Different Types of Wood & Their Uses

By John Brown •  Updated: 01/09/24 •  23 min read

Knowing about different types of wood and their uses can be a valuable asset, whether you’re a seasoned DIYer or simply looking to spruce up your home with some new furniture.

With so many tree species out there, each with its unique characteristics, choosing the right type of wood for your project can feel overwhelming. But fear not! This guide is here to help you navigate the wonderful world of wood and help you select the perfect material for your needs.

Various types of wood present distinctive attributes, from furniture crafting to outdoor construction. Assess moisture resistance, suitability for your purpose, and sustainability to select the perfect fit.


We’ll begin by exploring the three main types of wood: softwoods, hardwoods, and engineered wood. Each category has its strengths and weaknesses, making it suitable for different applications. Once you have a basic understanding of these classifications, we’ll delve into specific wood types, discussing their key features and common uses.

The Three Main Types of Wood:


Derived from conifer trees like pine, cedar, and fir, softwoods are generally lighter and easier to work with than hardwoods. However, they’re also less durable and more susceptible to rot and insect damage. Their affordability and ease of use make them popular choices for framing, interior paneling, and outdoor furniture.


As the name suggests, hardwoods are denser and sturdier than softwoods. They often boast beautiful grain patterns and are prized for their longevity and resistance to wear and tear. Common hardwood varieties include oak, maple, cherry, and walnut. However, their higher cost and difficulty to work with may make them less suitable for beginner projects.

Engineered Wood

This category encompasses a variety of man-made wood products created by combining wood fibers, adhesives, and other materials. Engineered wood offers greater strength, stability, and dimensional uniformity compared to natural wood. Plywood, MDF (Medium Density Fiberboard), and OSB (Oriented Strand Board) are some examples of commonly used engineered wood products.

Check out the comparison table below – it’s your cheat sheet to understand which wood fits your project perfectly.

Wood Type Comparison Table

Wood TypeMoisture ResistanceIdeal Use
OakModerateFurniture, flooring, construction
MapleHighFurniture, flooring, instruments
WalnutLowFurniture, carving, instruments
MahoganyModerateFurniture, boatbuilding
CherryModerateFurniture, cabinets, instruments
BirchModerateFurniture, plywood, cabinets
PineLowConstruction, framing, furniture
SpruceLowFraming, lumber, plywood
PoplarLowFurniture, cabinets, crates
CedarHighDecks, outdoor furniture, siding

Now that you’re familiar with the three main wood types and each basic wood characteristic, we can dive deeper into specific varieties and their applications. We’ve organized all the woods alphabetically, so if you’re looking for info on a specific type, it’ll be easy to find in this list.


The Versatile Beauty of the Honey-Toned Hardwood

Alder wood crafts elegant furniture and cabinets ~ Photo by firewood-for-life

Alder wood is rising in popularity, and for good reason. This stunning hardwood, hailing from parts of California and Canada’s Southwest, boasts remarkable versatility and natural beauty. Imagine freshly cut lumber with a soft, almost white hue that slowly transforms into a warm, honey brown under the sun’s caress. That’s alder!

Beyond its captivating looks, alder offers practical benefits. Its medium density and straight grain make it a dream to work with, carving, turning, and machining like a breeze. Plus, its smooth, sanded surface takes to stains and paints beautifully, allowing you to personalize your creations to your heart’s content.

While large alder pieces can be pricier due to the tree’s limited size, this versatile wood shines in countless projects. From crafting elegant furniture and cabinets to creating decorative photo frames and charming ornaments, alder adds a touch of warmth and sophistication to any space.

But this wood’s talents extend beyond mere aesthetics. Did you know that alder’s unique acoustic properties make it a prized material for electric guitars? Its sound is renowned for its clarity and cleanness, often surpassing even fancy woods like mahogany in the ears of discerning musicians.


Strength on a Budget

Finding ash wood can be a bit of a challenge these days, thanks to the pesky Emerald Ash borer. However, if you’re lucky enough to live in an area where ash trees thrive, you’re in for a treat! Similar in strength to white oak, ash wood packs a punch at a budget-friendly price. It stains beautifully and readily adapts to a variety of projects, making it a versatile choice for woodworkers of all levels.


