Hardwoods are more durable than soft woods and typically more expensive. Colors range widely among woods -- even those of the same type -- and various woods can be stained or bleached to alter their original color.
Among all the hardwoods, cherry, maple, mahogany, oak, teak, and walnut are prized for quality furniture. However, cherry and maple are considered more difficult to craft than the other widely used hardwoods.
Hardwood choices are generally a matter of appearance, furniture style, budget, and personal preference. Listed below are the properties of various hardwoods.
Birch: Light tan to almost white. Good resistance to shrinking, swelling, and warping. Takes stains well and is often stained to resemble mahogany, walnut, or cherry. Hard to work with for intricate details; it is commonly used in furniture with simple lines, including some contemporary styles.
Cherry: Reddish-brown. Good resistance to shrinking, swelling, and warping; dyes well. Easy to detail for decorative carving.
See more wood types below.
Ebony: Brown to near black. Often stained black, emphasizing its distinct grain pattern. Very strong but rare. Used mostly in inlays.
Mahogany: Reddish-brown to red. Good resistance to shrinking and warping. Softer hardwood, easy to detail for carving. Takes rich, dark stains.
Maple: Light beige to tan. Good resistance to shrinking, warping, and wear. Very hard. Difficult to detail; sometimes dyed.
Oak: Light pinkish-brown. Good resistance to shrinking and warping. Takes stains evenly, generally available, carves well for detailing.
Poplar: Light tan often with pink- and green-tinted streaks. One of the weaker hardwoods, but has the same shrinkage rating as teak. Easy to work with; best for interior furniture parts.
Rosewood: Deep red with black graining. Good resistance to shrinking, swelling, warping, and wear. Easy to work with. Quite rare and expensive. Often used as a veneer.
Teak: Often used outdoors; extractions, such as silica, make it resistant to rotting. Also used for indoor furniture.
Walnut: Dark grayish-brown. Often stained darker. Good resistance to swelling and warping. Takes stains evenly and carves well.
Tip: Don't pay for vintage mahogany when you get Philippine mahogany. This inferior wood isn't as durable and may shrink or warp. Stained hardwoods, such as birch, are frugal alternatives to expensive mahogany.
Continued on page 2: Soft Woods