But one of the hardest parts of woodworking is understanding different kinds of wood.
On this page, we’ll take a look at the 15 most common kinds of wood, some of their characteristics, and what they’re used to commonly create.
We’ll start with the woods that everybody knows and continue to some less common forms.
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Pine is the most common kind of wood in the United States. It’s all over the place, and it’s so versatile that you can use it in just about every capacity — including building a house from scratch!
Pine is characterized as a soft wood, and you’ll find that it’s useful for pretty much everything. On the downside, pine has a characteristically pale appearance that can, in some ways, look “cheap.” With that in mind, it’s not a great choice if you want to make a centerpiece for a room — but it’s excellent for framing and structure.
Oak is another common American wood, though it’s a hard wood. Most of the time, you’ll hear of oak used in furniture and flooring, but you may also find it in cabinetry and butcher blocks.
Generally speaking, oak has a darker, richer, and more pleasing appearance than pine. It’s also incredibly strong, so if you’re going to use nails or screws with it, pre-drill your holes first! You’ll save your screw gun bit.
Spruce has fallen out of style these days, but it’s still a useful soft wood to use in your handywork. Spruce was more common in the 1970s and 1980s when it was used frequently for house siding.
Today, you’ll mostly find musical instruments made of spruce because of its ability to produce a pleasant, consistent musical tone.
Poplar is a hard wood that’s becoming more and more popular in the 2020s. It has an incredible range of applications, including uses in creating shipping pallets, crates, upholstered furniture, and — most recently — paint wood.
Many lumber mills had an issue with poplar where they didn’t know what to do with its sawdust since it’s such a unique wood. Most of the time, they threw it in with their plywood blends. But poplar has a tendency to take paint exceptionally well, and ever since then, scrap poplar has been re-cut, joined together, and sold as paint wood for new construction.
Fir is a soft wood that’s most often used in accenting or outlining elements in a room. You’ll find it frequently used as the “box” for a window sash, and it may also be the structural part of a window frame.
Aside from that, many interior doors are made of fir since it’s fairly lightweight. This allows door manufacturers to create a hollow, lightweight product that’s easy to hang and kind to wall hinges.
Ash is a hard wood that’s best known for its use in baseball bats. However, it’s also used in room trim, cabinetry, and furniture.
Ash tends to be more expensive than the previous woods we’ve discussed in this list. Still, it’s well worth the expense if you want an attractive, durable kind of wood for your work.
Beech is an exceptionally hard wood that is most often used in structural creations. This includes flooring, furniture, and even railroad ties.
If you want a tough and rugged wood for your work, beech may be more affordable (depending on your area). Regardless, it’s worth buying for its fantastic appearance as upholstered furniture.
Teak is a soft wood that is best known as a semi-luxury wood in furniture, flooring, kitchen utensils, and boat decks.
Teak is a “gentle” wood that holds up surprisingly well outdoors. It also has a natural beauty that makes it great for salad spoons, bowls, cutting boards, and other practical items in the kitchen.
Alder wood is a hard wood that is the main choice of woodworkers who create decorations.
As a result, it’s used frequently in trim, cabinetry, and furniture where there can be fine details. Alder is soft enough to receive decoration well, but it’s also firm enough to retain that decoration for years to come. It’s perfect for the craftsman who also considers themselves an artist.
Balsa wood is a hard wood, despite its reputation for being incredibly easy to bend and break.
Still, it has its purposes in modeling, packing, lamination, and even core stock for multi-layer wood composites. It’s definitely not going to be in your floor boards, but it’d make a great model or accent wood.
Cedar is a soft wood that’s surprisingly durable. It also has a handful of remarkable properties, including the use as a natural insect repellent and a distinct odor that’s either wonderful or disgusting (depending on who you ask).
Cedar often forms the structure of chests, trunks, decking, and outdoor furniture since it naturally keeps pests like mosquitoes away.
Cherry wood is a distinctive hard wood with a deep, colorful appearance. Formerly a luxury wood, cherry is now used in dozens of different ways, including furniture stock, room trim, flooring, boat interiors, and even musical instruments.
Cherry is an ideal multipurpose wood for someone who wants something more attractive than pine for their creations.
Mahogany is a hard wood famous for its reputation among the wealthy as an indicator of status and class. It’s in everything from high-end furniture to artisanal violins.
If you want to use mahogany, prepare to deal with one of the hardest woods that you’ll ever encounter. It’s tough, but once you get it just the way you want it, it’s absolutely gorgeous.
Maple is a common hard wood that’s mostly used in furniture and flooring. At times, you may also find it in cabinetry.
Fun fact: Maple is also the preferred wood for bowling alleys because it tends to be smooth (even before sanding) and outstandingly strong. It’s a little tough to drill and nail, but it’s phenomenally durable.
Plywood is a composite wood pulp plank that is used as a general purpose structural aid. It’s almost always used as sub-flooring, and it forms the walls of affordable, pre-made sheds.
If you work with wood, you should always have a stock of plywood handy. It can be used in almost any capacity, it’s easy to cut, and it holds up surprisingly well against weather (though not for very long).
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Founder of Mechanicalcaveman.com, Beau is an unrepentant tool enthusiast and, sporting deadlift-callused hands and incongruously a beer belly, all-around macho guy. When he doesn’t know re tools, he consults with his handyman and car-repairman buds to give you well-reasoned and cutting-edge info. Email him.