Choosing a suitable wood species is an essential part of any woodworking project. Different wood species have unique characteristics that can affect their durability, appearance, workability, and overall performance.
What to consider
Whether you are building furniture, installing wood flooring, or creating decorative accents, understanding the various factors influencing your wood species' performance can help you choose the right one for your project. Here are some areas to consider when choosing a wood species.
Janka Hardness Rating
The 'Janka Hardness Rating' measures a wood species' resistance to indentation and wear. A higher Janka rating indicates a harder and more dent-resistant wood species. For example, oak has a Janka rating of 1290, making it a more dent and scratch-resistang wood. In contrast, pine has a Janka rating of 690, making it less dent and scratch resistant than hardwoods like oak.
The porosity of a wood species refect to the ease of liquids, or moisture to absorb. A wood species with high porosity absorbs liquids more readily than one with lower porosity. High porosity wood species stain and finish easier, while low-porosity wood is more challenging to get colour/pigments to penetrate.
Wood species varies in colour, grain pattern, and texture. Some wood species, such as cherry and walnut, have distinctive colours and grain patters, which makes them more desirable for decorative accents. Others, such as maple and oak, have a more uniform texture and subtle grain pattern that can work well for flooring and furniture.
Some wood species are easier to work with than others. Softwood species such as pine are easy to cut, while harder wood species such as hickory or black locust require specialized tools and techniques. In addition, some hardwood species may require pre-dirlling to avoid splitting or may be prone to warping or cracking.
Top 10 wood species
Now that we've covered the areas to consider when choosing a wood species, let's examine the top 10 wood species and their standout characteristics.
A hardwood known for its strength, durability, and higher Janka hardness rating of 1290 - 1360. Oak is a medium-porous wood, making it suitable for stains and finishes.
Strength, durability, and high Janka rating: Oak is known for its robustness, making it suitable for high-traffic areas and areas prone to wear and tear.
Readily available: Oak is a commonly found hardwood, making it easily accessible for various project.
Relatively affordable: Compared to some other hardwood options, oak is relatively affordable, providing a good balance between quality and cost.
Suitable for staining and finishing: Oak's medium-porous nature allows for effective staining and finishing, providing flexibility in achieving desired colours and finishes.
May be difficult to work with: Oak can be challenging to work with due to its density and hardness, requiring sharp tools and potentially more effort during installation.
May require pre-drilling: Due to its density, oak may require pre-drilling for nails and screws to prevent splitting or cracking.
Tendency to yellow slightly over time: Over an extended period, oak wood may naturally yellow slightly, which could affect its appearance. Regular maintenance and finishing may be necessary to mitigate this.
A dense, hard, and heavy wood with a uniform texture and subtle grain pattern. Its high Janka rating of 1450 makes it extremely durable. Maple is a low-porous wood, which means that it requires more effort to stain and finish properly.
Density, hardness and high Janka rating: Maple's density and hardness contributes to its exceptional durability, making it suitable for areas with high foot traffic and potential impact.
Uniform texture and subtle grain pattern: Maple's consistent texture and subtle grain pattern provides a sleek and modern look.
Highly durable: Maple's high Janka rating ensures that it can withstand heavy use and resist scratches and dents.
Low-porous wood: Maple, being low-porous, poses staining and finishing challenges compared to other woods. Its tight, uneven grain can result in blotchy colour absorption even with water popping after sanding. Expertise and efforts are needed to achieve desired results.
Limited natural colour options: Maple's colour tends to be light, which may not suit everyone's design preferences. Staining is often necessary to achieve darker shades or match specific colour schemes.
A hardwood known for its rich, dark colour and gorgeous swirling grain patterns in the burl section. Its lower Janka rating of 1010 makes it a moderately hard wood. It is prone to denting in high traffic areas. Walnut is a medium-porous wood, making it suitable for staining and finishing.
Rich, dark colour and beautiful grain patterns: Walnut's distinctive colour and swirling grain patters, particularly in burn sections creates a luxurious and elegant appearance.
