Best Types of Wood Species for Woodworking

Where to begin? There is a lot to consider when choosing the best wood (or timber) for your next project. Things such as:

As well as the type of wood, you should also think about getting the right cut of wood from the timber yard, this will have a huge impact of the final look, ease of working and stability of your project. We have covered this in a separate article on ‘How to Choose Lumber‘.

Below is a list of the most common timber used for woodworking and the attributes each has that might make them suitable or unsuitable for your next project.

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Log Pile at Timber Yard

Softwoods for Woodworking

There is a misconception that softwoods mean they are softer than hardwoods. While this is most often the case, it’s not always true. Instead, softwoods are defined by the trees they come from. Softwood comes from conifer trees which produce needles and cones, such as fir, redwood, pine, cedar, and spruce. These are fast growing and are easy to process, hence cheaper. As a result, softwood is common in the construction industry, as well as for use in plywood. Softwoods are often treated with a biocide to make them more rot and bug resistant, this can give them a yellow, green of even blue coloration which isn’t desirable for woodworking. Having said that, untreated softwood is still common in furniture making and there are many applications where it is the best option.


Pine is possibly the most common wood in a timber yard and used for many different applications. There are a few varieties, but all are similar. Ranges in color from yellow to white and can be knotty or clear. Easy to work with due to being cheap, light, and soft, though it can also have more tear out and it is harder to get sharp edges. Typically, an indoor wood, unless treated.

Cost – $ in USA, £ in Europe
Common Uses – Framing lumber, construction, joinery, plywood, interior woodwork
Hardness – 1 out of 5 (soft)
Finishing – Finishes well but requires initial seal coats
Sustainability – No threat

Western Red Cedar & European Cedar

One thing to know about Cedar, is that it is not all the same. Western Red Cedar (American Cedar) and European Cedar are very different in aesthetic, even if they are similar in other properties. Both are remarkably resistant to rot and insects, so are suitable for outdoor applications. The natural oils that make it desirable outdoors, also make it unsuitable around the kitchen as it can be an irritant if exposed to skin for a long time. Western Red Cedar is the classic timber that we desire, European Cedar on the other hand does not have the warm red coloration and is very knotty. One thing to note, is that while Cedar is easy to come across in the USA, it is harder to source in Europe.

Cost – $ in USA, ££££ in Europe
Common Uses – Cabinet making, boat building, carvings, outdoor furniture, house cladding
Hardness – 1 out of 5 (soft)
Finishing – Finishes well, but oil finishes take better
Sustainability – Varies depending on species; from no threat to endangered

Redwood, Douglas Fir & Spruce

I have grouped these together, not because they are similar, but because I wouldn’t consider them as strong contenders for a woodworking. Or rather, there is nearly always a superior alternative. For construction or other purposes, these maybe a contender.

Hardwoods for Woodworking

Hardwoods come from trees that don’t produce needles or cones. These tend to be broad leaf deciduous trees such as oak, walnut, beech, maple, though not always, as bamboo and palm are also considered hardwoods. In general, however, hardwoods are slower growing and bigger trees than softwood trees. Hardwoods are stronger and more durable due to being denser in structure. Hardwoods come in a vast range of grains, colors, and strengths.


Ash is a pale wood with straight unfeatured grain. It’s one of the harder wood species that is still simple and enjoyable to work with and easy to stain. It is very close to oak in terms of strength and characteristics of durability and flex. It can be hard to find in stores, this is due to its relative unpopularity rather than any scarcity. We feel its unpopularity is a little unfair and when finished well can be a beautiful wood.

Olive Ash timber is a term used to describe the dark brown to black heartwood that is sometimes found in ash trees. It is not a separate species, but rather a variation of European ash (Fraxinus excelsior). Olive ash timber has a marbled appearance that resembles olive wood, and it is highly valued for its aesthetic appeal and durability. Olive ash timber is suitable for veneer, turning, furniture, and decorative items.

