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Choosing the right wood for your project

Choosing the right wood for your project is a crucial decision that can significantly impact the outcome of your craftsmanship. The type of wood you select not only affects the aesthetics of the finished product but also its durability and suitability for the intended use. Here are some key factors to consider when deciding on the right wood for your project.

Wood species 

Different wood species have distinct characteristics, including color, grain pattern, and hardness. Your choice in wood species is selecting from either hardwoods or softwoods. 

  • Hardwoods, like oak, maple, and cherry have their own unique appeal. Hardwoods come from flowering plants, that have broad leaves and produce seeds with some form of covering, such as fruits or nuts. The grain patterns are more dense and tend to be more expensive
  • Softwoods, like pine and cedar, are often chosen for their lighter color and ease of workability.  Softwoods come from non-flowering plants, that have needle-like leaves and produce seeds without any covering, such as cones. Softwoods are lighter in weight and are less expensive than hardwoods.


Wood prices can vary significantly, and your budget will play a crucial role in determining the type of wood you can afford. Exotic hardwoods tend to be more expensive than domestic ones, so it's essential to strike a balance between your project needs and budget constraints. It is therefore important to carefully calculate the amount of lumber your project will require.  It is not unusual to factor in a 20% loss when dealing with rough lumber that you will have to mill. This takes into consideration knots, worm holes, cracks, etc.


Consider the durability requirements of your project. For indoor projects with less exposure to stress, you might have more flexibility in your wood selection. Hardwoods last longer and are more resistant to decay, insects, and fungi. Durability affects the lifespan and maintenance of the wood. More durable wood is more suitable for outdoor use, such as decking, fencing, and siding, but also more expensive and scarce. Durability also affects the finish and appearance of the wood. More durable wood can withstand more wear and tear, but also requires more care and protection, such as staining, sealing, or painting.


The ease with which a wood type can be worked is crucial, especially for DIY enthusiasts. Some woods, like pine and cedar, are softer and easier to cut and shape, making them ideal for beginners. Hardwoods, on the other hand, may require more advanced tools and skills but offer a more refined finish.


The durability and workability of wood often depends on the wood density. Wood density is a measure of how much wood mass is contained in a given volume of wood. It is usually expressed in kilograms per cubic meter (kg/m³) or pounds per cubic foot (lb/ft³). Wood density affects the mechanical properties of wood, such as its strength, hardness, stiffness, durability, and resistance to wear and decay. It also influences the ease of machining, nailing, screwing, gluing, and finishing of wood. Generally, denser woods are stronger, harder, stiffer, and more durable than less dense woods, but they are also heavier, more difficult to work with, and more expensive. Wood density varies depending on the species, growth conditions, moisture content, and part of the tree. Different types of wood can be classified into softwoods, light hardwoods, medium hardwoods, and heavy hardwoods based on their density ranges. Woodworkers need to consider the density of wood when choosing the appropriate wood for their projects, depending on the desired function, appearance, and cost of the final product.

Here is a table with the density for various wood species:

Wood Type Hardwood/Softwood  Density  (kg/m³)
Balsa Hardwood 80-160
Pine Softwood 350-550
Cedar Softwood 370-580
Spruce Softwood 400-700
Maple Hardwood 600-900 
Oak Hardwood 600-1100
Cherry Hardwood 600-1200
Teak Hardwood 630-1200
Apple Hardwood 650-850
Hickory Hardwood 700-1100

*As you can see, the density of wood varies depending on the species and the growth conditions.

Generally, hardwoods are denser and harder than softwoods.


The aesthetic appeal of the wood is a significant factor in many projects. Consider the color, grain pattern, and overall appearance or style of the wood in relation to the desired look of your finished piece. Some woods, like walnut, feature dark, rich tones, while others, such as maple, have a lighter and more neutral appearance. 

Color: Hardwoods have a wider range of colors than softwoods, which means they have more diversity and contrast. Color affects the style and mood of the wood. More colorful wood can create more visual interest and appeal, but also clash with other elements in the design. Color also affects the aging and fading of the wood. More colorful wood can change more over time due to exposure to light, air, and chemicals, but also retain more of its original hue.

Grain: Hardwoods have a more complex and varied grain than softwoods, which means they have more patterns and textures. Grain affects the aesthetics and workability of the wood. More complex grain can enhance the beauty and uniqueness of the wood, but also make it more challenging to cut, sand, and glue. Grain also affects the direction and rate of moisture movement in the wood. More varied grain can cause more uneven drying and warping, but also more stability and strength along the grain.

Style: What is the desired look and feel of the wood? Is it for a modern or traditional design? Is it for a simple or elaborate design? Is it for a light or dark color scheme? Is it for a smooth or rough texture? Different styles require different levels of density, durability, grain, color, and cost.


What is the intended use and location of the wood? Is it for indoor or outdoor use? Is it for structural or decorative purposes? Is it for high-traffic or low-traffic areas? Is it for permanent or temporary installation? Different functions require different levels of density, durability, grain, color, and cost.


As environmental concerns grow, many craftsmen prioritize sustainable wood choices. Look for certifications such as FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) to ensure that the wood comes from responsibly managed forests. Choosing sustainable wood not only helps conserve natural resources but also contributes to a more eco-friendly approach to woodworking.

Moisture Resistance:

If your project will be exposed to moisture, such as outdoor furniture or bathroom cabinets, select a wood species with good resistance to water damage. Teak, redwood, and cedar are examples of woods known for their natural resistance to decay and insects.

Joinery and Construction:

Consider the type of joinery and construction methods you plan to use in your project. Some woods are more conducive to certain joinery techniques, and understanding this can enhance the structural integrity of your creation.

Finishing and Staining:

Certain woods absorb stains and finishes differently. If you have a specific color or finish in mind, test it on a small piece of the chosen wood before applying it to the entire project. This ensures that you achieve the desired result and highlights the wood's natural beauty.

Local Availability:

Check the local availability of the wood species you are considering. Local woods may be more affordable and have a lower environmental impact due to reduced transportation.

Making your choice

Choosing the right wood for your project involves a careful consideration of the factors described above. Taking the time to assess these factors will help you make an informed decision and create a finished product that meets both your aesthetic and functional expectations.

Ask yourself the following questions while planning your next project:

  1. I need to define the purpose and function of the project. What am I making and what are the requirements for the wood? For example, if I am making a cutting board, I need a wood that is hard, durable, non-toxic, and resistant to moisture and bacteria. If I am making a bookshelf, I need a wood that is strong, stable, and attractive.
  2. I need to consider the appearance and style of the project. What color, grain, texture, and finish do I want for the wood? For example, if I want a natural and rustic look, I might choose a wood with a coarse grain and a clear finish. If I want a sleek and modern look, I might choose a wood with a fine grain and a dark stain.
  3. I need to consider the cost and availability of the wood. How much wood do I need and how much can I afford? What types of wood are available in my area and at what prices? For example, if I have a limited budget and a large project, I might choose a wood that is inexpensive and abundant. If I have a generous budget and a small project, I might choose a wood that is rare and expensive.
  4. I need to compare and contrast the different types of wood that meet my criteria and select the best one for my project. I can use online resources, books, magazines, or experts to help me with this step. For example, if I am making a cutting board, I might compare and contrast maple, cherry, and teak, and decide that maple is the best choice because it is hard, durable, non-toxic, and affordable. If I am making a bookshelf, I might compare and contrast oak, pine, and cedar, and decide that oak is the best choice because it is strong, stable, and attractive.