Types of wood are wide-ranging and choosing the one can cause an entire project to go south. You won’t be surprised to find out that there are many wood types out there. Some of them are good for making furniture, others for flooring, while still others are flexible enough that you can use them to make musical instruments.
Each type of wood has its pros and cons and specific qualities that make it good for certain uses. Regardless of what you will be building or need to understand about existing wood varieties, this article is bound to teach you something new about popular wood types.
Wood Types: Hardwoods or Softwoods?
What Is Hardwood?
A hardwood tree has broad leaves and not needle-shaped ones. They yield nuts or fruits, and in the winter, they often fall dormant.
America’s forests have hundreds of distinct species of this type. In fact, these trees account for over 40% of all the ones in the United States. Oak, maple, and cherry wood are a few well-known species of this type, but there are a lot more varieties.
Angiosperm trees are the main class of hardwood. They produce flowers, have broad leaves and when mature, the ovule surrounds their seed. A good example of this is the apple on an apple tree.
The types that grow in tropical regions may shed their leaves in response to seasonal drought. Also, tropical types usually don’t have annual growth rings. Unlike softwood, these types of wood have a complex structure and grain. This means that they often are slow-growing and require a lot of space to develop.
These are typically harder than softwoods, though there are some exceptions. In both cases, the wood can vary in its actual hardness. For instance, some types are a softer kind that is even softer than most softwoods.
What Is Softwood?
Softwood comes from gymnosperm trees. Spruce and pine are two common examples. Gymnosperms are plants that carry seeds in cones rather than flowers. These types of trees reproduce mostly through cones and, on rare occasions, nuts.
Softwood trees have needle-like leaves that mostly stay in place throughout the year. As a result, these are sometimes called evergreens.
A common misconception is that these are always softer compared to hard types, which isn’t always the case. In short, the words softwood and hardwood are outdated, have ambiguous meanings, and frequently misrepresent the qualities of particular wood types.
Softwoods are commonly used in the building sector, as well as in the production of card and paper-based products.
Because certain insects favor moist hardwood, certain softwood species have a higher resistance to insect attacks. Those that burn quickly and break are less dense and aren’t the top choice for wood types when it comes to choosing firewood.
What Is Pressure-Treated Lumber?
Pressure-treated lumber is produced using water-borne chemicals and pressure power to impregnate the boards. These chemicals extend the life of the wood and make it more resistant to decay and insects.
Douglas fir and Southern yellow pine are the most common wood types used for this type of lumber. Both are among the best types for building and are excellent alternatives for the construction industry because they are highly pest-resistant and rot-resistant.
Furthermore, if excellent pressure-treated lumber is used in a construction project where sealer is applied on a regular basis, it can survive for up to 40 years.
Pressure-treated wood boards tends to be quite heavy, as it frequently arrives on store shelves fully treated.
Hardwood vs. Softwood
In short, hardwoods and softwoods are characterized by their means of reproduction, and not so much by their final form or characteristics like the grain.
Hardwoods come from deciduous trees that lose their leaves every year. Hardwood trees grow more slowly, which is why they result in wood that is denser.
On the other hand, conifer trees produce softwood, and they are usually evergreen.
Different Types of Wood Trees
We all know that wood has many uses and applications. Uses range from heating the house and starting fires and cooking food to building furniture and houses from scratch.
Naturally, different wood types have different characteristics. Each of those qualities makes some types of wood more suitable for certain applications and while others are better for different uses.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the most common types of wood species you’re bound to come across. You’ll find these types regardless of whether you’re purchasing new kitchen cabinets or you’re interested in what wood works best for your fireplace.
Fir is sometimes known as Douglas fir. This type of wood is a robust and durable softwood that comes from the species of the same name. If left to their own ways in the forest, Douglas fir trees are extremely tall and imposing, capable of reaching heights of up to 300 feet.
This type of wood is highly insect and rot-resistant, but not to the same extent as cedar wood.
The grain of Douglas fir is quite visible, and it runs straight. Its reddish hue makes it easy to identify. Most important, it isn’t very keen on taking up dyes very well.
Douglas fir is also considerably less expensive compared to other types of wood.
All of these qualities make it an ideal choice for building material. However, you can also use it for decking and other woodworking projects.
