There are a lot of different woods out there and if you are looking to buy new furniture or even make some out of scratch, it can be very overwhelming when you’re trying to find the best type of wood to use.
Don’t worry though because you have come to the right place, in this guide we will talk about what qualities you should look for in wood. We will also go into detail about the two main types of wood – hardwood, and softwood and their different variations.
Pretty much any type of wood can be used for furniture, but this doesn’t mean that it should be used. It is important to use the right wood for your furniture because it can add years and years of lifespan that it wouldn’t have had if you had picked the wrong type of wood.
As well as this, you may be getting a piece of furniture that is made from a wood that it doesn’t necessarily have to be made from but bumps the price tag up which fools people into thinking they’re getting a quality piece of furniture.
However, they may have just paid for a very expensive piece of wood that will likely just make the chair very heavy instead of making it practical.
This can be due to many different factors such as the wood not being strong enough to hold up the weight that the furniture is put under, being prone to termites, or simply not looking attractive just to name a few.
What To Look for In Wood
It ultimately depends on what piece of furniture is being made as they will call for different strengths and weaknesses.
Here are some of the most important things that you should look for that show the wood is of high quality when picking it for furniture, not in any particular order.
If the timber is freshly cut, it should smell a bit sweet and will have a shiny appearance. It depends on what part of the world you are in, but timber is usually graded using an alphabetical scale – A, B, and C.
You can probably guess that grade A is the highest quality with the surface needing to be sanded down to a minimum of 60 grit finish which means that the sandpaper that was used had 60 holes per square inch. Grade B timber is usually used in construction with grade C being used for things such as packaging.
It’s worth paying attention to the color of the wood when it has been freshly cut, even though they can come in lots of different shades it is a general rule that the darker the color, the stronger the wood is.
If the timber is high quality, it should be very durable as well as resistant to termites, fungus, and changes in the weather condition. Wood types such as redwood and cedar are naturally resistant to pests like termites, but these qualities are usually limited to the bark and heartwood.
The term heartwood refers to the inner part of the tree trunk that is much denser than the rest and therefore is the hardest, most durable part of the timber.
If the timber has been pressure treated it makes it more resistant against decay and insects in comparison to wood that has not been treated.
The pressure-treated process consists of the pores of the timber having preservatives being embedded in them which makes a barrier against decay and insects.
To help you figure out what types of wood are more durable than others, there is a grading system that you can follow that will tell you how durable the wood is against fungal attacks which range from class 1 being very durable to class 5 which is not durable.
There are grading systems for other things as well such as termites, beetles, and water, but they follow slightly different rules such as using letters instead of numbers and vice versa.
There are resources online that you can follow that will go into much more detail if you are still unsure as to how the durable scales work.
Having furniture that is resistant to fire is incredibly important, especially if the furniture is inside your home. If the wood is dense, it will be more resistant because it takes the fire longer to burn through the layers as they are tightly sandwiched together.
If the wood is resistant to fire it will result in a layer of charcoal sitting on the surface that will act as a natural insulator that prevents the fire from reaching further into the wood.
It can also depend on how the wood has been treated, but naturally, hardwoods are more resistant to fire because Since hardwoods have more layers it is natural that they are more resistant to fire.
However, this does not stop them from charring and becoming extremely hot so you should still be careful.
Softwoods are much more flammable than hardwoods, especially cedar and pine. The younger pine is, the more flammable it is its thin bark makes fire able to burn through it quickly.
If your wood has not already been treated, there is a way to do it at home by making your own fire-retardant mixture but keep in mind that it will not make it completely fire resistant but instead will give you the time to extinguish it before it gets out of control.
If your furniture is outside, it is essential to be water-resistant because you cannot control the weather and all of the moisture that it will likely throw at you. If the wood is not water-resistant, or in other words has a low water permeability, it will decay and rot much faster than wood that is water-resistant.
You also want wood that is water-resistant inside, especially in rooms such as the kitchen and the bathroom as they are more likely to get damp or have water spills.
You can treat wood to be water-resistant, but some are naturally which include wood such as hardwood as they have grain that is straight and denser than softwood, so it makes for the better choice for outdoor furniture.