The Underdog with Hidden Talents

Don’t let its light color fool you; aspen wood is a powerful player in the world of wood. This hardwood, native to Northeast America, might not be the easiest to find, but its unique properties make it worth the search.

Think of aspen as a champion of moisture resistance. It doesn’t conduct heat, making it the perfect choice for building saunas where you can sweat it out without worrying about warping. This remarkable characteristic also explains why aspen finds its way into matchsticks!

But Aspen’s talents extend beyond heat and moisture. Its smooth, fuzzy texture makes it a dream for drawer slides, ensuring a smooth, silent glide every time you reach for that forgotten spatula. And because it’s odorless and tasteless, aspen even finds its way into chopsticks and kitchen tools, adding a touch of natural beauty to your culinary adventures.


The Lightweight Champion of Hobbies and Crafts

Balsa wood, a surprisingly sturdy lightweight hardwood, reigns supreme in the realm of hobbies and crafts. While seasoned woodworkers might not sing its praises due to its lack of brute strength, it’s a versatile gem for countless projects.

Think back to your childhood – balsa wood was likely your first taste of the woodworking world, starring in model airplanes and countless creative endeavors. Its importance extends beyond childhood play; during World Wars I and II, balsa played a crucial role in the construction of planes and ships, showcasing its historical significance.

Hailing from South and Central America, balsa boasts an impressive growth spurt but only offers usable lumber before it reaches 10 years old. However, what it lacks in longevity, it makes up for in buoyancy. This water-loving wood finds its way into rafts, life preservers, and even surfboards, adding a touch of lightness and buoyancy to aquatic adventures.

But its talents extend beyond water. For projects that need a clean break, like stage sets in theater or film, balsa is your champion. Easily painted or stained, it adapts to any aesthetic vision. Just remember, glue is your best friend when it comes to balsa – nails and screws might leave you with more splinters than satisfaction.


The “Grass” that Thinks it’s a Hardwood

Technically a grass, bamboo stems may be hollow but are very strong. ~ Photo by Archie Binamira

While technically a fast-growing grass, bamboo possesses the hardness and density of a seasoned hardwood, making it a versatile champion in construction. Abundantly found in tropical regions, its diverse species offer a variety of qualities and applications.

Imagine towering stalks, hollow yet strong. These bamboo giants can be used whole or sliced into thin strips for stunning veneers, often gracing engineered wood like plywood. Don’t let its weightlessness fool you – bamboo rivals hardwoods like oak or maple in terms of strength, and its density can even challenge your tools.

From garden furniture and fences to exquisite flooring and fine furniture, bamboo stems lend their beauty and durability to countless creations. Its natural waxy coating makes it naturally decay-resistant, but a light sanding before staining or painting ensures proper adhesion. And for outdoor projects, a sealant will keep it looking its best for years to come. Remember, bamboo loves moisture, so allowing it to acclimate to your environment before cutting is key, especially in drier or colder climates.


The Woodcarver’s Dream

Picture a light cream-colored wood with a straight, tight grain that refuses to warp, even after drying. That’s basswood, the darling of woodcarvers and woodturners. Its ease of use and availability make it a top choice for miniature woodworking and model building, earning it a loyal following among wood crafters.

But its talents extend beyond tiny creations. Odorless and tasteless, basswood is a champion for food storage crates or even kitchen utensils. It’s budget-friendly and readily available, though staining it evenly can be a bit of a challenge. Embracing its natural beauty or painting it are often the preferred options. And for artists who love decorative painting, its smooth, primed finish is like an invitation to unleash their creativity.


The Flexible Flyer of Hardwoods

Beech, a hardwood commonly used in veneers, furniture, and wood-turned items, offers a consistent and visually striking grain pattern – typically straight with occasional hints of gray. Light in color, it often carries a warm yellow-reddish cream tone.

This beauty possesses a hidden talent – incredible flexibility under steam. This makes it the perfect choice for crafting elegantly curved furniture like chairs, though keep in mind it might experience movement or swelling in high humidity environments.