As some of you may already know, most homes in North America have Douglas fir wood for ceilings and walls, while others use it as flooring. It’s sturdy and long-lasting, and it’s easy to cut when using construction saw blades.
Cedar is a fragrant softwood that is prized for its beauty and longevity. Good resistance to insects and rot are worth mentioning among its most valued characteristics. Cedar wood comes from a range of coniferous trees, the most prevalent of which are red and white. White cedar is paler than red cedar and weathers to a silver-gray color. The red version of cedar wood has an amber-like look and will weather to a rich, dark brown/deep red color when exposed to the elements.
Cedar is resilient and lightweight, and you’ll find it in a variety of indoor projects but also for exterior use, regardless of the variation.
The wood grain of the red variety is straighter, whereas white wood can absorb paint more evenly. Due to the aforementioned characteristics, it works really well for applications such as building material for chests or dressers, but also for making decks and fences as well as outdoor furniture.
One thing that you’ll see quite often is a competition between cedar vs pine to determine which one type is the best material. In fact, some people claim that they are, in fact, the same type of wood.
These two are not identical trees, but they are part of the same species: Pinaceae. They are both members of the pine family, but cedar wood has a distinct aromatic oil. This explains why builders value cedar material for its rot-resistance and insect-repellent properties.
Unlike pine, you can use cedar as decking without having to stain or varnish it. It will turn a nice grey in certain circumstances. Thanks to its ability to repel fungi, you can leave cedar outside for several decades. It is also less prone to mold.
Pine is a softwood that is quite simple to work with. It comes from a variety of trees that are found throughout the US. Some of the most common varieties include ponderosa, white, and sugar. Southern yellow pine is also very widespread among all the wood types.
Unlike other types of wood, pine typically is easier to deal with. However, it’s not as resistant to rot and insects as the other wood types discussed so far, so its best for indoor uses.
Pine wood has a light color or yellow appearance, with the specific look varying from one species to another. It may also contain knots, with knotty parts labeled as “knotty pine” and knot-free sections promoted as “clear pine.” Overall, these wood types have a rough appearance that takes stain or paint well.
It is possible to purchase low-grade pine wood from home-improvement stores. This type is lower in quality because it is prone to warping and cupping. As this wood is rich in moisture, cheap cuts will buckle and twist when the wood dries out.
As far as applications are concerned, you can use pine wood to make nice rustic furniture pieces. Also, it works for decking as long as it was pressure-treated. Pine wood is also suitable for shelving, wall paneling, and certain woodworking projects.
Redwood is more commonly known as sequoia. This is one of the tallest trees on the planet, capable of reaching heights of up to 400 feet.
Redwood is a soft, pliable wood that is also lighter. It might be a delicate white color or yellow, deep crimson, or reddish-brown color. The wood grain is normally straight, with old-growth redwood being quite tight.
These wood types have a rough texture and resist rot and insect damage very well, making them an excellent choice for outdoor projects.
Redwood is a common choice for framing lumber, fences, decks, outside furniture, huge beams, and veneer in parts of the United States. If it is pressure-treated, you can use it for projects that have ground contact.
Birch is widely used and is an economical hardwood. Birch grows throughout the eastern United States, especially in the Northeast.
These trees can grow up to 70 feet tall, but their trunks are slender. While there are a lot of birch types, several varieties, specifically black, white, and yellow birch, are the most popular.
Birch has a homogeneous look due to its smooth grained wood. Its color ranges from white to yellow, while the variety known as black birch has characteristic black streaks running through it.
The wood is hefty, thick, and sturdy, but it responds nicely to sharp tool woodworking. As it dries, it shrinks a considerable amount. Birch wood is good for flooring applications but also works well for making toys.
Ash is a type of lumber derived from a number of trees, with the most common varieties of these wood types being blue, white, green, and black ash.
Ash will grow up to 60 feet tall and up to 80 feet wide if given enough space.
This type of lumber has a bright tint that ranges from white to gold, with gray streaks throughout. Although the colors are close to maple wood, ash wood has a texture similar to oak wood but with a rougher surface.
Ash wood quite tough, but it’s light in comparison to its stiffness and durability. These wood types even outperform other hard types in terms of shock resistance.
