The Best Wood to Use for Wood Shelves

A close-up image of different types of wood grains.

Woodworking is an excellent option for those looking to get creative with their hands and save some money in the process. Creating shelves is one of the most popular DIY projects, so what is the best wood to use when building them?

Knowing which type of wood is best suited to the task is essential if you're a DIYer needing shelves for your dwelling, workshop, or office. Whether you're looking to construct freestanding shelves, strong cabinets, or integrated shelving, knowing the best type of lumber for the job is critical.

This article will explore the various kinds of timber best suited for constructing shelves, like pine, cherry, koa, red oak, padauk, mahogany, plywood, particle board, and more. We'll examine their advantages and disadvantages to help you find suitable wood for your DIY shelf project.

What Wood Do You Need For Bookshelves?

When determining the suitable wood for your shelves, you should think about the purpose of the shelves. Are they meant to hold heavy tools or display items like books, crafting supplies, trinkets, or family photos?

Consider the environment where the shelves will be located and how they will be secured or mounted. Also, evaluate how much space you have to work with and the budget you have in mind; these factors will help you pick the best wood for your shelves.

Here are some of the most popular woods for building shelves and other home projects, as well as their best features.


A popular choice for building wood shelves due to its durability, affordability, and availability. It's also lightweight and easy to work with, making it ideal for DIY projects.

The natural grain of pine makes it attractive, too, so you can use it in an exposed setting without worrying about having to stain or seal the wood. Using a light stain or wash can help showcase the grain and protect it from time, but it isn't necessary. Pine shelves can last many years before needing replacement with proper care and maintenance.


A popular choice for building wood shelves because of its beauty and durability. It is reddish-brown with subtle grain patterns that add elegance to any room.

Cherry is also known for its strength, making it an excellent choice for furniture such as bookshelves where you may place heavier items on the shelves. In addition, cherry is naturally resistant to rotting, warping, and splitting, making it an ideal material for constructing shelving units that will last through years of use.

Using a clear or light-colored transparent stain or varnish isn't necessary but can help bring out the unique and stunning grain of this colored wood for showcasing its aesthetic beauty.


A type of hardwood that is native to Hawaii, and it's known for its rich grain pattern and its durability. Koa wood shelves are perfect for those who want to make a statement in their home – the unique grain pattern can lend an exotic touch to any room.

Koa wood has excellent resistance to rot, making it ideal for humid climates or areas with high moisture levels. It also has good dimensional stability, meaning your shelves won't warp or twist easily over time. Finally, koa is lightweight yet extremely strong, so your bookshelves can withstand weight without buckling or sagging.

Red Oak

An excellent choice for building wood shelves. It is solid and durable, making it perfect for supporting the weight of books or other items stored on shelves. Red oak has a beautiful grain pattern that can add a decorative touch to any room.

This type of wood also takes stains and finitely well, so you have plenty of options for giving your shelves the desired look. Finally, red oak is relatively affordable compared to other hardwoods like cherry or walnut, making it an ideal choice if you want quality at an economical price.


Paduak is an ideal wood choice for building shelves, as it is solid and durable. It has a reddish-orange color that adds a touch of brightness to any room. Padauk also offers good resistance to rot, warping, and shrinking over time, making it highly stable and long-lasting.

Its hardwood nature helps to ensure that your shelves will remain standing even under heavy loads or in humid environments. In addition, the unique grain pattern of padauk makes each shelf you build unique - no two are ever exactly alike!


An ideal choice for building wood shelves. It has a beautiful, deep color and grain, making it perfect for furniture pieces and shelving. Mahogany is also quite durable and can withstand wear and tear over time without becoming overly damaged or warped.

Additionally, mahogany is affordable compared to other types of wood, making it a great option if you're looking to build quality shelves on a budget. Finally, mahogany does not need special tools or finishes to protect it from water damage; instead, it naturally creates its protective finish when exposed to the elements, which helps preserve its beauty year after year.


A popular choice for building shelves due to its affordability and versatility. It comes in many different thicknesses so you can choose the right one for your project. Plywood is also solid and durable, making it suitable for long-term use.

Additionally, plywood has a smooth surface, making it easy to finish with paint or stain. Its low cost and ease of use make plywood ideal for DIYers who build their bookshelves without breaking the bank.

Particle Board

An engineered wood product made from wood chips, sawdust, and other small pieces of wood. It is usually used to construct furniture such as shelves, chairs, tables, etc.

Particle board has several advantages when building shelves due to their affordability and versatility. Its uniform composition makes it easier to cut into shapes without splintering or cracking, which reduces wastage during construction.

Additionally, particle boards can be painted or stained for a unique look that many find attractive. Despite these benefits, however, more than particle board strength and stability may not be required for lighter items like books, making it better suited for more lightweight objects like decorations or wall artwork.

MDF (or Medium Density Fiberboard)

A popular wood choice for building wood shelves because of its affordability and durability. It is made from sawdust or other fine particles bonded with adhesives under high pressure and heat to form a strong board material.