But its usefulness extends beyond furniture. Beech finds its place in the heart of pianos, specifically in the bridge and pin blocks of the mechanism. And, thanks to its affordability and available sizes and veneers, it’s a budget-friendly option for various projects. Just remember, sharp tools are your friend when working with beech, and gluing and staining are quite straightforward.

Birch Wood

The Budget-Friendly Brute

Birch, a readily available hardwood found at most lumberyards, is a champion for budget-conscious builders and creatives. Its impressive strength makes it incredibly versatile, serving a variety of purposes. It’s often seen as a cost-effective substitute for oak, offering similar robustness without breaking the bank.

However, staining birch can be a bit of a tricky dance, often resulting in uneven blotches. If your project involves paint, birch becomes an excellent and economical choice.

California Redwood

Where Giants Reign Supreme

California redwood trees are a popular softwood for outdoor building projects. ~ Photo by Vasilis Karkalas

Picture towering trees, their reddish hues painting the landscape. These are the giants of the softwood world – California Redwoods. Revered for their immense size and natural beauty, Redwoods boast remarkable weather resistance, thanks to their unique composition. Just like Cedar, Redwood thrives outdoors, making it a champion for decks, garden borders, and even intricate veneers.

From railroad ties and trestles that stood against time to elegant tables and expansive cabinetry, Redwood proves its versatility. Its warm color and inherent durability have carved a place in our hearts and homes.


The Fragrant Warrior of the Outdoors

Cedar wood isn’t just about stunning grain and color; it’s an aromatic feast for the senses. Its distinct fragrance, known to repel pests and moths, makes it a favorite for closets and chests, ensuring your precious belongings stay protected in style.

But this beauty is more than just a pretty scent. Cedar boasts exceptional resistance to rot and harsh weather, making it a warrior in the outdoor world. Decks, patio furniture, fences, and decorative siding often bear the proud mark of Cedar, showcasing its enduring nature.

However, not all Cedars are created equal. Within the Cypress family, different species excel in specific areas:

While Cedar’s fragrance is cherished by many, a friendly reminder that some individuals might be sensitive to its natural oils. Gloves and a mask are your allies when working with Cedar, especially if you have any concerns about potential irritation. For the same reason, it’s best to avoid using Cedar for kitchen utensils or projects involving prolonged skin contact.


A Timeless Journey from Pink to Red

From the American Black Cherry fruit tree emerges a wood as exquisite as its source. Cherry wood starts with a gentle blush, a light pink that gracefully matures into a deeper red over time. Sometimes, nature paints its masterpiece with dark flecks and hints of minerals adding character to its grain.

Cherry wood whispers a suggestion – match its pieces wisely. While staining is possible, many choose to embrace its natural charm, applying a clear finish to protect its inherent beauty and the intriguing patina of time.

Douglas Fir: The Sturdy Friend for Beginners

If you’re just starting your woodworking adventure, Douglas Fir is your friendly companion. This budget-friendly softwood stands tall with strength and stability, making it ideal for construction and utility projects. While its tight grain limits the visual impact, it shines in projects where painting takes center stage.


The Black Gem with a Regal Past

 Ebony is a protected species ~ Photo by Eva Bronzini

For those seeking a touch of exquisite darkness, Ebony wood beckons. This dense hardwood, recognized for its rich, truly black hue, is a treasured material in specialized woodworking and intricate carving projects.

However, a whisper of caution – Ebony is a protected species, facing strict regulations worldwide. Its slow growth and limited harvesting, primarily in Cameroon, make it a rare gem. Historically, Ebony graced musical instruments, adorning piano keys and guitar fretboards with its elegance.

In recent times, reclaiming Ebony from antique pianos has become a sustainable alternative, though not all black keys in those instruments were genuine Ebony.

Carving with Ebony is a journey for the skilled, demanding precision and hand tools. Its hardness makes carbide-tipped blades your ally. When it comes to finishing, let Ebony’s natural beauty speak for itself. Fine sanding, buffing, and waxing are enough to reveal its exquisite luster. Sealers and varnishes are best left on the shelf.

And for those seeking a similar touch without the challenges, cabinet makers have discovered sustainable alternatives. Richly stained cherry or walnut can mimic Ebony’s elegance, offering beauty and a friendlier woodworking experience.


