There are many different types of wood, but not all are equal when it comes to construction or woodworking projects. Hardwoods are more durable and less prone to scratches, while softwoods are more flexible and easier to work with. Before you head to the home improvement store, learn the best type of lumber for your project.
Top Types of Hardwood for Construction and Woodworking Projects
Hardwood trees grow much slower than softwoods, making the wood more dense and heavy. They come from deciduous trees with color-changing leaves in the fall.
Hardwood varieties are common for flooring and furniture since they’re durable, can withstand scratches and dents, and have some fire resistance. Although more expensive than softwoods, hardwoods are also suitable for cabinet making and millwork.
Oak is one of the world’s most popular types of hardwood used for flooring, cabinetry, furniture, wall paneling, boat making, and joinery. It’s naturally rot-resistant and water-resistant.
There are two types of oak: red and white oak – both are light-colored, but red oak has a reddish tint. Oak features a straight grain and accepts stain well. One of its most significant drawbacks is its paintability – the grain tends to show through even after several coats.
Walnut is a high-end hardwood known for its rich brown color and straight, coarse grain. It can last decades in interior applications and is a top choice for flooring and cabinetry. Even when left untreated and exposed to the elements, walnut wood can last up to twenty years.
Walnut is naturally dark, but you can stain it darker if desired. You can’t, however, stain walnut wood a lighter color. It also doesn’t accept paint well due to its knots and grains.
Teak is a straight-grained wood that comes in shades ranging from light yellow to dark golden brown. Its high natural oil content makes it resistant to moisture, rot, and pests. Many builders use teak for flooring, boat making, and joinery, but it’s also a top choice for outdoor furniture and decking, thanks to its natural weather resistance.
Teak has three grades: A, B, and C. Grade A teak is the best quality, coming from the tree’s center, which has the highest oil concentration.
Hickory is a dense, stiff hardwood that’s shock-resistant. It’s the standard choice for striking tool handles like hammers, axes, and mallets. It’s also a common building material in ladders, wagon wheels, and paneling.
Hickory has an interlocking grain and is cream-colored with purple or red streaks. Its striking appearance makes it suitable for hardwood flooring and cabinetry, especially in rustic homes. One of the downsides is that Hickory is so dense that it’s difficult to cut and shape.
There are two varieties of maple: hard maple, which comes from Sugar Maple or Black Maple trees, and Soft Maple, which comes from Red Maple, Silver Maple, Boxelder, and Big Leaf Maple trees. Hard maple varieties are ideal for furniture, flooring, and cabinetry, while soft maple is standard for wood veneers.
Hard maple is very durable and features a fine grain and light color. Depending on the variety, it’s usually cream-colored but can have a reddish tint or dark streaks.
Alder is an easy-to-work-with hardwood that doesn’t split when screwed or nailed. It’s a good choice for furniture, millwork, doors, and cabinetry. Although high quality, alder is less expensive than many types of hardwoods.
Most alder wood is a honey color but sometimes presents a red tint. It has a fine, even grain and accepts stains well.
Birch is a versatile type of wood for home projects. It’s heavy, strong, and shock-resistant. Manufacturers use it in many applications, including children’s toys, broom handles, furniture, millwork, shutters, flooring, and decorative pieces.
Birch is a closed, straight-grained wood that sometimes has a wavy pattern. It can be pale white, yellow, or reddish brown.
Cherry is a high-end hardwood with medium strength, flexibility, and natural shock resistance. It’s a common type of lumber for flooring, cabinetry, furniture, and millwork. One aspect that makes it so popular is its workability – whether using hand tools or machinery, it’s easy to shape.
Cherry wood has a natural warm-red tint on the heartwood portion and a pale yellow shade on the sapwood. It doesn’t take stain well, so it’s best to let the natural hues shine through.
Ash is a dense hardwood that’s workable and shock-resistant. Manufacturers use it as handles for striking tools, flooring, cabinetry, furniture, baseball bats, and food containers. Although it’s an easy-to-work-with type of lumber, there’s a shortage due to the spread of Emerald Ash Borer, an invasive pest, in North America.
Ash is beige to light brown with an appearance similar to oak. It has a straight open grain. Unlike oak, Ash is not rot or insect-resistant, making it best for indoor use only.
Mahogany is a high-end and expensive hardwood. Some of its uses include furniture-making, flooring, boat-making, millwork, and musical instruments. It’s a durable and heavy type of wood that can last a lifetime with proper care.
Mahogany has a straight-grained pattern with few knots. It starts with a reddish or pink tint and darkens to a red-brown with time.
Top Types of Softwood for Construction and Woodworking Projects
Softwoods come from coniferous trees, which are cone-producing trees with needles or spiky leaves that stay intact all year. Softwood trees grow much faster than hardwoods, and therefore, the lumber they produce is less expensive.