MDF has good machining properties and can be painted easily, making it an ideal option for DIYers looking to create custom shelving solutions. Additionally, since the fibers in MDF are more tightly packed than those found in particle boards, it tends to produce shelf materials that are denser and less prone to warping over time. However, MDF is more prone to water damage if adequately sealed.

What Wood is Best for Building Bookshelves in General?

When building bookshelves, there are a few factors to consider when deciding which type of wood to use. First, you'll want to consider the durability and strength of the wood.

Hardwoods like cherry and mahogany are great options if you're looking for a sturdy shelf that will last many years. If the location you're building for is likely to experience moisture or vastly differing temperatures (such as a shed or garage), you'll want to consider those factors.

They're also more expensive than softer woods like pine and red oak, so those options are better if you're on a budget. Just know that they are more likely to warp or bend over time.

Another factor to consider is the aesthetic of the wood. Some woods have more natural patterns and grains than others, so if you're looking for a particular look, that can also be a deciding factor. For example, koa wood is known for its unique grain pattern and rich color.

On the other hand, plywood and particle board are both relatively inexpensive options but have a much less natural look than some of the different woods mentioned. These options are suitable for painting, or if the shelves don't need to be pretty, just functional.

What Wood is Best for Building Kitchen or Bathroom Shelving?

There are a few things to remember when building kitchen and bathroom shelving. First, you'll want to consider moisture levels. If it's a high-moisture area, you'll want to use wood resistant to water damage, like mahogany or cherry. If you're looking for a more affordable option, particle board or MDF can be good choices.

Regarding aesthetics, it is also essential to consider how much light the shelves will get since darker woods like mahogany and cherry may fade over time when exposed to direct sunlight. Lighter woods like pine can be better options in these cases since they won't fade as quickly.

What Wood Is Best for Building Garage Shelves

Regarding building garage shelving, durability is critical since you will likely use these shelves to store heavy items like tools and equipment. For this reason, hardwoods like oak and mahogany are great choices since they can handle heavier loads without bending or warping over time.

Plywood is also a good option since it's relatively inexpensive and durable enough for many storage needs.

Regarding aesthetics, it's usually best to go with lighter wood since garages are often darker rooms where softer woods can help brighten the space. Pine is a great choice here since it's a light-colored wood that can easily handle heavier loads.

What Wood is Best for Building Office or Bedroom Shelves?

When it comes to building office or bedroom shelves, you'll want to focus on durability and aesthetics since these shelves will likely use storage and display.

Hardwoods like oak and mahogany are great options here since they look nice but can also handle heavier loads. Plywood is also a good choice here since it's inexpensive but looks great when properly finished.

For lighter rooms like bedrooms or offices where natural light isn't always available, softer woods like pine can help brighten the space while providing plenty of storage space.

Additionally, if you're looking for something with more character, then koa or padauk can be great choices since they have distinct grain patterns that give them an exciting look.

Additional Questions People Ask

What is the best wood for shelves that won't sag?

When creating shelves that won't buckle under the weight of items, picking suitable materials is essential. Hardwoods like oak and maple are denser and more reliable than softer woods like pine, and boards should also be at least ¾ inch thick for support.

Additionally, use sturdy brackets or supports securely attached to wall studs to ensure the weight is evenly distributed. Select hardwood, get thick boards, and use secure brackets or supports to ensure your shelves don't sag.

How thick should wood be for shelves?

When building shelves, there are several vital elements to consider. The weight and size of the items placed on the shelves are one crucial factor; thicker wood is generally more supportive than thinner wood, but if you plan on installing brackets or supports, you may not need as wide of a piece.

Additionally, the thickness of the wood can affect the aesthetic appeal of your shelves; thicker pieces tend to have a more substantial look and feel, but thinner pieces can create a sleek and minimalist look.

Generally, at least 1-inch-thick lumber is recommended for shelving to provide adequate support and fit into the design scheme of the room or office.

What is the best wood for shelves and staining?

When constructing wooden shelves, selecting the correct type of wood is essential. There are various options, such as pine, oak, maple, and cherry.

Pine is a softwood that is easy to work with and typically found at home improvement stores. Oak is a hardwood that is strong and has unique grain patterns. Maple is another hardwood option that is durable and beautiful. Cherry wood has a rich red-brown hue that can darken over time.

When choosing the best wood for staining shelves, remember that different woods will absorb stains differently depending on their natural characteristics. Test the stain on a small area before applying it to the entire shelf surface to ensure you achieve the desired finish.

Ultimately, the best wood for shelves will depend on your needs and preferences. Consider factors like strength, appearance, cost-effectiveness, and sustainability when deciding.

Is it safe to use plywood or MDF for shelves?

What is the ideal type of wood for creating shelves? Many DIYers ponder if plywood or MDF (medium-density fiberboard) will suit the task. It is contingent on the purpose of the frames and personal tastes.

