Woodworking: The Best Wood For Beginners
Woodworking: Know Your Wood
Wood is made of cellulose fibers, held together with a
property called lignin, and is classified as hardwood or
softwood, depending on the type of tree from which it comes. In
addition, sapwood or new growth wood on a tree is still alive,
while heartwood refers to the part of the tree that is no longer
functioning. These two stages of wood also have different
properties and uses. Knowing something about the different woods
can help you determine which to use, how to work it, what
problems to watch for, and how to care for the finished
There are hundreds of different types of trees and wood, with
a wide range of colors, density, grain, figure, and other
characteristics that affect its workability and application to
different types of uses. The following is an alphabetical listing
and description of some of the more popular woods used in
woodworking. Types such as ebony and ironwood are not listed
here, as they are not typically used in woodworking, at least not
by beginners. The focus is on woods that work well and are common
The following legend provides a guide for symbols included
with each type of wood.
Cost: $ = inexpensive, $$ = moderate, $$$ = expensive
Ease of working: E = easy, M = moderate, D = difficult
Ash, white $, M
A strong, inexpensive wood that is lighter in color and bends
well, white ash is often used in sports equipment such as bats
and canoe paddles. It is also common in pool cues, tool handles,
and other products that require durability and strength.
Balsa $$, E
One of the lightest hardwoods, balsa has been used for canoes,
model building, life rafts and other situations where a light,
buoyant wood is needed. It is usually white in color and priced
moderately. Because it is exceptionally soft, it can be worked
well with hand tools, but has poor durability.
Basswood $, E
Basswood is an inexpensive and versatile hardwood that is often
used for woodcarving. It is soft, light, fine textured and ranges
in color from soft white to brown. Other uses include turning,
toys, kitchen utensils and crates.
Birch $, E
The birch known as paper birch, is the white tree growing in the
forest with its bark peeling like paper. Inside the sapwood is
creamy and darkens toward brown at the heartwood. It is
inexpensive to purchase and consequently is one of the most
popular woods with beginner furniture makers. It can also be used
for cabinets, toys and plywood but is not durable when left
Butternut $$, M
A course-textured wood that is light to medium brown, butternut
is moderately priced, and is a common choice for veneers,
woodenware, and church alters.
Cedar, aromatic $, M
Known for its red coloring and pleasing, somewhat spicy smell,
aromatic cedar or red cedar is a popular woodworking material for
containers and closets. It has alternating lines of dark and
light color and may also have dark knots, making it visually
appealing as well. It is relatively inexpensive.
Cherry, black $$, E
Cherry sapwood is light colored, but the heartwood can vary from
light brown to a dark red color that many find appealing. It has
a fine grain and tends to darken in color as it ages. It is used
most often in cabinetry and furniture making and is moderately
Cottonwood $, E
A white to pale brown colored wood that is part of the poplar
family, cottonwood is light and tends to be soft, which makes it
good for carving. It is also used in making furniture, toys and
woodenwares. Many carvers prefer the bark of the cottonwood tree
because it can be found in large pieces and has a soft, workable
Cypress $, E-M
Cypress wood has an oily texture, resists rot and decay and is
often used in outdoor furniture and docks. It is light yellow in
color and is inexpensive compared to other woods.
Elm, white $$, M
There are many elms, and most tend to be easy to work with and
bend well. The white elm is soft yellow in color, and if used by
beginners, it is usually in a furniture project. This tree is
affected by Dutch Elm disease, so it is becoming more difficult
to find, and thus a bit more expensive.
Mahogany $$, E
A reddish colored, dense hardwood that is durable and easy to
work, Mahogany, (especially that from Honduras) is often used
when making various grades of furniture and cabinets. It is
Maple, white $$, M-D
Maple has white sapwood and reddish brown heartwood. The grain
can come in different patterns including wavy and birds eye. It
can be difficult to work, but is used to make furniture,
cabinets, flooring, and small projects such as cutting
Oak $$, E-M
In the oak family, white oak is perhaps the easiest to work and
is highly durable. It has a light tan color with a straight
grain. It is moderate in price and used for furniture, cabinets,
and is a favored wood for building barrels.
Pine: Ponderosa, white, yellow $, E
Although the different kinds of pine have varying specific
features, it tends to be a softer, light colored wood that is
used in many construction settings. It is also a popular wood for
woodworkers, especially beginners, because it is inexpensive,
easy to find, relatively easy to work, and holds up well (except
for white pine). Often selected for birdhouses, flower boxes,
benches and other beginner projects.
Redwood $$$, E
Redwood is known for its ability to hold up well in outdoor
conditions. It is relatively easy to work and is used in outdoor
furniture, decks, and other applications where durability
outdoors is important. Despite the fact that redwood trees grow
quite large and yield high quantities of boards, the price is on
the higher end.
Walnut, black $$, E
A dark, tough wood that works well, black walnut is used in
carving, making gunstocks, fine furniture, cabinets, and other
items where strength and appearance are both important. It has a
chemical in it that can cause irritation. Black walnut is
Willow $$, E
There are many different varieties of willow, but in general they
are a soft, light wood with dull brownish heartwood and light
colored sapwood. Because of its softness, it is popular with
carvers. It is also used for caskets, Venetian blinds, and a
number of other items.
Yellow poplar $, E
Yellow poplar is a strong, inexpensive hardwood that has a light
color and sometimes is streaked with green, which can make it
more difficult to finish. It is not a true poplar. Along with
pine, it is one of the most common woods used today. Poplar is
used in basic furniture, shelving, and boxes. It is also
acceptable for carving.
Copyright © 2005 by Ferhat Gul. All rights reserved. You
may redistribute this article in its unedited entirety, including
this resource box, with all hyperlinked URLs kept intact. Ferhat
Gul is the publisher of the brand-new "Woodworking Beginner's
Guide - Tips From Experienced Woodworkers to Help You Get
Started", made just for people who love woodworking. This
comprehensive, yet compact woodworking introduction for beginners
is easy to read and helps to save time, money and effort.
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