The Basics on Wood Selection

The Basics on Wood Selection

Choosing the right wood for your project can be intimidating when you are not familiar with what is available.  Here is a basic breakdown of different types of wood you could use in your projects:

  1. Solid vs Engineered Wood
  2. Hard vs Soft Wood
  3. Which Should You Use?

Solid vs Engineered Wood

When choosing between solid wood and non-solid wood, it's essential to consider factors such as budget, aesthetic preferences, and the intended use of the product.

Solid Wood:

Often preferred for its natural beauty and longevity, but it may be more susceptible to environmental factors like humidity.

Composition: Solid wood is made from a single, solid piece of wood. It is usually crafted from hardwoods like oak, maple, cherry, or pine.

Appearance: The natural grain patterns and color variations of solid wood are prominent, giving it a classic and authentic look.

Durability: Solid wood is generally durable and can withstand wear and tear. It can be sanded and refinished to remove scratches or damage.

Cost: Solid wood furniture or products tend to be more expensive due to the quality of the material.

Engineered Wood (or Composite Wood):

Engineered to have certain properties, such as increased stability or resistance to moisture, making it suitable for specific applications.

Composition: Engineered wood is made from various wood products, such as plywood, particleboard, or MDF (Medium-Density Fiberboard). These materials are often combined with veneers or laminates.

Appearance: Engineered wood products may have a veneer or laminate layer that mimics the look of real wood. The appearance can be consistent and less varied than solid wood.

Durability: Engineered wood products can be designed to be more resistant to moisture and warping compared to solid wood. However, they may not be as durable in terms of long-term wear.

Cost: Engineered wood products are often more affordable than solid wood, making them a popular choice for budget-conscious consumers.


Hard vs Soft Wood

It's important to note that the terms "hardwood" and "softwood" can be somewhat misleading, as some hardwoods are softer than certain softwoods. The classification is based on the type of tree rather than the actual hardness of the wood. Both hardwoods and softwoods have unique properties that make them suitable for different purposes in construction, woodworking, and other industries.

Hard Wood:

Tree Source: Deciduous trees, which are typically broad-leaved and shed their leaves annually. Examples include oak, maple, mahogany, and walnut.

Wood Density: Higher density compared to softwood. This makes hardwoods heavier and more resistant to wear and denting.

Cellular Structure: More complex and intricate cellular structure. Hardwoods often have vessels (pores) in their structure.

Strength and Hardness: Generally, exhibits greater hardness and strength.

Common Uses: Preferred for fine woodworking, furniture, cabinetry, and flooring. It is also used for decorative purposes.

Growth Rate: Typically slower-growing trees, which can contribute to their higher density and characteristic grain patterns.

Soft Wood:

Tree Source: Coniferous trees, which are usually evergreen and bear needles or cones. Examples pine, cedar, spruce, and fir.

Wood Density: Lower density, making it lighter. 

Cellular Structure: Simpler cellular structure without vessels and typically have tracheids, which are elongated cells.

Strength and Hardness: While softer in comparison, softwoods can still be strong. 

Common Uses: Commonly used in construction, framing, structural applications, and for making items like plywood and paper.

Growth Rate: Generally faster-growing trees, leading to their lower density. This rapid growth can make softwood more readily available for various applications.

What Should You Use?

There is no one right answer for every project, because ever project is different, but here are my thoughts.

Solid vs Engineered Wood: There is only one scenario I like using engineered wood in my workshop and that is for larger cabinets.  When you need a stable box that won’t experience wood movement, plywood is your best bet.  For all other projects I like to use solid wood for both the enjoyment of the build and the quality of the finished product.

Hard vs Soft Wood: I almost always defer to softwoods when I am building something with a technique I am still learning, something that is not going to be highly visible or if it is something that is going to end up painted that will not have high wear and tear.  If the project is going to be on display or a focal point in a room, hardwoods are best as they have more interesting grain patterns and take a variety of finishes better.

Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.