectural features. Exotic hardwoods, like zebra and purple hear, can be great for accent elements and inlay.
Plywoods are often used in construction, given their durability. They’re also very economical. Poplar Plywoods is very light yet structurally solid. You can sand it. Baltic Birch plywood can be stained, sanded and finished the surface. MDF wood (medium density fiberboard) is an upgrade from typical plywood, and is very hard, but can be susceptible to moisture. Particle Boards are made out of tons of wood whiles glued together.
It’s economical and sturdy, but doesn’t usually have a pretty finish.