Cost – $ in USA, ££ in Europe
Common Uses – Furniture, panelling, hand tools, flooring
Hardness – 4 out of 5 (hard)
Finishing – Finishes well
Comes From – UK, Europe, North America
Sustainability – No threat


Beech timber has a pale colour, a fine and uniform grain, and a high density. Beech is also valued for its strength, durability. It is great to work with and takes glue and finishes well. Although it does have a large amount of movement during use, so this should be accounted for. It is also a great wood for steam-bending.

Cost – $ in USA, ££ in Europe
Common Uses – Furniture, desks, kitchen worktops, tools, flooring
Hardness – 4 out of 5 (hard)
Finishing – Finishes well
Comes From – Europe, North America
Sustainability – No threat


Birch comes in yellow and white varieties. The white variety has a similar color to maple, whereas the yellow variety looks like varnish which has yellowed with age. Birch is a very stable and robust timber that is nice to work with.

Cost – $ in USA, ££ in Europe
Common Uses – Furniture, toys, plywood, interior doors
Hardness – 4 out of 5 (hard)
Finishing – Can be difficult to stain because the wood gets blotchy. You’re better off painting
Comes From – UK, Europe, North America
Sustainability – No threat


A popular timber that comes from the Cherry fruit trees. A rich color with smooth grain. Hardness is similar to Mahogany, and it is easy to work with. Can be steamed easily.

Cost – $$ in USA, ££££ in Europe
Common Uses – Furniture, decorative work, cabinetry, flooring, veneer, musical instruments
Hardness – 2 out of 5 (medium)
Finishing – Light and natural finishes work best, but well take any finish
Comes From – UK, Europe, North America
Sustainability – No threat


Elm timber has a distinctive grain pattern, a medium to dark brown colour, and a high durability. Burls of English Elm are frequently referred to as Carpathian Elm burl. However, elm timber can be difficult to work with, because of interlocked grain, especially on quartersawn surfaces. It tends to bind on saws, pick up on planers, and crack easily. Responds well to steam bending, and holds nails and screws well. Can have a strong unpleasant smell when green, though has very little odor once dried.

Cost – $$$ in USA, £££ in Europe
Common Uses – Furniture, flooring, veneer, and turning
Hardness – 2 out of 5 (medium)
Finishing – Finishes well
Comes From – UK, Europe, North America
Sustainability – Some threat due to Dutch Elm Disease


Mahogany was once a popular wood, though now less in fashion. This is partly due to a change in tastes and partly since it is not grown in a sustainable way, hence, is at risk of extinction. Reddish-brown tint, straight and unfeatured grain that will darken with age. Due to being listed as vulnerable, it is now recommended that you seek alternatives to this once common species of timber.

Meranti and Sapele are widely regarded at alternatives to Mahogany. Having similar density and grain structure. Unfortunately they are equally or more endangered, so not recommended.

Cost $ in USA, ££££ in Europe
Common Uses – Furniture, joinery, plywood, musical instruments, exterior doors
Hardness – 2 out of 5 (medium)
Finishing – Finishes well, looks great with just a coat of oil
Comes From – West Africa, Brazil
Sustainability – Vulnerable – at risk of extinction in the wild


Oak is a popular wood and on-trend species, though few people are aware that there are around 600 different varieties that can look very different from each other. If you are purchasing Oak, it is important to know which variety you are getting. The most popular species are English Oak/European Oak, White American Oak, and Red American Oak. European Oak has yellowish-brown heartwood with lighter sapwood and straight grain, it is a more consistent wood than its American cousins. White American Oak ranges for yellow brown to mid-brown heartwood with almost white sapwood. You should expect a distinct difference. Red American Oak is similar, though with a reddish tinge (that personally we aren’t a fan of).

Oak, regardless of species is very strong, heavy, easy to work with and durable. It is also naturally resistant to fungal attacks, making it suitable for outdoor use with the right sealing.

