Dragging furniture from place to place had no place in primitive societies. That all changed between 12,000 and 10,000 years ago when the earth warmed, and people stopped roaming from place to place, building permanent homes and discovering the value of trees providing the woods that came to be the first material used to make furniture.
Wondering which wood types are currently best for your home furnishings? Find plenty of choices on our list below.
In this article we’ll describe and discuss the top 11 wood types used for home furniture, their characteristics, some comparisons etc, so let’s get started.
Table of Contents
What is the best wood for furniture making?
Every tree has different characteristics, bark patterns, trunk circles, and distinguishing growth patterns.
Hardwoods are considered better than softwoods because trunks are dense, solid, and sturdy. Common hardwoods include oak, hickory, teak maple, beech, walnut, and mahogany.
Softwoods like spruce, pine and fir are also used to craft home furnishings but they may not age as gracefully as pieces crafted of hardwoods.
When it comes to durability, you would be hard-pressed to find a substitute for this hardwood that comes with as much history and tradition as oak furnishings.
A desk used by presidents in the White House oval office is crafted of oak and given to then-president Rutherford B. Hayes by Queen Victoria in 1880.
Oak grows slowly, which makes it extremely dense and impossible to cut using hand tools.
Oak wood easily adapts to finishes and works nicely with traditional and contemporary decor.
Oak trees grown in the east and Midwest and ranging in color from brown to reddish brown with distinct swirl or striped grains tend to be preferred for furniture making, and oak comes with a bonus: it is stain- and scratch-resistant, which is why so much oak sticks around long enough to wind up in antique shops.
Maple trees can grow to be more than 120 tall, hang around for 500 years if not impacted by disease and best of all, maple is incredibly strong.
Homeowners drawn to mellow, creamy colors and smooth grain patterns won’t have an easy time deciding which type of maple they love most since there are dozens of species.
North America produces the best maple woods for flooring, cabinets, furnishings, Dining Tables and sports equipment. Maple furnishings may come in varying shades but what they have in common is that they all naturally mellow with age.
One of the hardest domestic woods in the world, some maple wood species have impressive Janka Hardwood Scale ratings of 1450. Compare that to oak’s Janka rating of 1360.
According to Wood magazine carpentry pros, mahogany is “the wood of kings,” so if you’d like to own furnishings with royal roots, there are many versions of this wood.
While frequently associated with iconic British furniture styles like Chippendale, Hepplewhite, and Sheraton, the best mahogany comes from tropical climates, like Cuba, Honduras, Africa, and the Philippines.
Mahogany is rot resistant and amenable to stains and sealants, but obtaining mahogany furniture can be a challenge since it can be both scarce and expensive, unless it is African mahogany which has stringier grains, pores and textures that may not be attractive to some.
Be on the lookout for “pretenders” when you shop since some growers try to pass off species of Philippines- and Chinese-grown lumber as mahogany, but these woods lack stability and are prone to rot, reason enough to check country of origin.
Calling this wood a “sweet surprise” by Greg Harden whose “company uses solid cherry for approximately 90 percent of its products,” cherry is the wood for folks who love dark colors and strength.
Cherry was used to craft the table that is the centerpiece of the White House’s Roosevelt Room. Among cherry wood’s attributes are subtle grains and colors so rich, this wood is used for cathedrals, estates, and manors.
Chosen for architectural millwork, cabinetry, flooring, musical instruments and boat interiors, cherry trees tend to thrive in specific soils and produce higher quality timber when culled from “prime growing areas” like Pennsylvania, New York, and Canada.
Considered an exotic wood overseas, it’s abundant in the U.S., especially the black cherry species, grown in Pennsylvania and considered the best of the best.
Just because birch is abundant throughout North America, it’s not every furniture buyer’s first choice.
While it makes beautiful furnishings, birch is not considered to be a superior wood, despite being attractive, hard, and relatively durable.
That stated, Birch is an affordable alternative for hardwood lovers attracted to yellow and sweet birch. Birch is easy to work with and rebuffs nicks and gouges during the manufacturing process.
Due to birch’s close grain, it stains evenly or looks terrific when left unstained and protected by a sealant. Further, professional furniture builders use it in place of maple to save money.
For some reason, birch trees grown in Europe produce great lumber for paneling and cabinets, but the reddish heartwood and white sapwood species grown in the U.S. are preferrable for tables, chairs, and other furnishings.
Because birch is strong, it holds screws tightly, a bonus for those worrying about broken furniture.
If you’re a fan of hand-crafted Amish furniture, you’re already aware of the beauty and utility of pine and you may also be aware of the many ways it differs from cherry, oak, and maple.
But for some projects, pine is the ideal medium, not just because this softwood is lightweight, easy to acquire, durable, versatile, and cheap.
Will it be around for future generations? Ask the Amish and they’ll say yes. Characteristics of this wood make it especially popular for country- and rustic-style furniture pieces. Staining or painting pine is a breeze.
Leave it unfinished or seal it, but since it is a softwood, keep in mind that pine is vulnerable to nicks and dents.
Pine woods have uniform grain textures, the reason a finished paint or stain treatment deliver such a smooth finish.
Additionally, pine offers something that its pricier cousins don’t: It’s easy to distress. If you’re going for a shabby chic look that celebrates pin holes, rubbed finishes, indentations and worn edges, this is your wood.
