15 Types of Wood for Woodworking: Which Is the Best?

Types of Wood for Woodworking: Which Is the Best?

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From woodturning to furniture, woodcarvings, and construction, woodworking has a wide range of purposes and uses. Naturally, this means that various types of wood will be better suited to these needs.

In this article, we will go over the different types of wood that are commonly found in woodworking and, besides briefly talking about each of them, I will also look at which are best for each technique.

15 Types of Wood for Woodworking

Below we’ll review 15 types of wood for woodworking. Each will be denoted by whether it is a hardwood or softwood variety. I will also make note of each variety’s hardness on the Janka wood hardness scale, which determines how resistant wood is to dents, dings, and wear. The higher the Janka hardness, the harder the wood is.

Hardwood Varieties

Trees are considered hardwood if the seeds produced by the trees have a coating, typically in the form of a fruit or a shell. The easier way to determine this is if it produces flat, broad leaves.


Janka Hardness: 1290 – 1360 (learn more about oak’s strength)

Oak is a hugely popular hardwood, known for its characteristically appealing open-grain pattern and light creamy color. It is a durable and hardy variety, with natural rot and insect resistance.

The grain is straight but uneven, and sands to a smooth and soft finish. It takes to stain very well, though it is often left natural to let the grain shine through. Oak is most commonly used in flooring, furniture, and cabinetry.

See how oak compares with: acacia | alder | ash | aspen | beech | birchcedar | cherry | chestnut | Douglas fir | elm | hickory | mahogany | maple | pine | poplar | spruce | teakwalnut


Janka Hardness: 900 (learn more about mahogany’s strength)

Earning its title of the “Wood of Kings” is mahogany. Its rich, pinkish color darkens to deep red, with the interlocked grain causing distinctive stripes on its surface. It’s extremely rot-resistant and easy to carve and shape, which led to its rise in ornately carved furniture in the 1700s.

It remains in high demand for luxury furniture, cabinets, and cutting boards, though it is hard to find because it is classified as either vulnerable to extinction or endangered. Suggested woods that are similar in appearance to mahogany are cherry and walnut.

Learn more about the advantages and disadvantages of mahogany wood

See how mahogany compares with: alder | acacia | ash | birch | cedar | cherry | chestnut | ebonyhickory | ipe | maple | meranti | narra | oak | pine | poplar | redwood | sapele | tanguile | teak | walnut


Janka Hardness: 1450

Maple is used for its incredible strength, appealing light color, and reddish-brown mineral streaks. Various types of maple are available, but the most common type used is hard maple or sugar maple. The grain is smooth (closed) and stains well.

This wood is chosen for its durability, used most commonly indoors in high-end furniture, flooring, cabinetry, and kitchen accessories. It can be used for hand carving, though its hardness means it is not ideal for beginners and may require special tools.

See how maple compares with: alder | ashbeech | birch | cedarcherry | hickory | mahoganyoak | pine | poplar | teak | walnut


Janka Hardness: 1320 (learn more about ash’s strength)

Versatile and flexible, ash is an attractive light-colored hardwood. Typically beige to light brown with a smooth open grain, it stains especially well without losing the visible grain or texture. Because of this, it is often used as a cost-effective oak lookalike. It is a great option for woodturning as well as lumber.

Ash has superior shock resistance, and can often be found in baseball bats and gardening handles. Historically, it was used for arrows, spears, and boat oars. In more modern applications, it is used for mid-century modern fine furniture.

See how ash compares with: alder | beech | birch | hickory | mahogany | maple | oak | pine | poplar | walnut


Janka Hardness: 1010

Chosen for its durability, walnut is a hardwood with a tough finish. Its dark brown color and grain are prized by woodworkers, as it is the only hardwood with a naturally dark color. It can be finished to a smooth shine, which makes it an easy choice for upscale cabinets, wood flooring, and fine furniture.

Known for being temperamental during the finishing process, walnut is often left natural or with a polyurethane protective coating. It is also used in carving, which makes it popular for gunstocks, and it is a good choice for woodturning.

Learn more about the advantages and disadvantages of walnut wood

See how walnut compares with: acacia | ash | birch | cedar | cherry | chestnut | ebony | hickory | mahogany | maple | oak | pine | rosewood | sapelesumac | teakwenge | zebrawood


Janka Hardness: 540

A softer hardwood variety, poplar is popular across various woodworking applications. It is lightweight, with light brown to creamy yellow coloration and a straight grain. It holds paint especially well.

Poplar is incredibly easy to work with, which is why it spans so many different facets of woodworking. Its soft properties make it ideal for hand carving, which is why it is so often found in millwork, toys, and carvings. In commercial applications, poplar is used in plywood and veneer, pallets, crates, and frames in upholstered furniture.