White Oak and Teak are examples of hardwood that is naturally water-resistant as well as being less likely to warp and decay which makes them have a longer lifespan than other woods when placed outside.
It may be pretty obvious, but you want to get wood that can withstand a lot of weight because naturally furniture will have numerous people using it or sitting on it for many years to come, and sometimes you can tell when the wood is not durable enough because it starts to sag in the middle.
It is useful to know the three types of strengths that timber has which are bending strength, tensile strength, and shearing strength.
The bending strength of wood is also known as the modulus of rupture and refers to the amount of weight the wood can withstand. The tensile strength is the measurement of how much the wood can withstand being pulled before it breaks.
Finally, the shearing strength of wood is measured by applying stress to the wood in two opposite directions whilst still moving in parallel and is measured in psi (pressure per square inch).
It’s not necessarily a bad thing to have furniture that is heavy because if the wood is heavy then it means that it is denser and therefore has the benefits that come along with it such as having a longer lifespan and being more resistant to fire.
However, some wood is particularly heavy because it has not been seasoned which can mean that it is holding onto a lot of extra moisture, and if this is the case then it should not be used for construction until it has been seasoned.
This is an important characteristic that you must pay attention to when you are looking for wood to use in your own projects. Some wood is easier to work with than others and tends to have similar features including good bending properties, notable carving, turning, and takes well to screws, nails, and other machinery.
Wood that has good workability also means that if you carve any details or illustrations into it, it will retain it to a high standard for many years whereas other wood types may warp and erode.
Wood that has a high content of resin is known to be harder to work with because it can clog up saws and other tools.
If the grain is interlocked or spiral, it is also harder to work with as you have to be extra careful to avoid tear-out which is when the grain is torn out and causes the wood to break.
Wood should have fibers that are straight and compact as this will give them more strength than if the fibers were twisted. Hardwood usually has fibers that are small in diameter but have thicker walls which is another characteristic that makes it stronger than softwood.
Fibers in wood can also influence the elasticity of the wood which allows the wood to resort back to its original shape.
As the name suggests, hardwood is very durable and strong and is best used for projects that will need to put up with a lot of wear and tear. However, some hardwood is better than others and it is important that you make the right choice to get the most for your money and time.
Here are common types of hardwood that you can find being used for furniture and the different advantages and disadvantages that come with them.
This is one of the most popular choices of hardwood to use for furniture and this is because it is shock-resistant, stable, strong, and looks attractive.
The color of walnut wood is light brown with darker parts streaking through it and even though it is dark, it is not as dense as some other hardwoods and is considered lightweight.
Walnut is usually used in musical instruments and furniture that is high-end because it is very expensive as it is in high demand. As well as this, walnut wood is quite rare when compared to other types of hardwood and it is said that only 1% of hardwood being grown in the US is walnut.
Oak is extremely strong and durable which in turn makes it very heavy. It is resistant to fungal attacks and has a very long lifespan which makes it an environmentally friendly option because it reduces waste and makes the most out of the wood that has been used.
For example, if a piece of red oak furniture has been particularly well made, it can last for centuries whilst keeping its usability.
Red oak is commonly used for making floors, paneling, furniture, and cabinets and has a strawberry blonde color with darker streaks that makes it nice and bright.
It can be said that mahogany is the most popular choice of hardwood for furniture because it is very beautiful and when you see it you can immediately tell that it is mahogany.
As well as being attractive, mahogany has its practical benefits as it is very durable and free of any holes. However, it is not the most durable out of all the hardwoods and ranks as moderately hard and not very resistant to insects. Despite this, mahogany still works very well as exterior doors and windows.
Depending on the age of the wood, the color of mahogany can range from pale pink to reddish-brown and as time goes on the color gets darker which is another reason why it is a popular choice for furniture.
When it is used for furniture, mahogany looks best when it has a clean finish which makes it look much more expensive than it actually is.
Ash is very smooth, flexible, and durable and is easy to work with which makes it a popular choice among carpenters. Interestingly, despite the fact that it has very good gluing, nailing, and screw holding properties that carpenters love, it is also known to give off an unpleasant scent when it is being worked on.