Although not very hard, it stands well in daily use settings such as dining table, bed frames, wardrobes etc.
Walnut is a highly prized lumber for crafting string instruments because it can bend during the steaming process required to achieve the soft curvatures for which string instruments are known.
This bit of trivia aside, walnut is no wimpy choice when it comes to home furnishings. There are many types of walnut trees, only a few of which grow in north America – specifically in Ohio, Illinois, and Indiana.
Walnut trees can reach 100 feet, producing lumber that is stable, hard, strong, and durable, yet it’s not as heavy and hard as other hard woods.
Choose any popular finish for walnut furnishings; all of them apply evenly over the fine, straight grain or simply seal it.
Here’s a bonus that may resonate if you worry about deterioration over time: walnut is decay resistant, adding to this premium wood’s heirloom quality.
Among the most widely circulated myths associated with teak are that it is overly expensive and harms the planet.
Not so, say furniture makers producing high-quality teak furnishings sourced from legal plantations committed to responsible environmentalism.
Grown using sustainable practices, teak is native to Southeast Asia, naturally repels bugs, doesn’t require insecticide applications nor must growers use fertilizers or rely upon heavy irrigation methods to produce trees.
Is teak wood pricey? It used to be outrageously so when it was considered rare and exotic, but due to responsible farming practices, availability has expanded on the world market.
Versatile? You bet. No other wood tackles so many projects; it’s used to build boats because it’s durable and stands up to weather that would cause other hardwoods to deteriorate.
It resists warping, shrinking, and swelling. Ideal for outdoor furnishings and patios with or without varnishing or oiling, consider teak furnishings long-term investments.
Love Celtic mythology? It comes free of charge with all beech furniture: Beech trees are the purview of a god named Fagus who chose this tree because its forked branches are ideal for invoking spirits.
On a more practical note, furniture shoppers who like their information without benefit of spirits, beech trees are a living contradiction.
Classified as hardwoods, the bark is so delicate, if you carve your name into a tree trunk, the cuts will permanently scar the tree.
Bark aside, beech woods split easily but are so tough, power tools are required to fell trees, which is why this wood is preferred “for joinery and carpentry engineering purposes,” say certified U.K. lumber purveyors W.L. West and Sons Ltd.
Despite fanfare and popularity, beech woods may not be your first choice if you seek furnishings made with decorative touches and it’s not suitable for outdoor furnishings — but you do get the god of this tree type at no additional cost if you choose beech furniture!
A consistent debate has raged between log home builders over whether red cedar or yellow cedar are the best materials for cabin construction and yellow cedar tends to be the winner of these debates.
Not only is it cheaper but yellow cedar (often called cypress) has qualities furniture and building experts prefer as well: it’s slow growing, making it one tough, solid tree that happens to be the hardest known cedar.
It is used for a surprising array of projects, including boat oars, boat hulls, bridges, decking, stairs, and furniture.
The best yellow cedars are grown in Alaska. They are decay resistant and preferred for joinery and carpentry projects as well as decorative paneling, furniture construction, cabinetry, and decorative moldings.
Subject furnishings made with yellow cedar to wear, tear, heavy loads, and other stressors and unlike other softwoods, it won’t split, splinter, or develop ridges, reason enough to count on furnishings made of yellow cedar to stick around for the next generation.
If you thought Douglas fir trees were only useful when cut for Christmas trees, a little respect, please.
Douglas fir (nickname: Doug-fir) is a softwood that is so versatile, it’s used to build aircraft. The same attributes that make it a perfect wood to climb 35,000 feet contribute to this lumber’s furniture value: it holds its shape, adds dimensional stability, and isn’t impacted by exposure to weather extremes.
Doug-fir is ideal for flooring, trim and joinery projects, boat building, mantles, window framing and stairwell risers but it stands out in the furniture-making arena.
This softwood contributes to all aspects of furniture design thanks to vertical grain strength and solid foundation for the application of paints, stains, finishes and decorative elements. In sum, you would be hard pressed to find softer, smoother surfaces, no matter which finish is applied.
Softwood vs Hardwood: which is best for home furniture?
According to Bob Vila’s website, hardwoods are preferred for home furnishings because these woods are heavier and more durable than softwoods. Hardwoods resist dents, divots, and scratches and offer better fire-resistance than softwoods.
What wood is used most often to make cheap furniture?
Pine is considered the cheapest wood on the market but remember, if you use it to build furniture, expect it to damage more easily because it’s a softwood.
On the other hand, if you’re big on vintage looks and crave country décor, nothing is as compelling as the charming, rustic knots and grains only found with pine.
Best wood options for outdoor furniture
Teak is ideal for outdoor furnishings; it won’t warp, shrink, or swell when weather changes. Because Teak can be expensive, Cedar is also a great alternative. It stands up to punishing weather without splitting or splintering and repels bugs.
Other popular outdoor furniture woods include Acacia, Black Locust, Douglas Fir and Redwood. Redwood is especially prized because it repels insects and is moisture-resistant, but it’s an extravagant pick for folks on budgets.
Most expensive woods for furniture
- African Blackwood
- Pink Ivory (aka Red Ivory)
- Purple Heart
- Lignum Vitae
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