Wood Furniture 101

Maple, oak, cherry, or pine: Which wood is right for you? Find out with our basic guide to wood. 

Wood is one of the most historic, trusted, and beautiful materials with which to make furniture. But not all woods are created equal. Some are more durable, others are easier to work with, and still others are prized for their aesthetic qualities. 

This article will discuss: 


a rug

Hardwoods vs. Softwoods

Wood is divided into two categories: hardwoods and softwoods. 

  • Hardwoods, derived from broad-leafed trees, including maple, oak, cherry, and mahogany, are generally preferred for furniture building. With a tighter grain, they are extremely durable. The downside of this, however, is that the grain appears heavier and the wood tends to be darker in most cases.
  • Softwoods, derived from needle-bearing trees such as pine, fir, and cedar, are increasingly popular for furniture due to their light colors and delicate textures. They are not as long lasting, however, so expect to replace them over time.  

Popular Hardwoods

There is a wide range of hardwoods. Each has it own unique qualities and uses. 


  • Incredibly durable
  • Enjoyed for its light color
  • Prone to warping—must be cared for on a regular basis
  • Look for: “bird’s eye” maple, with unique grains that create coveted patterns


  • One of the most popular hardwoods
  • Very strong—will last for years 
  • Can be utilized in wide variety of furniture styles


  • Shades vary from dark and rich to light and soft
  • More durable and less expensive than mahogany, its closest counterpart
  • Pretty, dainty grain 


  • Stands up to the elements; often used in outdoor furniture
  • Gorgeous grain; appealing smell 
  • Ages beautifully—will stand the test of time 


Popular Softwoods

It’s true that softwoods are less durable than hardwoods, but don’t discount them. With proper care, furniture made from softwoods can be both beautiful and long lasting.


  • Soft and easy to work with
  • Inexpensive 
  • Holds up well in humidity 
  • Naturally lighter in color, but often stained darker.


  • Sweet, spicy smell 
  • Deters moths and insects
  • Widely used for closets and chests


  • Uniformly textured
  • Easy to work with; finishes well
  • Moderately priced


  • Inexpensive
  • Strong; finishes well
  • Light grain