Moderately hard and durable: Despite having a lower Janka hardness rating compared to some other hardwoods, walnut is still reasonably durable and can withstand regular use.
Suitable for staining and finishing: Walnut's medium-porous nature allows for effective staining and finishing, enhancing its natural beauty.
Prone to denting in high traffic areas: Walnut's moderate hardness makes it more susceptible to dents and scratches, especially in areas with heavy foot traffic.
Higher cost: Walnut is generally more expensive compared to other hardwood options, which can be a drawback for those on a tighter budget.
Fade potential: Over time, prolonged exposure to light can cause the colour of walnut to fade slightly.
A hardwood with warm, reddish-brown colour and a fine, straight grain. It's medium Janka rating of 995 makes it softer than some other hardwoods, but still durable. Cherry is a medium-porous wood, making it suitable for staining and finishing.
Warm, reddish-brown colour and fine, straight grain: Cherry's distinct colour and attractive grain patterns add warmth and character to any space.
Moderate Janka rating: Although softer than some hardwoods, cherry still offers good durability and can withstand regular use.
Medium-porous wood suitable for staining and finishing: Cherry's medium-porous nature allows for effective staining and finishing, providing versatility in achieving desired colours and finishes.
Softer compared to other hardwoods: Cherry's medium Janka rating means it is more prone to dents and scratches, requiring extra care and maintenance in high traffic areas.
Colour darkening over time: Cherry wood tends to darken and develop a richer patina over time, which may or may not align with the desired aesthetic.
A softwood that is known for its light colour and knotty appearance. Its low Janka rating of 690 makes it softer and less durable than hardwoods. Pine is a high-porous wood, which means it absorbs stain and finishes more easily.
Light colour and rustic appearance: Pine's light colour and knotty appearance contributes to a rustic and charming aesthetic.
Low cost: Pine is generally more affordable compared to hardwoods, making it a budget-friendly option for various project.
High-porous wood: Pine's high-porous nature allows it to absorb stains and finishes more easily, providing options for customization. The hardwood is pronounced on some pine and can result in reduced pigment absorption, which may or may not align with the desired look.
Softwood and low Janka rating: Pine is softer and less durable compared to hardwoods, making it more susceptible to dents, scratcher and wear in high traffic areas.
Knotty appearance may not suit all design preference: While the knotty appearance of pine adds character, it may not align with everyone's design preferences or desired aesthetic.
The uneven density of Pine may cause a blotchy appearance on certain Pine species.
A hardwood known for its rich, reddish-brown colour and fine, straight grain. Its Janka rating of 800-900 makes it durable and strong. Mahogany is a medium-porous wood, making it suitable for staining and finishing.
Rich, reddish-brown colour and fine, straight grain: Mahogany's colour and grain patterns provide a classic and timeless look, adding elegance to any space.
Durable and strong: With a respectable Janka rating, mahogany offers good durability and can withstand regular use.
Medium-porous wood suitable for staining and finishing: Mahogany's even, medium-porous nature makes it suitable for effective staining and finishing, allowing for customization and desired finishes.
Moderate Janka rating: While mahogany is durable, it may not be as hard as some other hardwoods, making it slightly more susceptible to dents and scratches in high traffic areas.
Higher cost: Mahogany is generally more expensive compared to other wood species, which can be a limiting factor for budget-concsious individuals.
A hardwood known for its durability and resistance to moisture and insects, teak also stands out for its natural oiliness. This high oil content contributes to its exceptional weather resistance and makes it highly sought after for outdoor furnity and marine applications. Teak's warm, golden colour and unique grain pattern further enhances its aesthetic appeal. With a Janka rating of 11550, teak is remarkable durable. Despite being a medium-porous wood, it is relatively easy to stain and finish after you use a solvent to remove the oils from the surface, allowing for greater versatility in achieving desired results.
Durability and resistance to moisture and insects: Teak's natural properties make it highly resistant to moisture, rot and insect damage, making it an excellent choice for outdoor applications and humid environments.
