For beginners in woodworking, the ability to choose the kind of wood to use for your building project is very challenging. Different names and choices are available which may be quite confusing.
Here, I’ll mention the basic things you must know as a starter when choosing wood for your construction projects. This article will be limited to the most common wood for woodworking which include: Softwood, Hardwood, Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF), and Plywood.
Softwoods and hardwoods are solid woods also known as Lumber. They are not manufactured products but milled directly from trees.
Hardwoods are obtained from deciduous trees such as maple and oak, and they are physically harder compared to softwoods.
Softwoods are lumbers from conifer trees such as the pine tree. They have cones and needles.
Contraction and Expansion
All solid woods expand and contract due to climate conditions. During rainy season, wood gain moisture to expand, but in the dry season, they contract due to loss of moisture.
When using solid wood to build, you must understand that they expand and contract due to temperature changes.
When you visit a lumberyard, there is a common scent you’ll perceive, and that is pine. Pine is affordable and readily available for framing and home building.
The 2×4s you purchase are most likely to be pine. At lumberyards, various lengths and widths of affordable 2/4” pine boards are available for projects that needs painting, but pine also has a natural, unique look.
It is very easy to work with pines, because it gives a smooth surface when you cut and sand, and doesn’t affect the blades. The problem associated with it is the softness, and it scratches easily.
This is the reason it cannot be used for furniture with constant use. It is also difficult to find a wide straight pine board that are not warped or curved.
Outstanding woodworking and furniture can be gotten from walnut, mahogany, or cherry. These wood species are just a fraction of the varieties of exotic hardwoods you can buy.
I purchase exotic species of hardwood due to their color, grain pattern, and durability. If you need a long-lasting woodworking project, use a hardwood.
Hardwood has a clean and clear surface that may not need painting since it is not stained, and it’s protected by topcoat like lacquer, varnish, or oil. These woods may be combined with a contrasting wood for different looks.
Hardwoods are difficult to work with and they’re tough on blades. If your tool blade is blunt, it’ll leave marks on maple and cherry, and this will require too much of sanding.
Hardwood also has drawbacks. Exotic species of hardwood are the most expensive, and may be difficult to find in your environment, but you can purchase it online from hardwood retailers.
The oak hardwood is a common and affordable wood specie including walnut and maple, which are always available for purchase. Oak is a good choice for beginners.
Plywood is a versatile and very popular building work piece used in woodworking. It comes in different grades and types, and each with its unique coded characteristics.
They are manufactured by stacking and gluing together thin layers of solid wood in opposite directions. This act gives stability and strength to the plywood.
Plywood has different variations in thickness, but the ¾” or 18mm plywood is most commonly used in woodworking projects.
Next time, when you want to buy plywood, look for the ones with more layers, because higher quality plywood has several layers. Also, go for plywood with little or no injury on the edges, having in mind that, the best plywood is the one in which both sides are sanded.
Most people use Baltic Birch for woodworking. They normally come in full sheets or cut sheets known as “Handi-Panels.”
Handi-Panels are high quality plywood, easy to use but expensive. Other good quality plywood that are worth trying include: oak, specialty maple, and cherry, but they are more expensive compared to Handi-Panels.
If you’re handling a shop project or fixture, you can save money by using a low grade plywood. Plywood is preferred to solid woods because it is stable, strong and inexpensive.
Also, changes in weather conditions doesn’t affect plywood, so it doesn’t expand, contract, or warp.
It also has it disadvantages. For instance, its very difficult to carry a 4’×8’ plywood alone, unless you cut it into pieces.
The edges of a plywood can be so discouraging, but the face looks great. In this case, you can use iron-on edge banding or make your edge banding to conceal it.
Cutting the wood veneer may be very tricky. Avoid cutting it in the opposite direction to the grain. This may cause the plywood to splinter or chip out. To prevent this, ensure that your blade is sharp and run masking tape on the cut line if you’re cutting in the opposite direction to the grain.
Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF) is a product manufactured by compressing sheets of wood to form boards. It is covered with veneer, very affordable and useful for some woodworking projects such as knockdown furniture.
MDF’s are easy to work with and are gentle on machines. Using the MDF is a great substitute for decorative interior furniture that may need painting, and it does not chip out or splinter.
These fiberboards also has its disadvantages. If it is not handled carefully, the fragile edges may sag like a cardboard, and it’s very heavy.
During sanding or sawing, the MDF produces too much of fine dust which is dangerous to the respiratory system if inhaled. Ensure that you wear a dust mask when working with them.
Other materials are also available, but the ones listed here should give you a head shot on what you actually need for that woodworking project the next time you visit a lumberyard or home center.
Finally, always try something new and have fun.