Everything You Need to Know About Different Types of Wood

Choosing the wrong type of wood can cause an entire project to go down south. It’s probably of no surprise to you that there are several types of wood out there, with some of them good for making furniture, others for flooring, while others are flexible enough that they can be used to make musical instruments.

different types of wood

Regardless of what you’re looking to build or understand about the existing wood varieties, this article is bound to teach you something new today.

Types of Wood: Hardwood or Softwood?

What Is Hardwood?

What Is Hardwood?View in gallery

A botanical cluster of trees with comparable traits is referred to as a “hardwood tree.” They are characterized by broad leaves and not so much by needle-shaped ones.  They yield nuts or fruits, and in the winter, they often fall dormant. Hundreds of distinct hardwood tree species can be found in America’s forests. Hardwood trees account for over 40% of all trees in the United States. Oak, maple, and cherry are a few well-known hardwood species, but there are a lot more varieties of hardwood trees out there.

Angiosperm trees are the main producers of hardwoods. They produce flowers and have broad leaves. Those of tropical regions may shed leaves in response to seasonal drought. Annual growth rings are usually absent in tropical hardwoods. Unlike softwoods, hardwood has a complex structure. This means that their growth is often slow and they require a lot of space to develop.

The vessels may have various shapes and sizes. They may also show different structures within the cell wall. These trees are typically harder than softwoods, though there are some exceptions. In both cases, the wood is incredibly varied in its actual hardness. Some hardwoods, for instance, are softer than most softwoods.

What Is Softwood?

What Is Softwood?View in gallery

Softwood is typically made from gymnosperm trees (spruce and pine are two common examples) which reproduce mostly through cones and, on rare occasions, nuts. Softwood trees have needle-like leaves that mostly stay on the tree throughout the year. As a result, softwood trees are sometimes referred to as evergreens. Gymnosperms are plants that carry seeds in cones rather than flowers, and they are classified as gymnosperms by botanists.

A common misconception is that softwoods are always softer compared to hardwoods, which isn’t always the case. In short, the words softwood and hardwood are outdated, have ambiguous meanings, and frequently misrepresent the wood’s qualities.

Softwoods are commonly utilized in the building sector, as well as in the production of card and paper-based products. Because certain insects favor moist hardwood, several softwood species have a higher resistance to insect attacks. Softwoods that burn quickly and break are less dense and aren’t favored when it comes to choosing firewood.

Related: Types Of Wood Joints And Their Unique Purposes

What Is Pressure-Treated Lumber?

What Is Pressure-Treated Lumber?View in gallery

Pressure-treated lumber does not come from a tree of the same name, as you might have assumed. Douglas fir and Southern yellow pine are the most common sources, both of which are excellent alternatives since they are highly insect and rot-resistant. The production of this type of lumber uses water-borne chemicals and pressure power to impregnate the boards. These chemicals are intended to extend the life of the wood and make it more resistant to decay and insects.

Furthermore, if excellent pressure-treated lumber is utilized in a project where sealer is applied on a regular basis, it can survive for up to 40 years. Pressure-treated lumber tends to be quite heavy, as it frequently arrives on store shelves already drenched in the treatment.

Hardwood VS Softwood

Hardwood VS SoftwoodView in gallery

Hardwoods and softwoods are characterized by their means of reproduction, and not so much by their final form and characteristics. Hardwood is often made from deciduous trees that lose their leaves every year. Conifers produce softwood, which is usually evergreen. Hardwood comes from trees that are slower to grow, resulting in wood that is usually denser.

Different Types of Wood Trees

Types of hardwoodView in gallery

We all know that wood has a lot of different uses and applications, as it’s used for everything from heating the house and starting fires to cook food, from actually building furniture and houses from scratch. Naturally, different types of wood have different characteristics, making some of them more suitable for certain applications and others better for other uses.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the most common types of wood you’re bound to come across regardless of whether you’re purchasing a new kitchen cabinet or you’re interested in what wood works best for your fireplace.

#1: Fir

Fir, sometimes known as Douglas fir, is a robust and durable softwood derived from the same-named tree species. 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. It is highly insect and rot-resistant, but not to the same extent as cedar.

Fir, sometimes known as Douglas firView in gallery

The grain of Douglas fir is quite visible, and it usually runs straight. It is best characterized by its reddish-tan color and isn’t very keen on uniformly taking dyes. If you drive nails through the surface of Douglas fir, it tends to remain there due to the grain density and pattern. It is also considerably less expensive compared to other types of wood.

All of these qualities make it an ideal choice for building lumber. However, it may also be used for decking and other woodworking projects. As some of you may already know, most homes in North America have Douglas fir wood on the ceiling 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.