Cost – $ in USA, £££ in Europe
Common Uses – Furniture, panelling, flooring, joinery, outdoor furniture
Hardness – 4 out of 5 (hard)
Finishing – Finishes well, hardwax oil is a great option to bring out the grain in a natural way
Comes From – UK, Europe, North America
Sustainability – No threat

Poplar (aka Tulipwood)

Poplar, also known as Tulipwood in some timber yards is white with green or brown streaks in the heartwood. It isn’t regarded as the nicest looking timber, so tends to be used when out of sight or when it will be painted. It is however a great choice of woodworking where aesthetics isn’t important. It is a softer wood, so easy to work with and kind on tools, though will dent easily. It is inexpensive and stable.

Cost – $ in USA, ££ in Europe
Common Uses – Matches, crafts, painted furniture
Hardness – 1 out of 5 (soft)
Finishing – Finishes well
Comes From – UK, Europe
Sustainability – No threat


Rosewood is a deep purplish brown to golden with darker streaks. When dried properly it is a durable and tough wood. Though it can have chalky deposits which can dull tools and present problems when finishing. There is a lot of illegal logging and smuggling of Rosewood so it might be best to avoid.

Cost – $ in USA, ££££ in Europe
Common Uses – Furniture, musical instruments, veneer
Hardness – 5 out of 5 (very hard)
Finishing – Finishes well but required initial sealing coats
Comes From – Africa, South America, India
Sustainability – Varies depending on species; from no threat to endangered



A personal favorite and increasingly popular across the US and Europe. The grain can be wonderfully featured with a gentle flowing grain that varies from light brown to golden, with darker streaks throughout. The wood is stable, shock resistant and strong. Although it is higher on the hardness scale, it is not difficult to work with.

Cost – $$ in USA, ££££ in Europe
Common Uses – Furniture, joinery, veneers, tables, musical instruments
Hardness – 4 out of 5 (hard)
Finishing – Finishes well, hardwax oil recommended
Comes From – Europe, North America, Africa
Sustainability – No threat (European, North America), Vulnerable (African)

Janka Wood Hardness Scale

A universal and widely used wood hardness scale. The Janka Scale measures the amount of force required to press a 0.444” (11.28mm) steel ball into the wood by half its diameter. A very good way to compare timber and predict its ability to withstand wear and tear.

To give a little perspective, anything rated above 1000 lbf (4,448N) is suitable for flooring.

Young’s Modulus measures the elasticity of a material, and it is defined as the ratio of stress to strain. A low Young’s modulus value means the material is elastic. A high Young’s modulus value means it is inelastic or stiff. These measurements are taken at 12% moisture content.

Wood SpeciesHardness (lbf)Hardness (N)Young's Modulus (MPa)
Australian Buloke5060225000
Brazilian Walnut - Lapacho -Ipê3684164000
African Pearwood - Moabi3680164000
Bolivian Cherry3650162000
Brazilian Teak - Cumaru3540157000
Strand Woven Bamboo3000133000
Red Mahogany - Turpentine2697120000
Live Oak2680119000
Southern Chestnut2670119000
Ease Indian Rosewood2440109000
Brazilian Cherry - Jatoba2350105000
Golden Teak2330104000
Santos Mahogany - Bocite220098000
Tigerwood - Goncalo Alves185082000
Hickory and Pecan1820810014900
African Padauk172577000
Black Locust170076000
Red Pine1630730011200
True Pine157070000
Sweet Birch147065000
Hard Maple - Sugar Maple1450640012600
Natural Bamboo138061000
Australian Cypress137561000
White Oak1360600012300
Ash (White)1320590012000
American Beech1300580011900
Red Oak (Northen)1290570012500
Caribbean Heart Pine128057000
Yellow Birch - Iroko1260560013900
Yellow Heart Pine122554000
Carbonized Bamboo118052000
English Oak112050000
Albizia/Albizzia - Silk Wood102045350
Black Walnut - North American Walnut1010450011600
European Oak101045000
European Ash99444000
Black Cherry - Imbuia950420010300
Red Maple95042000
Paper Birch91040000
Eastern Red Cedar90040007700
American Red Elm86038009200
Mahogany - Honduran Mahogany80036000
Douglas Fir660290010300
Poplar - Tulipwood54024009650