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Different Types of Woods and Their Unique Characteristics

Different Types of Woods and Their Unique Characteristics

Wood is one of the most used and universally appreciated building materials. The advent of metal and the complexity of processing and forming metal has grown exponentially throughout the last few hundred years, but the business of woodworking and furniture-making has largely stayed the same. This can be attributed to the amazing variety of characteristics that the many different types of wood offer for the construction of furniture. In some cases, wood can be utilized to achieve different goals in construction and functionality. To help you understand the ins and outs of woodworking, here are the different types of woods and their unique characteristics.

What Are the Three Main Types of Wood?

In the world of wood, you’ll deal with three main types: hardwood, softwood, and manufactured wood (also called engineered wood). Read about their characteristics below:


Hardwood is a type of wood that comes from any tree that doesn’t produce needles or cones, although it may produce leaves and seeds—often a deciduous tree. Hardwood will often have a robust internal structure that provides much more strength than other most woods; however, this is not universal of all hardwoods. Even so, hardwood grows a lot more slowly, making it a bit more costly to use in construction compared to other types of woods.


Softwood is a type of wood primarily taken from trees that produce needles and cones rather than leaves and seeds—often conifer trees. These woods are used in woodworking, construction, and furniture. The term “softwood” has no bearing on the hardness of the wood itself. In fact, some softwoods may be harder than some hardwoods. One of the most notable characteristics of softwood is that it’s able to resist rot and insects a lot better than other types of wood

Engineered Wood

The third type of wood is engineered or manufactured wood. Produced in sawmills from waste wood, engineered wood is not a natural wood. These boards are often pressurized and treated through chemical and heat processes. Because they’re manufactured, one of the benefits they can provide is customized dimensions to fit more niche projects. This may not seem like a notable feature, but more furniture than you might think employs engineered wood as a way of keeping material costs low while still resulting in a great-looking product.

Common Wood Species Used in Projects

Now that we’ve covered the main classifications of woods, here are the main species of wood you can commonly find in furniture:


Alder is a hardwood that’s slowly rising in popularity due to its natural beauty, workability, and versatility. You’ll frequently find this type of wood in Northern California and southwestern parts of Canada. One of the most notable things about alder is that it works a lot better with finishing treatments when compared to other woods. This means that if you have a specific finish in mind, alder may be the way to go, as it will naturally enhance the stain color, resulting in a beautiful finish.


Ash is amazing in that it mimics the strength and characteristics of white oak while coming in at a cheaper price. This type of wood also stains very easily, and it’s applicable to many different types of products. As such, ash is the perfect wood material for any and every furniture project. However, it may be difficult to find due to the emerald ash borer, an invasive species that’s currently wreaking havoc on the ash tree population.


Many people see balsa only as the wood used for model airplanes, but it’s actually used for a lot more furniture than you might think and a viable material to use in many different kinds of projects. Two of the most notable characteristics of balsa are its buoyancy and lightness. These factors singlehandedly make balsa a great material to use in boats and other water-faring vehicles. Besides this, balsa has found a purpose in objects such as life preservers and airplanes, mainly due to its lightweight nature.


Basswood is a light, cream-colored wood renowned for its amazingly straight, tight grain. It’s a popular choice with furniture-makers due to its stability and look after drying. This wood has no odor, taste, or any other sensical indication, meaning it’s the perfect material for such things as plates and food storage systems. Many people even use this wood in finer kitchen utensils due to these factors. Basswood can be a challenge to stain to an adequate level, but applying a clear coat of oil or paint to the wood can help it produce the type of color you’re looking for.


Beech is yet another hardwood commonly found in furniture and wood-turning objects. This type of wood often has a cream tone with a consistently straight, tight grain pattern. Some pieces may have a reddish-yellow tone to them. One of the most notable factors that makes beech so useful is its ability to steam-bend. For this reason, beech is often employed in furniture or interior objects in which a consistent bend is utilized in the construction. It’s important to keep in mind that beech will suffer from shrinkage when exposed to high humidity.


One of the less expensive hardwoods is poplar. It’s also fairly soft (a 1 on a scale of 1 to 5 for hardness), making it simple to work with. Poplar heartwood is white with some green or brown streaks. Poplar is rarely used in good furniture because it’s not the most attractive wood, and when it is, it’s usually painted. However, because the wood is stable and affordable, it’s a good choice for drawers and other components that won’t be visible. You can find poplar at major home centers, but a lumberyard will have a superior selection.

We hope this article has helped you understand the different types of woods, their unique characteristics, and the commonly used wood species. We know that choosing a wood type depending on the job you need to accomplish can be difficult. However, if you take the time to familiarize yourself with the different types of wood, you’ll find woodworking to be a much more creative, enjoyable task. If you’re undertaking any woodworking project, whether it’s a new wooden chest or solid wood table legs, Bear Hollow Supply has everything you need to do the job quickly and accurately.

Different Types of Woods and Their Unique Characteristics
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