#2: Cedar

Cedar is a fragrant softwood that is prized for its beauty and longevity. Amongst its most prized characteristics, insect and rot resistance are worth mentioning.  It comes from a range of coniferous trees, the most prevalent of which are red and white cedars. White cedar is paler than red cedar and weathers to a lovely silvery gray. The red version of cedar has an amber-like look and will weather to a rich and deep brownish-red color when exposed to the elements.

cedar type of woodView in gallery

Cedar is resilient and lightweight, and it’s utilized for a variety of indoor and outdoor tasks, regardless of the variation. The grain of red cedar is straighter, whereas white wood can absorb paint more evenly. Due to the aforementioned characteristics, cedar works really well for applications such as chest or dresser building, but also for making decks and fences.

One thing that we see quite often is this battle between cedar vs pine to determine which type of wood is best, with some claiming that they are, in fact, the same type of wood.

Cedar and pine are not identical trees, but they are part of the same species: Pinaceae. They are both members of the pine family, but cedar has a distinct aromatic oil. This explains why cedar is valued for its slow rotting and insect-repellent properties. Unlike pine, cedar can be used as decking without needing to be stained or varnished. It will turn a lovely grey in certain circumstances.  Thanks to its ability to repel fungi, cedar can be left outside for several decades and is less prone to mold.

#3: Pine

Pine is a fairly softwood that is quite simple to deal with. It’s made from a variety of pine trees that may be found throughout the US. Some of the most common varieties of pine include ponderosa, white, and sugar.  Unlike other types of wood, pine is easier to deal with, but it’s not as resistant as the others we’ve talked about so far.

Pine is a fairly softwoodView in gallery

Pine has a light or yellow look, with the appearance being different 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.” It has a rough appearance and accepts paint or stain nicely.

It is possible to purchase low-grade pine from home-improvement stores. This type of pine is lower in quality as it is prone to warping and cupping. As this type of wood is rich in moisture, cheap cuts will buckle and twist when the wood goes dry.

As far as applications are concerned, pine can be used to make really nice rustic furniture pieces, but also works for decking (as long as it was pressure-treated), shelving, wall paneling, and certain woodworking projects.

#4: Redwood

Redwood is more commonly known as sequoia, 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 light. It might be delicate white or yellow, deep crimson, or reddish-brown in hue. The grain is normally straight, with old-growth redwood one being quite tight. It has a rough texture and can resist rot and insect damage very well, making it an excellent choice for outdoor work.

Redwood typeView in gallery

Redwood is a common choice for framing lumber, fences, decks, outside furniture, huge beams, and veneers in several parts of the United States. If pressure-treated, it may be good for ground contact.

#5: Birch

Birch is a widely used and reasonably priced hardwood. Birch trees can be found throughout the eastern United States, especially in the Northeast. These trees can grow up to 70 feet tall, but their trunks are usually slender. While there are a lot of birch varieties, black, white, and yellow birch are the most popular.

Birch is a widely used and reasonably priced hardwood.View in gallery

Birchwood has a homogeneous look due to its smooth and tightly grained grain. Its color ranges from white to yellow, while the variety known as black birch is characterized by black streaks running through it. The wood is hefty, thick, and sturdy, but it responds nicely to sharp tool woodworking. As it dries, it normally shrinks a considerable amount. Birch is good for flooring applications but also works really well for making toys.

#6: Ash

Ash is a type of hardwood lumber derived from a number of trees, with the most common varieties being blue, white, green, and black ash. Ash trees will usually grow up to 60 feet tall and up to 80 feet wide if given enough space.

Ash is a type of hardwood lumberView in gallery

Ash lumber has a bright tint that ranges from white to gold, with gray streaks present. Although the colors are close to maple, it has a texture similar to oak, with a rougher surface. It’s quite tough, but it’s light in comparison to its stiffness and durability. It even outperforms other hardwoods in terms of shock resistance.

#7: Maple

Maple trees can reach heights of 115 feet and have equally large canopies. The hardwood produced by a rock maple is highly solid and durable, with a lovely lightly-colored look that ranges from white to yellow to a rich golden tint.

Maple treeView in gallery

It is known for having a straight and tight grain, with light brown bands. Curly maple, which has intriguing wavy grain patterns, is also available. Both grain varieties offer a smooth, delicate texture that has a great finish.

Because maple is relatively easy to work with, it can be turned into anything from baseball bats to paper.

#8: Mahogany

Mahogany is a premium hardwood found in West Africa, as well as Central and South America. Mahogany trees can grow to be very tall, reaching heights of over 150 feet. Mahogany is a standout when it comes to hardwoods for opulent projects and finishes. The wood is usually a deep crimson or brown-red color.