The Versatile Champion of Engineered Wood

Forget wood knots and warped planks! Hardboard, also known as HDF (High-Density Fiberboard), is an engineered wood hero made from compressed wood fibers. Like magic, it comes in two versions – wet-processed and dry-processed, each with its own “good side” superpowers.

While its smooth surface lacks the rustic charm of visible grain, hardboard is a master of disguise. It readily welcomes a stainable wood veneer, transforming it into your desired woodsy look. But even if you choose to paint it yourself, remember, a little prep work goes a long way – skip it, and you might face some peeling later.

Chalkboards? Hardboard’s got you covered! A quick coat of flat paint, maybe a fancy frame, and voila! Instant creativity corner.

Speaking of disguises, you might know Hardboard’s secret identity – Masonite! This type of hardboard plays a starring role in theater sets, and even construction and moving companies love it for its temporary wall protection and handy floor-saving skills.

Need something extra tough? Tempered hardboard is your muscle-bound cousin. Treated with linseed oil and baked to perfection, it boasts boosted durability, moisture resistance, and strength. Think pegboards (those hole-y organizational wonders) – they’re often made of this champion material.

Sure, it might not be the first choice for your heirloom rocking chair, but hardboard shines as the economical backbone of many furniture pieces like TV stands and dresser backs. Plus, you get reliable, consistent quality without the unpredictable knots and quirks of natural wood. Talk about a dependable friend!

And one last thing – don’t confuse hardboard with Hardie Board! These sound-alike names belong to different characters in the building material world. Hardie Board refers to a brand of fiber cement board, a mix of cement and cellulose fibers with unique talents. Think tile walls, flooring, and even decking – that’s where Hardie Board shows off its stuff.


The Softwood with Hardwood Dreams

Larch wood, also known as Tamarack, is a bit of a rebel in the conifer family. This softwood with a soft spot for deciduous tendencies sheds its needles like a maple in autumn, all while holding onto its evergreen pride with needles and cones.

But don’t underestimate this gentle giant. Larch wood packs a punch when it comes to toughness. Sharing heritage with Redwoods and Cedars, it boasts a reddish-brown hue and natural defenses against decay and pests. Think outdoor projects like decks and fencing – Larch thrives where others might crumble.

Just a friendly heads-up: like other Cypress family members, Larch wood might bring out the sniffles and sneezes in some folks due to its natural oils and resins. So, take precautions – gloves, masks, and good ventilation are your allies when working with this wood.


The Bendable Beauty for Hobbyists

Ever get bitten by the crafting bug and need wood that bends to your will? Enter Luan, a thin plywood hailing from Southeast Asia. This wood whisperer, born from Shorea trees, might be labeled as “Philippine Mahogany,” but don’t let that fool you – it’s got its unique charm.

Think flexible sheets, usually 1/8th or 1/4th inch thick, often found in massive 4′ x 8′ sheets or handy pre-cut pieces. This adaptability makes Luan the champion of miniature models and crafts – it curves and shapes like a dream, perfect for bringing your creative visions to life. Plus, its lightweight, affordability, and easy availability make it the best friend of hobbyists everywhere.

Luan even finds its way into bigger furniture pieces, sometimes like a decorative sidekick to sturdier wood. It adds a touch of beauty without needing to carry the weight of the world (literally!). Just remember, this thin wonder isn’t built for heavy lifting – stick to projects where strength isn’t the main requirement.


The Regal Hardwood with Royal Roots

Mahogany is a preferred choice in crafting musical instruments like guitars and pianos due to its clean acoustic tone ~ Photo by Pixabay

Ah, mahogany – the name itself conjures images of elegant furniture and exquisite craftsmanship. This exotic hardwood, hailing from South and Central America, truly lives up to its reputation. Picture a wood that starts with a blushing pink before maturing into a rich, warm hue, gaining character with every passing year.

Mahogany is a team player – it takes stains exceptionally well, sometimes needing only a simple oil coat to reveal its inner beauty. And unlike some of its tougher hardwood cousins, it’s gentle on tools, making it a woodworking favorite. No wonder it’s the go-to choice for crafting fine musical instruments like guitars and pianos – its clean acoustic tone sings like a dream.

