Furniture is ever-present in most homes, serving functional and aesthetic purposes right across the home. From cabinets in the kitchen and bathroom to sofas in the living room and bedroom, it’s almost impossible to wish them away.
Unfortunately, choosing the right type of wood for furniture isn’t a walk in the park. That’s because different woods come in different strengths, finishes, and weather resistance. Whereas some are elegant and smooth, others are rougher but more durable. We’re summarized the pros and cons of the different wood types to help you make an informed decision.
Softwoods vs. Hardwoods
Perhaps we should kick off by getting the difference between softwoods and hardwoods, as these two terms can be confusing when choosing furniture.
Hardwoods are characterized by rich colors and naturally oily surfaces – qualities that make these woods extremely hard. Hardwoods can be exotic or domestic. Exotic hardwoods, including purpleheart, ebony, and jatoba, are the best in the business. They are the most durable category of woods. Indeed, exotic hardwoods can be left unfinished. However, they are also the most expensive type of wood.
Domestic hardwoods, including maple and oak, are more common and economical. They are also more workable. However, they lack the rich colors and oily texture of exotic hardwoods. They also don’t weather a well, typically requiring a finish to prevent oxidation and discoloring. That said, the lighter natural colors of domestic hardwoods make them easier to alter to blend with the surrounding décor.
Finally, softwoods, including pine, redwood, and cedar, are easily available woods that are easy to cut and shape. They are at the low end of the hardness scale, thus break more easily. Although softwoods are generally more affordable than hardwoods, knot-free cabinet-grade pieces can cost as much as hardwoods.
Now that we know the essential differences, let’s take a closer look at some of the most common softwoods and hardwoods.
A Breakdown of Softwoods
There are dozens of softwoods. However, the three most common options are pine, hemlock, and Douglas Fir.
1. Douglas Fir
Douglas Fir is rated among the strongest softwoods on the planet, even rivaling some hardwoods for strength. It can be stained and finished as a trim. However, it lacks distinct grain patterns. Douglas Fir is also one of the most expensive softwoods. Nevertheless, it’s one of the best softwoods for furniture.
If you’re looking for a quality wood type at a low price, pine wins, hands down. It is not as strong as fir or hemlock. It also tends to have more knots, which can compromise the aesthetic value and even strength. However, it’s incredibly affordable and one of the easiest to woodwork.
Hemlock wood, a versatile and unique type of lumber, strikes a balance between the qualities of fir and pine, making it an ideal choice for many woodworking projects. With its straight-grained and lightweight characteristics, hemlock wood is an especially appealing option for contemporary décor where clean lines and modern aesthetics are highly valued. The beauty and simplicity of this wood type lend itself to a wide variety of applications, from furniture and cabinetry to flooring and paneling.
One of the most notable advantages of hemlock wood is its resistance to warping, which surpasses that of pine. This attribute ensures that your finished projects maintain their structural integrity over time, even in changing environmental conditions. Furthermore, hemlock wood is a more affordable alternative to fir, allowing you to achieve a similar level of quality and elegance without breaking the bank. Consequently, hemlock wood has become increasingly popular among both professional woodworkers and DIY enthusiasts alike.
However, hemlock wood is not without its drawbacks. While it boasts several desirable qualities, it does not possess the same level of scratch and dent resistance that many users would prefer. This limitation means that when using this wood in high-traffic areas or for items subject to frequent use, extra care and maintenance may be required to keep the wood looking pristine. Despite this shortcoming, hemlock wood remains a highly sought-after material due to its overall versatility and affordability.
Other common softwoods are redwood, cedar, and cypress. These three are weather-resistant and share many properties with fir. However, they are less structurally appealing thus are best suited for exterior applications.
Breaking Down Hardwoods
As we’ve already mentioned, hardwoods are some of the best choices for domestic furniture. The three most popular options are oak, maple, and cherry.
We’re all familiar with oak. It combines strength and beauty in a way no other type of wood can. Its broad, flame-like patterns are especially easy to recognize. It’s also very attractive for its price, being midrange for hardwoods. The only major drawback of oak is that it’s very difficult to work. Splinters and shatters easily fly if your blades aren’t sharp enough.
Maple is near the top of the list for hardness. It’s extremely durable and impressively resists weather elements. However, it lacks the grain patterns that many hardwood lovers adore. Additionally, maple is very heavy and requires sharp, carbide-tipped blades to work. Common applications include flooring, trimming, and building cabinets.
Finally, walnut, alongside cherry, are some of the most in-demand woods worldwide. They have a deep, natural beauty unmatched by others. Cherry is characteristically reddish, with fine, complex grain patterns, whereas walnut has a deep chocolate color. The main disadvantage is that the two are some of the most expensive woods.
Now you know where to look when shopping for furniture. Softwoods are an excellent choice if you’re not overly interested in longevity. They are also a good solution when budget shopping. Meanwhile, hardwoods are the better choice when you’re willing to spend more for ultimate quality. However, the bottom line is that all types of wood for furniture are brilliant when used correctly in line with the reigning theme.