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Project Wood for crafts and furniture

Wood is a fantastic resource, the uniqueness of every board presents its own characteristics when finished. When buying project wood there are several choices that a wood worker faces.



Lumber is available in 2 main categories, hardwood and softwood. Quite simply, hardwood is harvested from any deciduous (leaf bearing) tree. While softwood is from coniferous or needle producing trees. However a wood worker also needs to decide if an engineered wood product like plywood is better suited for the job.

We will demystify the these 3 classifications by taking a close look at the 3 main choices a wood worker has to face when buying project wood.


Hardwood Lumber

Looking at hardwoods first, it is important to remember that these classifications really have no bearing on the true hardness of the wood, not all hardwoods are "hard". Species like poplar are much softer then pine even though poplar is classified as a hardwood.

Some of the more common domestic hardwoods include, oak, maple, birch and poplar although your choices certainly aren't limited to these four. For exotic species there are too many to list but teak, mahogany, rose wood and purple heart are just a few.


Softwood Lumber

Softwoods on the other hand include species like spruce, fir, pine and cedar and are often cheaper to buy then hardwoods. This is mainly because softwood trees grow taller and straighter than hardwood trees. This yields more lumber per log. Along with the fact that most softwood is harvested domestically it is the project wood of choice for most outdoor projects and for many indoor ones as well.

How do you choose project wood?

There are a number of factors that need to be considered when deciding which wood to use for what project. There are no set rules stating what wood to use for an indoor or outdoor project. Basically the characteristics of the species will determine whether or not it will stand up to the punishing conditions of the outdoors or if it better used indoors.

Both hardwood and softwood can be used for both indoor and outdoor applications but some are more resistant to UV and moisture then others. These are the ones that should be chosen when being used outside.

These particular species have natural oils and resins that fill the cells of the wood and provide, in some cases, very good protection against rot and insects. Species like cedar for example last for decades in direct contact with the ground while spruce would be rotten in under 5 years.

Of course cedar is a softwood and is used a lot throughout the furniture and house construction industry. However, some hardwoods also have very good resistance to rot and insects. Species like teak and mahogany are used a lot in the tropics for boat construction, but since the cost of these exotic hardwood species is so much in North America we tend to use softwood in the outdoor applications.

Another important factor is whether or not you want you intend to use a clear finish or paint to protect your project. Cedar needs to be sealed to prevent oils from leaching through the paint. Some species of hardwood like poplar and birch are great for accepting paint but have a tendency to blotch when stain is applied.

What about plywood?

PlywoodPlywood developed in the late 1950's when manufacturers started spinning a thin veneer from logs and laminating it into sheet comprised of multiple layers of veneer. The layers are alternating in grain direction which make plywood very stable.

Birch plywood is often used for cabinets and drawer frames since it is so reliably stable. It takes a half blind dovetail well and is available in 1/8" to 3/4" thickness.

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