Maple trees can reach heights of 115 feet and have equally large canopies. The wood that comes from a hard maple is very solid and durable, with a nice light-colored look that ranges from white to yellow to a rich golden tint.
In fact, sugar maple is one of the most valuable wood types in the northeastern United States.
This type of wood has a straight and tight grain, with light brown bands. Curly maple wood, which has intriguing wavy wood grain patterns, is also available. Both grain varieties of wood types offer a smooth, delicate texture that has a beautiful finish.
Because maple wood is relatively easy to work with, you can turn it into anything from baseball bats to paper. Manufacturers like to use it for a range of projects, from furniture and flooring to interior trims and veneer. It’s so hard-wearing and durable that it’s one of the best types of wood for making bowling lanes.
Mahogany is a premium wood that grows in West Africa, as well as Central America and South America. These trees can be very tall, reaching heights of over 150 feet.
Mahogany is the best wood when it comes to hard wood types for opulent projects and finishes. The wood is a deep crimson or brown-red color and has spectacular natural beauty.
Mahogany is exceptionally sturdy and heavy wood, with a very smooth grain and fine texture. It’s also got a dense structure, making it resistant to rot and insects.
One of the best qualities of mahogany wood types is stability. They don’t tend to have problems with warping, swelling, and shrinking.
Naturally, fine furniture makers use the mahogany wood types. The most common applications are high-end, custom kitchen cabinets along with furniture, but it’s also a popular choice for boat building because it’s hard-wearing.
Poplar wood comes from a variety of poplar trees, some of which can grow to 160 feet tall. These grow throughout the eastern United States.
This type of wood is popular among DIYers and hobbyist woodworkers due to its versatility. Poplar is a light-colored wood that ranges from cream to yellowish-brown in color.
Common characteristics of poplar wood are green or gray streaks, which tend to darken over time. Poplar grain is straight and its qualities make it compatible with the use of hand or power tools.
However, because it tends to leave fuzzy edges, you are going to have to use extremely fine grain sandpaper for a smooth finish. It’s not a particularly attractive wood, but it paints extremely well, so you can use it for furniture.
Cherry wood is always in high demand. Cherry wood ranges from creamy white to a reddish-brown color. When cherry wood reaches maturity, the wood becomes darker and drier.
This wood type has a very straight and tight grain that gives it a consistent appearance and fine texture.
Cherry has one of the smoothest finishes possible when stained and finished, which gives it a quality appearance.
With all of these great qualities, it is no surprise that makers use the cherry wood variety for high-quality furniture, but also flooring, instruments, carvings, and more.
Walnut lumber is a prominent wood that is derived from the black walnut tree, found throughout the eastern United States. These can reach a height of 120 feet and they produce a rich, chocolatey wood that woodworkers seek out for their projects.
Walnut hardwoods have a straight grain, although it’s almost as likely to have waves and imperfections.
When you touch walnut wood, you will notice that it has a medium-smooth texture. The color of the wood ranges from light brown to medium brown as well as dark brown. This type of wood is used for furniture.
Walnut is particularly resistant to decay, but has poor resistance to insects. It’s dimensionally stable, with very little shrinkage and warping as it cures.
Oaks can reach heights of 85 feet and produce a cornucopia of acorns every fall.
There are two popular types of oak: red oak and white oak. Both are dense and robust, having a harsh, straight-grained texture. White oak wood has a lighter color, while the red variety has a redder tone.
Even if oak is a tough wood variety overall, it’s also quite flexible. This makes it a great choice for making whiskey or wine barrels. This type of wood also makes its way into a lot of different products, from cabinets to furniture production.
Teak is one of the top alternatives in the wood industry when it comes to combining durability and good looks.
Teak is a coarse, unevenly textured wood that has a straight grain. Natural oils in the wood make it resistant to rot and insects. These are qualities that make teak a high-end choice for outdoor furniture manufacturing.
Despite the oils, teak is a simple wood to work with, bonding and finishing beautifully. There are plenty of similar traits between mahogany and teak, although teak is undeniably dark brown, whereas mahogany frequently has a red color.
Bamboo is growing in popularity because of its good qualities and sustainable nature. Of course, bamboo is not classified as a wood, but rather as a type of grass.