In general, softwoods are less dense than hardwoods, making them more susceptible to divots, scratches, and water damage. But they’re also much lighter, an advantage in many applications. Typical uses of softwood include plywood, decking, wall paneling, furniture, and shelving.
Pine is one of the most used types of lumber in construction and paper products. Typical applications include flooring, cabinetry, framing, decking, and plywood.
There are three types of pine: white, yellow, and red. The color ranges from pale to warm yellow with a distinctive wavy grain. It sometimes fades to a brown with age and accepts stains and paints well.
Cedar is naturally rot, insect, and moisture-resistant, making it a top wood for exterior projects. Manufacturers use cedar as shingles and decking, for boats, canoes, outdoor furniture, and siding. It’s also suitable for indoor flooring, wall paneling, and furniture.
Cedar has a natural pink-to-red or purple tint that fades to a silvery gray when not sealed. It has a straight grain, often with knots throughout.
Fir, also known as Douglas Fir, is a durable softwood with some insect and rot-resistant properties, although not to the same extent as cedar. It’s a high-quality wood, less expensive than many comparable species. Typical applications include flooring, doors, trim, cabinets, boat-making, and furniture. It has the best weight-to-strength ratio of any lumber.
Fir is light brown but can have tints of yellow or red. The grain pattern can appear straight and even or wavy, depending on the cut and tree.
Spruce is a medium-weight wood that shares common characteristics with pine. Manufacturers use it to build boats, aircraft, framing, and musical instruments. It’s easy to work with but prone to dents and scratches, which is why it’s not a standard furniture or flooring material.
Spruce is a light wood but can be cream, yellow, or red-tinted. It has a straight, even grain, making it easy to work with.
Poplar is a lightweight yet strong wood. It has good workability and is inexpensive, lending it well to furniture, plywood, wooden toys, and millwork applications. It’s suitable for hand or machine tools and takes paint well. One of its most significant downsides is that it dents and scratches easily.
Poplar is white to pale yellow and can feature streaks of green or purple. It has a straight grain, low luster, and is silky to the touch.
Redwood lumber comes from redwood or giant Sequoia trees. It’s a lightweight yet strong type of wood, making it versatile. Common uses include trim work, paneling, and windows. Since it’s naturally rot and insect-resistant, it has various exterior applications like fencing, decking, posts, pillars, and outdoor furniture or decor.
As the name suggests, redwood has a pale pink to red tint and is coarse with a straight grain. Since it’s a darker wood, you won’t be able to stain it a light color, but it does accept paint well.
Other Types of Wood
Sometimes, the material you need for a home project falls outside a softwood or hardwood category – like bamboo, engineered wood, or pressure-treated lumber.
Bamboo is a type of grass with a wood-like structure. Since it continues to grow even after harvesters cut it, it’s one of the most eco-friendly building materials. It has many uses, including flooring, furniture, wall panels, and scaffolding. It comes in poles, veneers, and planks you can use to build with.
Bamboo is light-colored, ranging from amber to blonde. It has three different grain types, including strand woven, horizontal, or vertical.
Engineered wood is a manufactured product that combines materials via heat or pressure. Materials in engineered wood may include wood fibers, scrap wood, adhesives, or sawdust. The end product looks like wood but is more robust and durable.
Because there are so many types of engineered wood, uses vary and may include furniture building, wall paneling, beams, interior doors, sheathing, flooring, and more.
Here’s a look at the types of engineered wood:
- High-Density Fiberboard (HDF) – Manufacturers make HDF by compressing wood fibers, sometimes adding wax and resin. HDF comes in sheets like plywood and is stronger than MDF. Applications include flooring, cabinetry, furniture, and countertops.
- Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF) – MDF is the less dense version of HDF, consisting of wood fibers, wax, and resin. You can use it for furniture, cabinetry, shelving, and baseboards.
- Oriented Strand Board (OSB) – OSB is a man-made alternative to plywood. Wood strands are mixed with waterproof resin and treated with heat and pressure. You can use OSB for roof and house sheathing and many of the same projects you would use plywood for.
- Cross-laminated Timber (CLT) – CLT is a strong engineered wood that builders use for roofing, sheathing, and floors. The manufacturing process consists of gluing together dry wood in alternating directions.
Pressure Treated Wood
Pressure-treated wood is regular wood that manufacturers inject with a chemical preservative to protect from insects and moisture. You should use pressure-treated lumber on exterior projects where moisture is an issue. Most builders don’t recommend it for indoor use due to the pesticide content.
The three most common types of pressure-treated lumber are pine, cedar, and fir.