The Beginner's Guide to Choosing Wood for Carpentry Projects

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Making something with your hands is one of those things everyone has on their bucket list. Whether it’s a bird house or a finely crafted table, a carpentry project can be a lovely way to spend your time or a thoughtful gift. However, before you start chipping away at the oak in the backyard, you may want to look at this beginner’s guide and figure out what kind of wood will work best for your project.

Decide What You're Making

A pug sitting inside a dog house.

The most important questions you need to ask yourself before beginning are what am I making and how much weight will it need to hold? Even something as simple as a table needs to hold at least 20 pounds. However, if it’s something like a dog house or a bird feeder, then the weight is not so much a consideration as making sure you have a design that will keep it from falling in on itself. Also, consider that, depending on the variety, wood expands or contracts with the surrounding temperature. So, you need to figure out if this project is going to be outside or inside.

Decide How Long you Want it to Last

Not everything needs to last forever; some things do just fine lasting for as long as you need them. When choosing what kind of wood you want to use, put that into consideration. A picnic table does not need to last a lifetime. However, a playhouse needs to stand up to the wind and the rain without falling to pieces.

Decide on the Color of the Wood

A white couch with a dark coffee table in front of it.

Light-colored wood can help brighten up a dark room. Dark wood can give a room a serious or intimate feeling. So, when deciding what kind of wood you're going to use for a particular project, this can be an important step.

Hardwood vs. Softwood

Softwood vs. hardwood is a difficult debate. But often it can be solved by knowing what kind of project you plan on doing. To simplify, softwood comes from trees with needles instead of leaves, such as pines and firs. They are a more malleable wood than hardwood. Things like skate ramps and sleds are made of softwood because they can take on a curved shape easily.

In general, hardwood comes from trees with leaves, such as oaks, maples, cherry trees, etc. These trees are not known for their bendability, so you will essentially be using planks and whittling them down to what your want. The good news about hardwood is that is very sturdy, as well as beautiful. So if you want something that will last a lifetime, or possibly longer, hardwood is the choice for you.

Things to Avoid

Stacks of lumber.

The number one thing to avoid is buying wood you don’t need or wood that is wrong for your project. Secondly, meticulously plan ahead so you don't have to keep going back and fixing your mistakes. There are many CAD tools available online that will give you the ability to see the visuals of what you need to do. In addition, there are many different websites that can walk you through step-by-step for your project. Start simple if this is your first time working with wood. A dog house, bird feeder or set of shelves are all easy woodworking projects to begin with. Things like canoes, dining tables, and chairs are for much more experienced woodworkers.