Wooden furniture has long been a staple in homes and businesses for a reason. It’s sturdy, solid, and can last for centuries: thisbed frame is over 400 years old and has been used by 15 generations of the same family!
Although there have been several manufacturing breakthroughs, mankind has yet to find anything as versatile for making furniture as wood: unlike many materials, it can be easily refinished to look as good as new, delivering excellent value for money.
While finish and style are also important, knowing the best types of wood for furniture can make the difference between a piece that’s soon discarded and one that becomes an heirloom. In this blog, the team atRed Label Abrasives provides some tips for selecting the right wood for your furniture projects.
Qualities To Consider When Selecting Wood
Wood isn’t that great for furniture if it can’t easily be machined, nailed, or glued. Workability is a measure of how easy the wood is to work with. Wood with a high resin content tends to be less workable, because the resin fibers often clog tools. Wood with irregular grain patterns can also be difficult to work with.
The more permeable a wood is, the quicker it will absorb moisture and decay. You’ll want to use wood with lower water permeability, especially for outdoor wood furniture.
Fire hazards exist throughout many different parts of the home. You’ll want more fire resistant wood for furniture designed to be near fire hazards (outdoor chairs for a fire pit for instance). As a general rule, denser wood often has a higher fire resistance.
Harder wood increases the durability of furniture. TheJanka hardness rating system is a universal system used to rate the hardness of wood. The scale ranges from 0 (softest) to 4,000 lbs (hardest). Brazilian Walnut is one of the hardest woods with a Janka score of 3,684 lbs.
Elasticity refers to the amount of deformation that occurs when force is applied to the wood. The level of elasticity you want in your wood will depend on what the wood is being used for.
The orientation and arrangement of fibers in the wood can influence many qualities of the wood. You want wood with straight, compact, and firm fibers. Wood with this fiber composition is stronger than wood with twisted fibers.
You want to produce furniture that lasts a lifetime and that means using wood that is durable. There are four different categories with regards to wood durability: termite resistance, beetle resistance, marine organism resistance, and fungi resistance. A grading system is used to classify the durability of wood based on the different categories of environmental factors. Below is a table of the different categories with their grades and meanings.
Marine Organism Resistance
The colors of wood will vary depending on the type of wood. Generally speaking, a darker color wood usually indicates more strength. It’s also important to consider color as an aspect of style. You’ll want the wood you choose to match the overall style of furniture you’re looking to produce.
The overall appearance of the wood extends beyond just the color. There is a general grading system used in the United States based on the consistency of the wood and any visible blemishes or defects. There are three designations for lumber: finish, select, and common. The different designations have different grading systems. Below are the grading systems for the select and common designations of lumber.
Contains small knots, but the knots are tight and unlikely to fall out
Still contains tight knots, but the knots are larger in size than number 1 common lumber
Contains pin knots or other small blemishes
Contains small knots, but one side of the lumber may not have any visible defects
Contains a few small visible defects
Does not have any visible defects, knots, splits, or blemishes
Weight is also a factor in wood selection. The heavier the wood is, the harder the furniture will be to pick up and move. Furniture designed to be rearranged like modular furniture will need to be produced with wood that doesn’t drastically weigh the furniture piece down.
Hardwood vs. Softwood
While hardwood is typically harder and denser than softwood, it's a common misconception that hardwood is always harder and denser than softwood. The distinction between the two types of wood is that hardwoods are derived from flowering trees while softwoods are from conifers. Hardwoods and softwoods can both be used to make furniture.
Derived from angiosperm, deciduous trees
Derived from coniferous, evergreen trees
Rough wood texture
Fine wood texture
5-10% tracheid content
90-95% tracheid content
Typically less dense
Not every type of hardwood is ideal for furniture making
Almost every type of softwood works well for furniture making
Expensive and reserved for high-end furniture
More affordable and widely used for furniture
Hardwoods Used For Furniture Making
Hardwood is produced by maple, oak, and other flowering trees. Because these trees grow more slowly, their wood fibers are denser. Some, likeBlack Ironwood, are so thick and hard that they can’t float in water.
Because hardwood grows more slowly, it is generally more expensive than softwood. However, it’s worth the investment when you’re making furniture because it has a close grain, is less likely to deteriorate, and requires little maintenance. This is one of the reasons why hardwood is commonly used for wood flooring.