The hardness and density of bamboo mean that you can use it in a lot of different projects. Bamboo is abundant in tropical climates. Moreover, the different species vary among the regions where it grows.
Bamboo has long hollow stems that manufacturers can also cut into very thin, narrow strips to make veneer for engineered wood products.
Because bamboo is lighter, many people think it’s softer but it’s the opposite. In fact, bamboo has more properties in common with varieties like Red oak or Maple wood. This woody material is making its way into everything from fine woodworking to wood flooring.
Bamboo has a natural coating that makes it resistant to decay so before you can stain or paint it, you have to sand it first. Also, it can swell in moist climates and shrink in dry ones.
These are not specific types of wood but rather a group of building materials. Much like plywood, In general, they are pieces of wood, scrap wood, sawdust and shredded wood fibers mixed with adhesives. The end result is materials that might look like wood but are more durable. They are often alternatives to plywood.
Types of Engineered Woods
High-Density Fiber Board (HDF)
HDF is highly compressed wood fibers that make a material with a specific texture and no grain pattern Sometimes this is topped with a wood veneer.
Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF)
MDF is similar to HDF but is less dense. Medium Density Fibreboard is better from an acoustic standpoint and is also a good insulator. However, MDF is not good for woodworking and there are concerns about the chemicals in these engineered wood products.
Oriented Strand Board (OSB)
OSB is often a good alternative to using plywood. It’s composed of wood strands in a cross-hatched pattern. This is then combined with resin at high temperatures. It’s cheaper than plywood so builders use it for new homes.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)FAQ
What are the main types of wood?
There are two basic varieties of wood: Hardwood and softwood.
Is cedar a hardwood?
No. Cedar wood is, in fact, a softwood variety, part of the same family as the pine tree.
How many different kinds of woods are there?
If you consider only the two types wood categories, softwood and hardwood, then there are two different kinds of wood. However, if you were to classify the types of wood on a more specific level, you’d get more than 50 varieties of other woods, from apple to zebrawood.
What are the three classifications of wood?
There are three major wood categories in the lumber and timber trade. These are hardwoods, softwoods, and pseudo-woods. The latter is a category of tree-like types of wood that includes bamboo and palm trees.
What are the two main types of timber?
Timber bears the same classification as regular wood, meaning that you have hardwood and softwood timber to choose from.
What is the strongest wood?
The strength of wood is based on a specific industry rating which uses the Janka hardness scale. This is a measurement of how many pounds of force (lbf) it takes to penetrate half of a wood’s face grain with a 0.444-inch steel ball. If the number is high, that means it takes a lot of force to perform this action, making this wood variety in question extremely strong and durable.
Now, based on this industry method of determining the hardness of wood, the Australian buloke is considered the strongest wood on the planet. It is an ironwood with a Janka hardness of 5,060 lbf.
What is the best type of wood for furniture?
The best type of wood for furniture depends on the usage. Teak is a champion in outdoor furniture production because of its natural oil contact and density. These qualities make it more weather resistant. Sheesham wood is flexible and tough, so builders often use it to make decorative items. Moreover, it works very well for furniture that has lots of curves that are otherwise more difficult to make.
Is chipboard a hardwood or softwood?
Also called particleboard, chipboard is an engineered wood product that is made with wood chips or jute-stick chips. Particleboard is often confused with an oriented strand board. Particleboard is a more uniform and cost-effective alternative to traditional wood and plywood. Its appearance is uniform and strong. Softwoods make up most chipboard.
Types of Wood: Conclusion
Builders use hardwoods and softwoods for many of the same things in many circumstances. Soft wood types, on the other hand, are often less expensive woods and easier to deal with.
As a result, softwoods account for the vast majority of all wood utilized on the planet, with softwoods accounting for over 80% of all timber. You can find softwoods in a wide range of applications, including building components, furniture, and fiberboard.
Hardwoods tend to cost more and aren’t usually as flexible as softwood, but they have the advantage of being denser, which means they will last longer. As a result, hardwoods show up most often in high-end furniture, decks, flooring, and long-lasting construction. Whatever your next project is, knowing the properties, benefits, and drawbacks of the most common types of wood will take you a long way toward making a good choice.