Warm, golden colour and unique grain pattern: Teak's distinctive colour and grain pattern adds warmth and character to any space.
Extremely durable with a high Janka rating: Teak's high Janka rating ensures exceptional durability, making it suitable for areas with heavy use and potential impact.
Higher cost: Teak is know for its quality and durability, but this often comes with a higher price tag compared to other wood options.
Medium-porous wood: While teak is relatively easy to stain and finish, its medium-porous nature requires proper sealing to maintain its resistance to moisture and prevent discolouration or warping over time.
A hardwoof with a similar grain structure to oak but with a lighter/blonder colour. Ash is a good alternative for oak if you're on a tighter budget, its Janka rating is 1320, similar to oak. It is medium-porous with a more defined/open grain than oak and suitable for staining and finishing.
Similar grain structure to oak with a lighter/blonder colour: Ash provides a similar aesthetic to oak with its grain structure while offering a lighter colour than can brighten up a space.
Good alternative for oak on a tighter budget: Ash is often more affordable than oak, making it a viable option for those looking for a similar look but with a lower price point.
Medium-porous wood suitable for staining and finishing: Ash's medium-porous nature allows for effective staining and finishing, providing options for customization.
Medium-porous with more defined/open grain: The open grain of ash may require extra attention during installation and maintenance, as it can trap dirt and moisture more easily than wood with a tighter grain.
Lighter colour may not suit all design preferences: While the lighter/blonder colour of ash can be a pro for some, it may not align with everyone's design preferences, especially who prefer darker wood tones.
An extotic wood species that is sometimes selected for flooring and exterior decking due to its extreme durability. It has a very high Janka rating of 3510, making it one of the hardest and densest wood species available. Due to this hardness, it is challenging for wood finishes to penetrate the wood's surface.
Extreme durability: Ipe is highly sought after for flooring and exterior decking due to its exceptional durability. It can withstand heavy foot traffic, weather exposure and resist rot, decay and insects.
Very high Janka rating: With one of the highest Janka ratings among wood species, ipe is incredible hard and dense, providing long-lasting performance and resistance to impact and wear.
Exotic and unique appearance: Ipe's distinctive dark colour, tight grain, and natural luster create a visually striking and elegant look.
Difficult to work with: Ipe is extremely dense and is difficult to machine.
Challenging for wood finishes to penetrate: Due to its extreme hardness and density, ipe can be difficult for wood finishes to penetrate, requiring extra effort and expertise during the finishing process.
Higher cost: Ipe is generally more expensive compared to other wood species, mainly due to its exceptional durability and unique properties.
A softwood known for its natural resistance to decay and insects. It has a distinct aroma is often used for outdoor projects such as decking and siding.
Natural resistance to decay and insects: Cedar's natural properties make it highly resistant to rot, decay and insect damage, making it and idea choice for outdoor projects.
Distinct aroma: Cedar has a pleasant and distinct aroma, which can add to the sensory experience in outdoor spaces.
Versatile and suitable for various outdoor applications: Cedar's durability and weather resistance makes it suitable for different outdoor projects, providing versatility in design and functionality.
Softwood and low Janka rating: Cedar is a softwood, which means it is less dense and less durable compared to hardwoods. It may be susceptible to dents, scratches and wear over time.
Colour changes over time: As with all wood species, cedar's natural colour tends to fade to a silvery-gray patina over time when exposed to the elements. Some may find this natural weathering appealing, but others may prefer to maintain the origianl colour through regular maintenance and finish.
In conclusion, selecting the right wood species for your woodworking project is crucial to achieve the desired results. By considering factors such as Janka rating, porosity, appearance and workability, you can make an informed decidion that meets your project's specific requirement. Oak, maple, walnut, cherry, pine, mahogany, teak, ash, ipe and cedar are among the top wood species worth considering, each offering unique qualities and characteristics.
In the end, the best wood species for your project will depend on your priorities, budget and aesthetic preferences. Carefully considering these factors will help you make an informed choice and achieve the desired outcome for your woodworking endeavous.