There’s a huge variety of colors, textures, and grain patterns in hardwoods, which makes it popular amongst woodworkers. However, hardwoods are more expensive and they’re not economically friendly due to the fact that they take so long to grow. There are a few sustainable farms for hardwoods, so be sure to ask where the wood came from when you’re purchasing it.
Hardwoods have a scale from one to five, one being the softest.
White or pale brown, ash has a straight grain and is easy to work with. There are more patterns here. It has a hardness of four on the scale and takes stain well. It’s an excellent substitute for white oak, but it’s hard to find at local hardwood stores. Look for ash at a lumberyard.
Birch is a hardness of four on the scale and comes in two varieties: yellow and white. It’s readily available and not as expensive as most other hardwoods. The selection is best at a lumberyard rather than a home center. It’s pretty stable, but it’s hard to stain so painting is best.
Due to its popularity with furniture makers, cherry wood is starting to become a little more expensive; however, it’s still one of the cheaper hardwoods you can purchase. You’re not going to find it at a local home center, so look for cherry at a lumberyard. It has a hardness of two on the scale and has a reddish-brown color. It stains well with just an oil-based stain and ages nicely.
Mahogany has a hardness of two on the scale and has a straight grain with a medium texture. It stains well and looks great with paint or oil. It’s rather pricey and can only be found at a local lumberyard.
There are two different types of maple, hard and soft. Both are harder than most other hardwoods. Hard has a hardness of five on the scale and soft has a hardness of three. Therefore, soft maple is a lot easier to work with and has a straight grain. They’re both less expensive the most other hardwoods and can only be found at a lumberyard if you want a good selection.
The most common wood used for furniture, oak also comes in two varieties, red and white. Oak has a hardness of four on the scale, but it’s easy to work with. White oak is more popular for furniture-making and is resistant to moisture, so it can be used outside. It’s also one of the more rare quarter-sawn types of wood, but it’s not as expensive as others. Be sure to look for it at a lumberyard rather than a home center.
One of the less expensive hardwoods, poplar is soft and has a hardness of one on the scale, so it’s pretty easy to work with. It’s white and may have a few brown or green streaks in the heartwood. It’s not usually used for fine furniture because it’s not as pleasing to the eye as others, so it’s usually painted. Lumberyards have better selections, but you can find it at a home center.
It’s becoming harder to find teak and it’s becoming even more expensive, but it used to be a staple for outdoor furniture. It has an oily feel to it and a golden brown color. It’s a three on the scale and can only be found at larger lumberyards or specialty suppliers.
Walnut has a hardness of four on the scale and has a rich brown color. It’s easy to work with, but it’s rather expensive and finding a large board can be difficult. If you want a large quantity, you’re going to need to special order it from a lumberyard.