See how poplar compares with: ashbirch | cedar | cypress | Douglas fir | mahogany | maple | oak | pinewalnut | whitewood


Janka Hardness: 1260

Widely popular in the 1960s and ‘70s, birch has taken a backseat in more modern production. Creamy white in appearance, birch darkens to a yellowish-red color with age. It has a straight closed grain with a fine and even texture, though in some cases may have a wavy or curly grain.

It is now used for utilitarian purposes, such as shelving, cabinets, wooden crates, and boxes. It is also often found in plywood, flooring, and gunstocks. Birch is also a good choice for beginner woodturning, though it requires quite sharp tools for a good finish.

See how birch compares with: acaciaalder | ash | beech | cedar | cherry | elm | hickory | mahoganymaple | oak | pinepoplar | spruce | teak | walnut


Janka Hardness: 1155

Teak is a weather-resistant hardwood from the Southeast Asian rainforest. It has a coarse texture and is golden brown in color. It has a straight grain, and can sometimes be interlocked or wavy in appearance.

This wood has superior rot resistance, and the natural oils present in the wood lend a hand to its workability, especially with mechanical tools. These oils also make it easy to glue and join, and it holds screws well.

It is a favorite in ship and boat building, exterior construction, furniture, and veneer. It also carves and turns beautifully. Finishing teak can be a challenge, as it doesn’t take to stain, and polyurethane coatings don’t tend to cure well. It is often finished with penetrating oils, like tung or teak oil.

See how teak compares with: acacia | beech | birch | cedar | cherry | cypress | Douglas fir | hickory | ipe | mahogany | maple | oak pine | rosewood | sapele | spruce | walnut


Janka Hardness: 995 (learn more about cherry’s strength)

A highly ornamental wood, cherry became known as “New England Mahogany” because its color changes to dark red-brown after exposure to sunlight. Cherry comes in many appealing closed-grain patterns, from straight grain to resin-spot grain, to a ripple grain effect.

It withstands shock, compaction, and various other types of abuse rather well for an ornamental wood, which makes it a beautiful and durable choice for furniture. Cherry can be found in fine furniture, wood paneling, musical instruments, and in beautiful carvings and turnings. It has a luxurious luster and is typically left unstained to show off its natural color.

Softwood Varieties

Softwood trees are easy to identify by their needles and cones. These trees are also known as evergreens.


Janka Hardness: 900

Cedar is a weather-resistant softwood that is often found in outdoor woodworking projects. It is very strong and has natural rot resistance. This rot resistance is what makes it a common choice for outdoor furniture and construction applications, like decks and framing.

It can be used for carving, but very few varieties of cedar are hard enough to hold intricate details. Other common applications for cedar include cabinetry, flooring, closet linings, and siding.

See how cedar compares with: acacia | birchcypressDouglas fir | hemlockipe | larchmahogany | maple | oakpine | redwood | spruceteak | walnutwhitewood


Janka Hardness: 380

Lightweight with low density, pine is a creamy yellow to brown softwood that’s used for more commercial-type purposes. It is widely available, inexpensive, and easy to work with, though it does dent and scratch easily.

Working with pine can be challenging due to the naturally present resin that can stick to cutter heads and blades. This can be cleaned with soap and water but it is still a drawback. Most often, pine is used for framing, decking, and lightweight covered furniture. It doesn’t hold stain well but is easy to paint.

See how pine compares with: acacia | alder | ash | birch | cedar | cherrychestnut | cypress | Douglas fir | hemlock | hickory | larchmahogany | maple | oak | poplar | redwood | spruce | walnut | whitewood


Janka Hardness: 510

Comparable to pine, spruce is a lightweight, moderately rot-resistant softwood. It has a fine, even texture with a uniform straight grain. It grows relatively fast and is easy to find. Spruce has an incredibly high strength-to-weight ratio, which makes it ideal for lightweight structural applications.

Spruce can be found in buildings and construction and is used for framing, boxes, and crates. Its soft properties mean that it is not a good choice for furniture and detailed applications, as it is difficult to finish without fraying and tearing.

It stains exceptionally well, though the color can be uneven and blotchy without preparation due to the open grain. Other applications include paper, musical instruments, boats, and aircraft.


Janka Hardness: 620

Like most other softwoods, fir is easy to find in construction and lumber. Ranging from pale to darker reddish-browns, fir is easy to work with hand or machine tools. Most often, it is used in framing and plywood, and some varieties of fir are used for outdoor furniture.

Other suitable applications for fir include paper and pulpwood. It takes to glue, stain, and paint very well. In some cases, fir has been known to work well in woodturning, as long as care is taken to use very sharp tools and to dry the wood thoroughly beforehand.


Janka Hardness: 830 (learn more about larch’s strength)

Larch is one of the hardest of all softwood varieties. The wood is reddish-brown in color with a straight, uniform grain and fine texture. The natural resins present in larch make it quite durable and weather-resistant.