MahoganyView in gallery

Mahogany is exceptionally sturdy and resilient, with a very smooth grain. It’s also quite dense, making it resistant to rot and insects. One of the best qualities of mahogany is its stability: it doesn’t give up in the face of warping, swelling, and shrinking.

Naturally, mahogany is a wood variety that’s normally used to make fine furniture, with the most common applications being high-end following, custom cabinets, but it’s also a go-to choice in boatbuilding.

#9: Poplar

Poplar wood is made from a variety of poplar trees, some of which can grow to be 160 feet tall. These trees may be found throughout the eastern United States, and they produce hardwood that is popular among DIYers and hobbyist woodworkers due to its versatility. Poplar is a light-colored hardwood that ranges from cream to yellowish-brown in color.

Poplar wood is made from a variety of poplar treesView in gallery

It is characterized by green or gray streaks, which tend to darken over time. Poplar grain is straight and its characteristics 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.

#10: Cherry

Cherry trees generate a wood variety that’s always in high demand. Cherry wood ranges in color from creamy white to reddish-brown. When cherry wood reaches maturity, the wood becomes darker and drier. Cherry wood has a very straight and tight grain that gives it a consistent appearance and grinds nicely.

Cherry trees generate a wood varietyView in gallery

Cherry has one of the smoothest finishes possible when stained and finished, which gives it a quality appearance. With all of these qualities, it is no surprise that cherry is a wood variety that’s used to make high-quality furniture, but also flooring, instruments, carvings, and more.

#11: Walnut

Walnut lumber is a prominent hardwood which is derived from the black walnut tree, which is found throughout the eastern United States. These trees can reach a height of 120 feet and produce a rich, chocolaty wood that is much sought after by woodworkers. Walnut hardwood has a straight grain, although it’s almost as likely to have waves and imperfections.

black walnut treeView in gallery

If you touch it, you will notice that it has a medium-smooth texture. The color of the wood ranges from light brown to dark chocolate. Walnut is particularly resistant to decay, but not to insects. It’s dimensionally stable, with very little shrinkage and warping as it cures.

#12: Oak

Oak trees can reach heights of 85 feet and produce a cornucopia of acorns every fall. There are two types of oak: red and white. Both are dense and robust, having a harsh, straight-grained texture. White oak has a lighter color, while the red variety has a redder tone.

Oak trees can reach heights of 85View in gallery

Even if oak is a pretty tough wood variety overall, it’s also quite flexible, being a solid choice for making whiskey or wine barrels. It’s also used for a lot of different products, from cabinetry to furniture production.

#13: Teak

TeakView in gallery

Teak is one of the top alternatives in the hardwood industry when it comes to combining durability and good appearance. Teak is a coarse, unevenly textured wood that commonly 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 brown, whereas mahogany frequently has a red color.

FAQ

What are the main types of wood?

Wood is most commonly divided into two major categories: hardwood and softwood.

Is cedar a hardwood?

No. Cedar is, in fact, a softwood variety, part of the same family and the pine tree.

How many different kinds of woods are there?

If you consider the two major wood categories, softwood and hardwood, then there are two different kinds of wood. However, if you were to classify them on a more specific level, you’d get more than 50 varieties, from apple to zebrawood.

What are the three classifications of wood?

The three major wood categories that are used in the lumber and timber trade are hardwoods, softwoods, and pseudowoods (a category of tree-like woods that includes the bamboo and the palm tree).

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?

Before answering that question, there is something we have to clarify. 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) are required 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 the wood variety in question stronger. Now, based on this industry way of determining the hardness of wood, the Australian buloke is considered the strongest wood on the planet. It is an ironwood tree with a Janka hardness of 5,060 lbf.

What is the best type of wood for furniture?

It depends on the usage. Teak is considered to be a champion for producing outdoor furniture because of its natural oil contact and density, which makes it more resistant to the elements. Sheesham wood is flexible and tough, so it’s commonly used to make decorative items and works well with furniture that has curves which are otherwise more difficult to make.

Is chipboard a hardwood or softwood?

Also known as “particle board”, chipboard is an engineered wood product made from wood chips or jute-stick chips. A 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 are commonly used to make chipboard.

Conclusion

Hardwoods and softwoods are utilized for many of the same things in many circumstances. Softwoods, on the other hand, are often less expensive 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. Softwoods are used 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 endure longer. As a result, hardwoods are frequently used in high-end furniture, decks, flooring, and long-lasting construction. Whatever it is that you need to use wood for, knowing the properties, benefits, and drawbacks of the most common varieties will take you a long way towards making the right choice.