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 lies somewhere between fir and pine. It is straight-grained and light, making it an especially appealing option for contemporary décor. It also resists warping better than pine while remaining more affordable than fir. The only real downside is that it’s not as scratch and dent-resistant as you’d wish.
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.