Cherry wood is a popular choice for furniture makers because of its rich color, smooth grain, and flexibility. In addition, it can be steamed easily, making it ideal for curved designs like elaborate chair backs and banisters. Cherry wood is a pinkish brown when first cut, but darkens to a medium shade over time. With its closed, straight grain, it’s the wood of choice for fine furniture and cabinetry. Natural finishes are recommended.
Mahogany wood, which is moderately heavy, is prized for its durability, beauty, and color, which darkens over time. It is therefore a popular choice for furniture, especially in upscale environments. When processing it, you’ll want to use a sanding sealer as a finish to preserve the deep, rich appearance.
Maple wood is durable, sturdy, and resistant to splitting. Cleaning is easy with a damp cloth, so it is ideal for kitchen furniture. Heartwood tends to be a darker shade of reddish brown while sapwood ranges in color from nearly white to cream. Golden or reddish hues may also be present. You can use practically any kind of finish on maple woods.
Walnut is one of the most popular choices for furniture wood in North America, mainly due to its rich color and excellent stability. It’s got a medium texture, is daily lightweight, and ranges in appearance from nearly white to deep chocolate brown. The recommended finish is an oil-based polyurethane.
Of all the natural woods, teak is one of the most durable, which is why it’s expensive and difficult to find. Due to its resistance to rot, sunlight, snow, and other contaminants, it can be used to build and furnish outdoor spaces. It’s heavy, strong, and has a golden brown color that darkens with age. For best results, use wood lacquer to finish it.
Seed-bearing evergreen trees like pine, spruce, fir, cedar, and redwood produce softwood. It is non-porous, which allows it to absorb adhesives more quickly and create a better finish. Softwood’s loose grain, lighter color, and versatility make it suitable for a wide variety of applications, including paper, cardboard, and wall cladding. It’s also one of the best types of wood for furniture given its fine and lightweight composition.
Pitch pine trees, which are native to eastern North America, are massive, with trunks reaching up to three feet in diameter. As far as softwoods go, it is one of the best types of wood for furniture due to its high resin content, which makes it decay-resistant. The reddish brown wood also resists damage due to fire or abrasion. Although it accepts most finishes, you’ll want to seal it with oil-or water-based polyurethane.
White spruce is remarkably easy to work with because you can turn, plane, and mold it easily. However, its decay resistance is comparatively low, so you won’t want to use it for outdoor furniture. Spruce has a moderately hard density and a color that ranges from creamy white to reddish brown. A gel toner or stain is recommended when you’re using a sanding sealer.
Red cedar is popular in furniture making due to its deep aroma and malleability in shaping. Its nail and screw holding properties are moderate, but furniture that is well cared for can last for years thanks to cedar’s strong resistance to insect attacks and decay. If you use it to build outdoor furniture like picnic tables and deck chairs, apply an oil finish.
Fir trees, which hail from mountain regions, yield wood that is strong, elastic, and stable. Color ranges from yellow to dark red, depending on whether you’re working with sapwood or hardwood. Furniture made from fir wood takes well to most finishes, but it has a high sap content, so you may want to consider applying a coat of paint.
Larch wood exhibits poor to moderate resistance to fungus. It is, however, very durable, highly resistant to rot, and resistant to pests because of its natural resins. Knots are common, but are usually small. When you make furniture from larch, seal it before finishing in order to prevent any bleed-through.
The Best Wood Needs the Best Abrasives
Wood of almost any type can be used to make furniture. While the wood types listed in this article are widely praised by furniture manufacturers, the right one for your projects is a personal decision. There are several factors to consider, including the cost, durability, wood color, what you want to build, etc. The important thing to remember is that the quality of the wood is only one aspect that determines the quality of your furniture. The tools you use can make a huge difference in the quality of your finished product.
Red Label Abrasives is an industry-leading manufacturer of abrasives designed for furniture manufacturing. We sell sanding belts,sanding discs,sanding rolls, andsanding sheets and pads designed to work on hardwoods and softwoods alike. Furniture manufacturers have relied on us for more than 35 years to custom-manufacture high-quality, long-lasting abrasives at affordable prices. If you would like more information on our products or place an order, please fill out ourcontact form or call 844-824-1956.
David Kranker is a writer and creative maker who has been covering the abrasive and knife-making industries on the Red Label Abrasives Blog since 2020. David spends his time continually researching sanding and bladesmithing to provide readers with the latest and greatest information. In his free time, David utilizes abrasives for many different home and auto projects at his home in Delton, MI.