When it comes to choosing the right crafting material for wooden furniture legs and frames one of the first things you will need to understand is whether to choose hardwood or softwood. But what’s the difference?
Softwood isn’t soft in the classic sense but is usually less dense than hardwood. Whether wood is classed as a hardwood or a softwood depends on the type of tree and how it grows.
Wood for Furniture – Hardwoods
Hardwoods come from trees that are slow-growing, that generally come from flower-bearing trees and whose leaves fall off. The sap content is lower, with a tighter knit of fibres thus making them denser. It also offers a good resistance to fire.
However, because of the slower growth rate this wood is often more expensive.
Examples include oak, mahogany and walnut.
Wood for Furniture – Softwoods
Softwoods aren’t necessarily soft, although compared to hardwoods they are less dense. Softwoods come from coniferous trees that are fast growing, come from seed and have a higher moisture content compared to hardwoods. Softwoods offer less fire resistance.
As this wood grows straight they are easier to fell and turn into planks.
Examples include cedar, pine and spruce.
Which to Choose?
Softwoods aren’t weaker than hardwoods, but don’t offer the same look as hardwoods. Hardwoods have an aesthetic value that makes them a popular choice for woodworkers. The biggest problem with hardwoods is the cost and it can be just too expensive to create entire pieces. It’s more likely that a craftsman would use an expensive piece of hardwood for a feature, such as a sofa arm or wooden furniture legs.
Antique furniture that lasts centuries will have been built from hardwood.
So, it’s fair to say that bespoke furniture makers would prefer to use hardwoods because they are more durable and offer the looks that make for beautiful furniture.
Popular Wood for Furniture
Oak is perhaps the most well-known hardwood. Its slow growth rate makes it highly dense, allowing for furniture that lasts for centuries. It can also be finished in a variety of ways. Its’ colour varies from a pinkish-red to light brown.
With its knotty appearance pine adds a rustic feel to any piece of furniture. It’s lightweight and inexpensive compared to other wood types. Another advantage of pine furniture is its ability to resist shrinking and warping. It paints well too.
Walnut is so robust that it was used to make aeroplane propellers in the first world war. This strength makes it ideal for furniture. It’s easy to carve and keeps its shape so if you need something ornate walnut is a good choice. Its colour varies from white to dark brown.
Maple has a reputation for being one of the hardest woods around. That has made it a popular choice for heavy dressers or tables – furniture that might need a little extra resilience. It’s often light in colour.
When is a wood not a wood? When it’s grass. Not only does bamboo grow super-fast, its eco-friendly and 3x stronger than building grade wood. It’s also resistant to shrinking and swelling.
Birch is strong with a super-pleasing aesthetic look, that makes it great for minimalist furniture pieces. It’s good for detailed carving too.
Perhaps the most sought after hardwood, cherry wood offers a beautiful polished finish and will last for centuries with the right care. Like a fine wine it only improves with age.
Mahogany trees grow large so the planks are large too. Mahogany adds warmth to a room and will last and last, when it’s cared for. Its size makes it ideal for large furniture like dining tables. It’s colour ranges from a pink to a reddish brown.
Gum was known by many different names (satin-walnut being one) and is a relatively new popularity. It warps when not dried out properly, which may account this. It looks beautiful and is a hardwood used in furniture throughout the world.
This list isn’t exhaustive but some woods, such as poplar, just aren’t as aesthetically ideal to be used in furniture making. Or it might be better to say not as popular to be used as the visible part of furniture.
Poplar for example is a solid choice for things like drawers where it won’t be seen, but still provides the durability needed. It’s harder than pine, but not as aesthetic pleasing.
Cheaper woods are often used in the hidden parts and the visible parts are kept as the more expensive and nicer looking wood.