Know Your Wood Well

Lost when it comes to wooden furniture? Can not make out ebony from teak? Mahogany and maple look the same to you? Do not know what wood to use for what piece furniture?

Fret not. Even if you can not decide between Oak Furniture and Mahogany Furniture, here's a ready guide to make you an expert at recognizing different woods, decide their finishes and know what they are best suited for. So now you can go ahead and buy your hickory coffee table set or the Amish Furniture Set you've been eyeing with complete confidence.

The woods that are used for furniture making fall into three categories: Hardwoods, Softwoods and Composites.

Even the term 'hardwood' or 'softwood' is deceptive. Hardwoods are not unnecessarily harder, denser material. Softwood trees are evergreen trees while the hardwoods are obtained from deciduous trees.
Hardwoods are considered the highest quality and are the most expensive. Hardwood furniture is least likely to warp or bend. Softwoods are less expensive than hardwoods, but they require extra care and are less durable. Composites are manufactured and not grown and are the cheapest form of wood. Provided it's affordable, you should always go for hardwood furniture. Here we will look at the properties of some of the common hardwoods:


Strength: Very strong. Not likely to split.

Color: White to light brown.

Texture: Straight grain and medium to coarse texture.

Uses: Secondary pieces in connection with Oak such as bentwood furniture, frames and veneers.


Strength: Very strong.

Reddish brown with dark brown specks, slightly paler than that of birch.

Texture: Straight grain and coarse texture.

Uses: Bentwood furniture, framework of chairs, tables, and bedssteads, furniture joints etc.


Strength: Very strong.

Color: Pale yellowish brown color.

Texture: Fine grain and even texture. Works and finishes well.

Uses: It is used in the better types of low-priced furniture.

If polished or varnished, it looks like satinwood, but is darker, and by staining can be made to resemble Honduras mahogany.


Strength: Fairly strong. It is light, elastic and very durable.

Color: Gray to white. Looks like white oak.

Texture: Coarse grains and texture.

Uses: Large-scale infestation has depleted the availability.


Strength: Heavy and strong. High decay resistance but is brittle.

Color: Deep black color.

Texture: Straight or wavy grain with a fine even texture.

Uses: Luxury furniture, carving, musical instrument parts, primary pieces and inlay.
It is very expensive so Pear and other woods dyed black are often replaced for it.


Strength: Very strong. Easy to work.

Color: Reddish brown to dark red.

Texture: Interlocked or straight grain, often with a ribbon figure, and a moderately coarse texture.

Excellent finishing qualities.

Uses: Tables, chairs, carved pieces, cabinetry, high class joinery, interior trim, boat building, vehicle bodies, paneling, plywood, and decorative veneers.

As its value is so great, it is generally veneered on to some less valuable wood. The heaviest mahogany is generally the best.


Strength: Very strong and hard. Difficult to work with. High resistance to abrasion, indentation, and shock.

Color: White to reddish yellow.

Texture: Straight or bird's-eye grain and fine texture.

Uses: Furniture, flooring, cutting surfaces, cabinets, decorative woodwork, musical instruments, bowling pins and utensils


Strength: Heavy and strong.

Color: White to light brown.

Texture: Straight grain and medium to coarse texture. Finishes well.

Uses: Primary pieces which are not carved, joinery, turning and veneer.


Strength: Very strong and hard.

Color: Dark, with some curl. Purple to black.

Texture: Straight grain, medium texture and streaked figure.

Uses: Furniture, cabinetry, paneling, mathematical instruments, brush backs, inlay, sculpture, boat construction, hammer heads, and decorative flooring.


Strength: Very hard and strong.

Color: Orange to golden brown.

Texture: Striped or interlocked grain and fine texture. Finishes well.

Uses: Furniture, cabinets, inlay, joinery and turning.


Strength: Strong and durable. Less inclined to warp.

Color: Dark brown to purple and black.

Texture: Straight grain and medium to coarse texture.

Uses: Primary pieces, tables, chairs, cabinets, drawers, joinery, turning and veneer.


Strength: Very strong. Easily carved and finished.

Color: Yellow to light brown.

Texture: Straight grain and even texture.

Uses: Turnery and primary pieces.

Strength: Strong and hard. Easy to work.
Color: Red brown to red.
Texture: Straight grain and fine texture.
Uses: Primary pieces and turnery.


Strength: Very strong.

Color: Light reddish brown.

Texture: Straight or interlocked grain and coarse texture.

Uses: Furniture frames and secondary pieces.


Strength: Very hard and strong. Difficult to work with.

Color: Sapwood is yellow white and heartwood is red brown.

Texture: Straight to wavy grain and coarse texture. Average finishing.

Uses: Bentwood furniture and rustic furniture.


Strength: Moderately strong. Low stiffness and shock resistance. Moderate bending strength.

Color: Yellow brown to dark brown.

Texture: Straight to wavy grain with coarse, uneven texture and rich figuring.

Uses: Indoor or outdoor furniture, joinery, turning, and veneer.

Yellow Poplar

Strength: Soft and light. Easy to work and finish.

Color: Sapwood is white, heartwood is greenish brown.

Texture: Straight grain and fine texture.

Uses: Carved members, joinery and smaller pieces.