However, this prized gem comes with a price tag (both literally and environmentally). Its high demand has led to deforestation concerns, making sustainably sourced mahogany the ethical choice. And remember, there are different mahogany varieties out there, like the “cheap” Philippine Mahogany (which is actually Luan in disguise!) that doesn’t quite share the same royal lineage.


The Showstopper with Stunning Grain

Want wood that speaks for itself? Look no further than maple, a stunning hardwood renowned for its captivating grain patterns. This North American beauty comes in various species, but we usually encounter two types: hard or soft.

Soft maple, like the friendly Red Maple, is the woodworking enthusiast’s best friend. It’s easy on tools and a joy to shape, making it perfect for countless projects. But if you’re after the ultimate in durability, hard maple (from the Sugar Maple tree) is your champion. This tough cookie thrives in high-traffic areas like floors, standing strong against the constant pressure of footsteps and furniture without a dent or mark.


The Versatile (But Sometimes Tricky) Choice

Medium-density fiberboard, or MDF, is like a cousin to hardboard, but slightly less dense. This difference unlocks some special talents – MDF provides better sound insulation, making it a star in speaker enclosures.

However, MDF isn’t always the perfect partner in woodworking. It can be trickier to handle than other options, and concerns about potential chemical emissions (particularly formaldehyde) have cast a shadow over its reputation. While it’s good to be aware of MDF, its challenges might make it a less desirable choice for many projects.


The Timeless Legacy of Strength and Beauty

Imagine crafting furniture that lasts for generations, heirlooms whispered through time. That’s the magic of oak, a beloved hardwood prized by woodworkers for its enduring nature and stunning character.

Within the oak family, two champions reign: red and white. Red oak, a common find at lumber stores, boasts a warm reddish hue and slightly softer grain, making it a friendlier choice for building projects. White oak, on the other hand, wears its strength like a badge of honor, ideal for hardwood floors that stand the test of time.

But remember, oak loves consistency. It can expand and contract with temperature and moisture changes, so planning ahead is key for projects like flooring or wooden containers.

The good news? Oak takes stains like a dream, opening the door to countless finishes. While you can paint it, many craftsmen cherish the natural wood grain, letting its beauty shine through.

Oriented Strand Board (OSB)

The Budget-Friendly Workhorse

Need an affordable, versatile option for construction? Meet OSB, the engineered wood often seen as plywood’s sidekick. Imagine wood strands crisscrossed, bonded with resin, and pressed into sturdy boards – that’s OSB in a nutshell.

These uniform sheets, with their distinct textured surface, are budget champions. They’re popular choices for floors, walls, and roofs in new homes, and even find their way into inexpensive furniture hiding under veneers.

But here’s the catch: OSB might not be your best friend for delicate projects. It can be fragile compared to real wood, and the elements love to play havoc with it outdoors.


The Sustainable All-Rounder

Looking for a wood that balances cost, eco-friendliness, and practicality? Pine is your knight in shining armor. This widely used softwood comes from fast-growing, sustainable forests, making it a guilt-free choice.

Different pine varieties, like Southern Yellow Pine or White Pine, offer unique options. Pine is happy to be stained, painted, or simply sealed, showcasing its beauty in many ways. Just remember, unless specially treated, pine prefers to stay indoors.


The Layered Wonder

Real wood gets a makeover with plywood! This engineered marvel is made by stacking and pressing thin layers of veneer, creating smooth and textured surfaces.

Plywood comes in various thicknesses and wood finishes, making it a favorite for both construction and furniture projects. In homes, you’ll often find plywood made from fir, pine, or spruce.

Pressure-Treated Lumber

The Outdoor Guardian

Dreaming of a deck that weathers the storm? That’s where pressure-treated lumber shines. This champion, often made from Southern Pine or SPF wood, gets a superhero boost against decay and pests thanks to special chemicals. That means your outdoor structures like decks, patios, and railings can face the elements head-on.

But here’s a friendly heads-up: stick to newer pressure-treated wood from after 2005. Older versions might contain less-friendly ingredients like Arsenic. Today’s safer versions are still best for projects not involving food, though the debate continues about raised garden beds.