Ash is best used on furniture that requires lots of arcs and curves as the ash is flexible enough to achieve these shapes without breaking.
Even though ash is known to be even harder than oak, it is not very resistant to water and therefore should not be used for outdoor furniture.
Even though hardwood has lots of benefits in comparison to softwood, it should be mentioned that it is not stronger than softwood every time and sometimes softwood proves as the more practical option.
Softwood is good at adapting and has a very attractive finish that hardwood cant always achieve which makes it look classy and smooth.
Softwood is also the more economical option compared to hardwood because there is much more of it, it is also easier to work with as it is much softer and it absorbs preservatives and adhesives better as the layers are not as dense as they are in hardwood.
The trees that Parana pine comes from are also known as Brazilian pine and are found mostly in Brazil.
This type of pine does not have any resin ducts, pitch streaks, or pitch pockets which are caused by the tree suffering damage to its cambium layer which lies just underneath the layer of bark and therefore fills up with resin.
The shearing strength of Parana pine is high and can hold a lot more nails than some other softwoods but the fact that it is known to distort and warp when it is going through the drying process makes it harder to work with.
Eastern White Pine
As the name suggests, this type of pine has a color that is a pale yellow to white that tends to change to a gold shade when it has been exposed to sunlight for extended periods of time.
It is cheap and easy to get but it does have some drawbacks such as the fact that it is quite porous which makes it not resistant to moisture. You can tell when this wood has taken on water because it will start to cup which is the term given when it starts to bend.
Despite this, it is still relatively stable and can be used for a range of things such as furniture, paneling, and pattern making.
Fir has a very distinctive look and the color that it has when it is young is usually green that soon turns into purple, brown, or dark blue as it matures.
However, it is usually painted due to it having a high content of sap and the wood not being particularly attractive compared to other wood and is used mostly for construction because it is durable and strong at an affordable price.
Fir is not usually used for furniture because people usually choose pine instead as it is cheaper but looks better than fir.
For outdoor furniture, fir is a good choice though because it is not negatively affected by moisture and does not lose its shape if it becomes damp.
As well as this, fir is resistant to decay and splitting and if it is looked after properly, it can last for many years.
Red cedar wood is also known as aromatic red cedar which is due to it having a sweet aroma that has been said to smell like a combination of peaches and apricot. In order to preserve this aromatic characteristic, it must be left untreated otherwise the smell will be covered up by the chemicals.
As well as having a nice smell, red cedar is very resistant to both insect attacks and decay but does not hold screws and nails as well as some other softwoods. It is easy to work with overall but has a high content of silica, a natural compound that can dull tools.
Red cedar is usually used to make wardrobes because of its natural aroma that repels insects such as moths whilst keeping the clothes inside smelling nice.
In conclusion, the best wood for furniture depends on what characteristics you are looking for in the piece of furniture. There are a number of things that have been mentioned in this guide that you should keep with you when you are looking at wood to build furniture with or pre-made furniture that is made from wood.
This will help you be prepared for how certain woods may react to the environment, how to care for them, and how long they are expected to last.
If you want something that is durable and will last many years, then it is recommended that you go for hardwood such as red oak as it is known to last centuries.
Or you could choose mahogany as it still has a long lifespan but is more affordable. Choosing a wood type that has a long lifespan is also very important when it comes to sustainability because it reduces the amount of waste that you create, and you can have peace of mind that you are getting the most out of the tree.
Remember the rule of the denser the wood, the heavier it is because if you are one to move things around a lot such as when you move chairs from the kitchen into the garden, for example, you should look for a wood that is lightweight such as walnut wood.
Also, keep in mind how much you are wanting to spend maintaining your furniture because some wood requires you to treat it every few years to keep it resistant to insects or fungus whereas other types of wood do it themselves naturally.
What do you want the wood to look like? If you are wanting to add some classiness to a room then you could pick softwood because it usually has a softer finish and does well indoors.
You can get wood that already looks good but suffers a bit on the durability aspect or you can choose the wood that is durable but looks a bit unattractive before you paint it such as fir which looks much better after a lick of paint or stain.