When it comes to choosing your wood for a custom piece of furniture, don’t go against the grain. Some types will be more appropriate than others.

For most of us, choosing the right kind of wood for our furniture comes down to finish – do we want a light, cool oak, or a rich, warm mahogany? Maybe a sleek teak, or a knotty raw edge?

But wood type is far more complicated than just its appearance, especially when you’re creating a piece of your own. And the double-edged sword in custom design is the sheer number of wood varieties to choose from – there’s definitely the perfect type out there for your project, but how do you find the right one?

Here’s a rundown of the types of wood commonly used in furniture design and fabrication, to clarify your options for your next custom piece:

  • Walnut: This hardwood is known for its rich brown colour and a dark grain that, with the right stain, resembles a chocolate swirl. Walnut is one of the more expensive woods so should be used for special projects, but its durability means these pieces will last for years without losing detail on the most intricate of designs and carvings.
  • Maple – Another hardwood, maple is a favourite for furniture builders (especially in Canada) for its natural wood grain and its extreme durability. As a common choice for hardwood floors, it’s also appropriate for heavy-use items – in particular, those in family households – like dressers, trunks, and dining sets.
  • Mahogany – This hardwood is often associated with luxe interiors for its deep brown hue (sometimes only needing a coat of oil instead of a stain) and fine, straight wood grain. Because of the sheer size of mahogany trees, this wood often comes in large boards, making it an impressive choice for expansive statement pieces.
  • Birch – While the previous hardwoods are cherished for their traditional lushness, birch is favoured for its modern elegance. Blond in colour and light in grain, birch is still extremely durable, plentiful in North America (so, it’s typically less expensive), and often used if a piece of furniture needs to be painted.
  • Oak – This is a classic, and very popular, choice in furniture design both for its durability and its adaptability. It can take to multiple finishes, so it can move between modern and traditional styles easily. And because oak trees grow slowly, their wood is denser than most, and so pieces made with oak stand the test of time.
  • Cherry – Named for the American Black Cherry fruit tree it comes from, as well as its hue which deepens from pink to red with age, cherry wood is prized within craftspeople. Choose cherry for pieces that will benefit from its unique colour, rather than stain it to match others.
  • Bamboo – Technically a grass instead of a wood, bamboo has recently become an extremely popular eco-friendly alternative to typical hardwoods (it grows about 10x faster!). Even so, it’s still tough enough to form flooring or cabinets, and will look best in modern designs that require a lighter tone.
  • Pine – This softwood is incredibly popular – it’s inexpensive, sustainable, durable, and can easily take on different stains or paint. But for a more natural, rustic look, designers can embrace the iconic knots that pine wood is known for.

This is just a sampling of the most popular types of wood used in furniture design – if you have more questions, or don’t see the type you’re looking for in this list, reach out to RFP!