Plywood is a popular option since it is strong, long-lasting, and comes in multiple thicknesses. Nonetheless, some types of plywood have formaldehyde, which can be injurious if exposed to high levels in the long term.

It's essential to search for plywood that follows formaldehyde emission standards set by organizations such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Furthermore, some people prefer to avoid plywood due to its appearance. MDF comprises compressed wood fibers and resin and has a smooth surface that makes it suitable for painting or laminating.

Unlike certain types of plywood, MDF does not contain formaldehyde but may emit tiny amounts of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). If you are worried about VOC emissions from MDF, look for items labeled as low-VOC or inquire about your supplier regarding their products.

Overall, plywood and MDF are secure options, as manufacturer instructions indicate. Before deciding which material will work best for your project, reflect on your needs and preferences.

What is strong wood for closet shelves?

When constructing shelves for a closet, strength is an essential factor to consider. Three of the most durable and reliable hardwoods include oak, maple, and birch.

  1. Oak is robust and has a beautiful grain pattern.
  2. Maple is also a great choice as it has a high density and can support heavier items.
  3. Birch is an affordable option that still provides excellent support while having a more uniform appearance.

When looking for the best wood for closet shelves, these three are some of the top contenders. Each type offers unique characteristics that may fit different preferences regarding functionality and aesthetics.

Should I use pressure-treated wood for shelves?

One of the most common questions people ask when building wood shelves is whether or not they should use pressure-treated wood. Pressure-treated wood has been treated with chemicals that make it resistant to rot, decay, and insect damage. While this may seem like a good choice for shelves exposed to moisture or humidity, pressure-treated wood has some downsides.

Firstly, pressure-treated wood can have a strong odor due to the chemicals used in its treatment process. This can be unpleasant and harmful if you store food items on your shelves.

Secondly, pressure-treated wood tends to be more expensive than untreated lumber. If cost concerns you, using untreated lumber may be a better option.

Lastly, the chemicals used in pressure-treating can leach out over time and contaminate anything stored on the shelf. This is especially concerning if you plan on keeping food items or other sensitive materials.

While pressure-treated wood may initially seem like a good choice for shelving projects due to its resistance to rot and insects, several factors suggest otherwise:

  • Odor issues that might compromise the storage quality of certain products
  • Higher costs compared with alternatives such as untreated lumber
  • Possible contamination from chemical leaching over time


For bookshelves, hardwoods like cherry and mahogany are good for durability and aesthetics, while lighter woods like pine or red oak can be budget-friendly options.

Due to their water resistance, hardwoods like mahogany or cherry are best for kitchen or bathroom shelving. At the same time, plywood and particle board are more affordable options that still look good when finished.

For garage shelving, hardwoods like oak or mahogany are great since they're strong enough to handle heavier loads, while light woods like pine can help brighten up darker spaces.

Finally, hardwoods like oak or mahogany offer strength and style for office or bedroom shelves, while lighter woods like pine or koa provide plenty of storage space while adding character to the room.

Best Wood to Use for Wood Shelves FAQ

How thick should wood be for shelves?

Many wood shelves purchased from a furniture maker measure three-fourths of an inch thick. You can go as thick as one and one-fourth to three inches thick if you want to show more of the wood and still have shelves that look like shelves.

As a DIYer, however, you can make your shelves to just about any thickness you choose to get the design you want.

Is MDF or plywood better for shelves?

Plywood and MDF, medium-density fiberboard, are popular materials with DIYers because they are inexpensive and easy to work with. But which should you choose for the shelves?

The material you choose for the shelves depends entirely on what you need the shelves to do.

If you need sturdier shelves that can hold weight, plywood is a better choice. MDF's softness means it can sag under the burden of a heavy load, so shelves that need to support more weight should be made with plywood.

If you want your shelves to look more decorative and they don't need to hold a lot of weight, MDF might be your better option. MDF has a smoother surface that makes it easy to paint.

The smoother edges make it easier to add decorative edges to MDF shelving as well, so this is the better option if you're concerned more about looks than function.

What is the most common wood for shelves?

Many different types of wood are used for shelves because they each have a different look and perform in different ways. Oak, cherry, maple, and mahogany are all popular choices for wood furniture of all kinds.

Plywood also works well for wood shelves, and you can use paint to make this material look more like a natural wood of your choice.

Pine, cedar, and poplar are also often seen in wood furniture and shelving.

What is the lightest wood for shelves?

The lightest wood you can buy is balsa wood, which is fine for shelves that are not going to hold any weight. As far as lightweight woods that are used commonly in furniture, redwood, cedar, and cypress are all possible wood shelving options.

How thick should wood be for floating shelves?

Floating shelves have no visible means of support because they are attached ta hidden brackets. The thickness of floating shelves makes it possible to hide the brackets.

So how thick do floating shelves need to be? Most experts recommend using wood that is one two two inches thick to create a floating shelf.