Some of the common uses of larch include interior trim, cabinets, decking, flooring, and furniture. Its hardness and durability also make it an excellent choice for posts, railroad ties, and utility poles.

It takes to stain well, though it doesn’t hold paint well without a shellac coating beforehand. To avoid splitting, pilot holes must be drilled into the wood before nailing or screwing. Larch is not a good choice for woodturning or carving due to the inconsistent hardness between late and early growth.

See how larch compares with: cedar | Douglas fir | pine | spruce


Janka Hardness: 450

Redwood is a tall-growing conifer found on the west coast of the United States. The wood is a warm brownish-red color and has either a vertical (straight) grain or flat-grain (wavy) appearance, depending on how it was sawed. It is very rot and insect-resistant and is a good choice for many outdoor projects.

It is used in construction framing, outdoor furniture, fences, decks, and as wooden water tanks or other water vessels. The wood has a tendency to splinter, so care must be taken during cutting, planing, and finishing. Redwood is excellent for carving, though not necessarily for beginners due to the potential for splintering.

What Makes Wood Good for Woodworking?

When choosing from the above – or other types of wood – consider some of the factors below to decide which is best suited for your project.


The hardness of a wood can make or break your project.

For wood carving and turning, a good hardness is necessary for the wood to accept detail. If the material is too soft, then it may tear and fray while working or finishing. In cases where a piece of furniture will be subjected to daily wear and tear, wood that is too soft will dent and scratch, requiring replacement sooner.

Grain and Texture

Grain and texture greatly affect the finished look of all woodworking. You can both see and feel the difference in grain in finished pieces.

For example, if a visible and tactile grain presence is desired in the end product, oak is an excellent choice. You will both feel and see the grain in the finished piece. However, if a perfectly smooth finish is desired, maple or cedar would be a better choice.


Knowing how you intend to finish the piece is just as important as the type of wood you will be using.

If no finish/treatment is desired, then a rot and insect-resistant variety should be considered. If stain is desired, then you’ll want a piece that accepts it well and can sand to a smooth finish. If you plan to paint the end product, it would be a waste to spend money on a higher-end hardwood like cherry or mahogany.

What Is the Best Wood for Woodworking?

There is no one wood that is best for all woodworking applications.

Below we will point out one or two wood varieties that are best for furniture making, construction, wood carvings, and woodturning.


For indoor high-end furniture, ash is one of the best woods for all applications. It is flexible, extremely shock resistant, and takes to stain very well. Ash has all of the advantages of oak without the high price tag.

For exterior furniture, cedar rules supreme. This wood has very rot and weather-resistant varieties that make for beautiful and durable exterior furniture. You can choose to leave cedar furniture untreated or seal it to maintain its beautiful hue.


For framing and lumber, cedar or redwood are two excellent choices. They are both extremely hard softwoods and are naturally rot and insect-resistant. Cedar is the more cost-effective of the two, as the cost of redwood increases the farther you get from its source (western U.S. coast).

When cost is a factor, spruce is a good runner-up. It can easily be treated to hold up to weathering or insects, and it is extremely strong in comparison to its weight.

Wood Carving

Of all varieties mentioned in this list, walnut is at the top for wood carving. It is dense and hard, which will hold up to the fine details in your carving. It is moisture-resistant, which will allow it to excel in many applications. Walnut also has a beautiful grain and dark color that will enhance the end product.


Like wood carving, walnut is an excellent choice for woodturning. The hardness of the wood may mean you need to sharpen your tools more often to get a clean cut, but the grain and color make for a fantastic finished piece.

For beginner woodturners, maple is the best option. The closed grain and hardness of the wood help get a good finish without much difficulty. Proper sanding allows you to get a smooth, fine finish that can be stained with good technique.

What Is the Best Wood for Beginner Woodworkers?

For all applications, a good wood to start with is maple. The hardness and durability of maple make it easy to work with, but stable enough to use for long-lasting projects. It is relatively inexpensive and easy to find. Maple makes for good practice in sanding, planing, and finishing, as it requires care and good technique to produce a beautiful end result.

If maple is unavailable, pine or spruce are good alternatives. They are softer and will show mistakes more readily than maple, but they are inexpensive and sturdy. They take well to the simpler projects that beginner woodworkers often take on, such as workbenches and shelving.


Having learned about 15 types of wood commonly used in woodworking, you should now have a good idea of which types of wood are best used for furniture, construction, or carving. Be it softwood or hardwood, each species has its advantages and drawbacks, and it is important to understand these properties before starting a new project.

Make sure to check back for deeper dives into the different types of wood, their origins, properties, and different types of trees in these families.

In case you are looking to build a fence, you might also want to see my list of the best types of wood for fencing.