The Budget-Friendly Wallflower

Looking for a hardwood that won’t break the bank? Poplar’s your budget buddy! This light-colored, almost white wood with a subtle grain prefers to hang out backstage. Think of furniture parts hidden from view, like drawer slides or inner frames. Its softness makes it easy to work with, but watch out for dents – it bruises easily.

But don’t underestimate its talent! Poplar’s stability and light weight make it a craft and model-making hero, readily found in lumber stores and hobby shops.


The Musical Marvel (with Precautions)

For the Stradivarius in your soul, rosewood holds the magic. This exotic hardwood from places like Brazil and Madagascar is the star of guitars, pianos, and other musical instruments. Its rarity makes it pricey, but its stunning sound takes your breath away.

Just remember, rosewood demands respect. Its sawdust can be a skin irritant, so safety gear is mandatory when working with it.

SPF Lumber

The Team Player of the Forest

Spruce, Pine, and Fir team up under the SPF banner, offering a versatile option for indoor builders. Think wall framing and utility jobs – they’re the quiet achievers behind the scenes.

While budget-friendly at first, extensive use in detailed projects might require more prep work, making the cost creep up. SPF shines under paint, but staining can be tricky. Remember, consistency is key – choose SPF from the same batch for uniform results.


The Understated All-Rounder

Spruce, often found in the SPF mix, brings its light-colored, straight-grained charm to building frames. But when this softwood reaches maturity, its inner musician awakens. Fully grown spruce boasts superb acoustic qualities, making it a beloved choice for guitars, pianos, and other string instruments.

Fun fact: spruce even took to the skies with the Wright Brothers, being part of their history-making airplane. Now, it prefers less dramatic roles, focusing on indoor projects and musical magic.


The Durable Deck Dominator

Imagine a wood so tough it weathers storms and seasons with grace. That’s teak, an exotic hardwood grown over decades in Asian rainforests. Its slow growth makes it rare and pricey, but for boat decks and high-end outdoor furniture, its durability reigns supreme.

Just be aware, teak’s natural oils can be tricky to stain or glue, and its hardness puts blades to the test. And while you might love its earthy scent, the oils can irritate skin, so gloves and a respirator are handy partners when shaping this beauty.


The Rich & Versatile Charmer

Deep brown hues and a luxurious feel – that’s the magic of walnut, a sought-after hardwood found in specialty stores due to its higher price tag. But its strength and ease of use make it worth the splurge. While some prefer maple or oak for heavy-duty floors, walnut shines in furniture and carvings, taking stains and finishes like a dream.

What’s surprising? This elegant wood also finds its way into luxury cars and guns, thanks to its dense fibers that handle force and shock. And for music lovers, walnut gives guitars and violins a rich sound without the exorbitant cost of some exotics.


The Mystery Box of Lumber

Don’t be fooled by “whitewood” – it’s not a specific wood, but a surprise package containing pine, poplar, or fir, depending on what’s available. Big stores use this term for general-purpose lumber, making it great for finding deals like poplar or pine. But watch out – sometimes lower-quality fir sneaks in.

Think of whitewood as a mystery box in the lumber world – exciting, but requiring caution and knowledge to unlock the best value. Knowing how to identify different wood types will help you navigate this surprise category.


TheStriped Showstopper (with Cautions)

Imagine wood with stripes like a zebra! That’s Zebrawood, an exotic beauty from Central America and Africa. Its unique grain makes it a favorite for high-quality furniture, but don’t underestimate its toughness – working with it can be a challenge.

In the past, Zebrawood was a symbol of luxury, found in cars and guns. Today, it’s often used as a veneer, adding decorative touches to furniture. However, concerns about sustainable logging make it crucial to consider alternatives for eco-friendly projects.

Choose Wisely, Craft Beautifully

With this guide to wood types, choosing the perfect wood for your project just got easier! From sturdy indoor shelves to delicate carvings and weather-resistant outdoor wonders, there’s an ideal wood waiting for your creative touch.

Share your thoughts below! Your wood preferences and experiences are welcome in the comments.

John Brown

John Brown brings a wealth of experience and passion for DIY, Home and Garden, and Woodworking. With a dedication to empowering enthusiasts, he shares insights, tips, and comprehensive guides to help you transform spaces and master woodworking skills.