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Wood Choice

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  • Wood Choice

    My next project is going to be building a coffee table for a newly finished room in our house. This will be my first project that dosn't involve ply-wood or MDF....real wood!

    My question is do you determine what type of wood to use for a project? Any suggestions? I'm looking for something with some cool grain to it but not crazy.


  • #2
    Re: Wood Choice

    Do you have end tables or wood trim on the furniture? If so match it up, if not then just choose what you like. Dark could be Walnut, medium Oak, light Maple or you could mix a couple types. This one is Walnut and Birdseye maple.
    info for all: --- "I like long walks, especially when they are taken by people who annoy me."


    • #3
      Re: Wood Choice

      Like Dan said, you can match the existing trim, or an existing piece of furniture. I made this one for my Brother In Law to display his police badges and patches in. It's nothing fancy, just walnut with a beveled glass top.


      • #4
        Re: Wood Choice

        IMO there are a number of things when choosing woods to work with.

        One is looks
        Two is cost,
        Third is workability, and durability.

        what look do you want, light, dark, colored, painted, etc, Open grain, closed grain.
        What will the wood "age" to? Mulberry when cut is a yellow wood, when exposed to sunlight it will darken to a light chocolate brown color.

        the Cost is fairly straightforward, how much money do you have to spend on the project, (usually has to with affability and rareness of the lumber)

        the workability is more experience but some woods like teak are more difficult to glue and finish do to the oil content, birds eye maple can be hard to plane and work with do it varying grains, elms can be difficult with hand tools.

        durability. (how hard or soft the wood is and what use it will get). will open grain woods cause problems, will moisture darken the wood if it gets wet, and finish is not keep up.
        how will the finish work on the wood, (oils, varnishes, water base, urethanes, lacquers)
        how will the wood hold up in its use, pine is very soft and will dent and mar with heavy use, oak is an open grain wood and can darken to black if it gets wet, maples and birches are closed grain but will burn easily unless tools are extremely sharp, and sand paper fresh,


        now with that said one want to have an idea where there wanting to go,

        for example one who want to recreate or do a arts and crafts like look, will probly go with OAK as it is the traditional wood for that type of project, and then stain it, or if your really ambitious you will "Fume" the project with ammonia, like the originals were done to get that deep soothing brown color there famous for.

        for early American type one would use pine maples or normally other fine grain woods,

        some time for cost one will use a easily available wood and stain it, (note: many manufactured furniture is done that way using poplar or maples and staining it walnut or other to similar other woods).

        If you want a dark look one my look into black walnut or other darker woods,

        but then there are some woods that will darken with time and sun, so sometimes the original project will not look the same in 20 years, cherry comes to mind here, (one of the problems is the heart wood is what changes and not the sap wood so one will need to remove the sap wood if you want the dark rich look of the cherry in 20 years, and if your going to stain and dye the wood to a cherry look then using birch or maple may be a cheaper way to go,

        also in choice of woods expecily if stain is to be used (may woods stain blotchy), and that is do to the differences in hardness of the wood and the grain patterns, hard woods have a cross grain in there structures and thus some times the stain will splotch badly, dark dark in some areas, and nearly none colored in other, Dyes are one way to work around some of these problems, but they have there own set of problems, Pine is another wood that some say stain with difficulty, in that the grain varies so greatly in hard and soft between annual rings.

        If one is going to paint it, I would suggest poplar or some low cost close grain wood that is not necessarily a shame to cover over, open grain woods like oak do not normally paint well any way, or woods that rare or expensive do not make sense to paint over.
        (if you do choose to paint over a more expensive wood or a open grain wood sealing it with a good sanding sealer is not a bad idea, in that if in a number of years you say oh that is oak under there I think I will strip it and varnish it up I do not like the paint any more, if it is sealed the wood may not be discolored by the paint, and in the pours of the grain, thus allowing a good striping job to take place, if you jsut paint it and it is open grain you will never get the paint out of the grain of the wood, for a nice refinishing job.

        so all of these things come in to play in choosing a wood to work with,

        for a first project I would suggest one of the more common hard woods, Oak, maple, birch,
        cherry or walnut, or poplar.

        One of the big things is to make sure the wood is acclimated and dry, when or before cutting and gluing up, for table tops or panels, also if your going to plane it plane both sides, evenly as usually the center moisture is not the same as surface moisture and even a point difference can cause warp, some times jsut removing the surface can remove tension and the board can move some. (house inside and shop [if not inside the heated house] can easily have two different humidities and can cause some problems at times with large panels. usually the older the wood the better, not fresh mill cut.)
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        • #5
          Re: Wood Choice

          Well dammit BHD, great post there! I just hope you don't scare Hef out of using hardwoods. LOL
          info for all: --- "I like long walks, especially when they are taken by people who annoy me."


          • #6
            Re: Wood Choice

            Good post there BHD. Tons of usefull info!

            For beginner one of the woods I'd recommend is Mahogany. Looks beautiful nd It's probably one of the most forgiving hardwoods to work with. Hard and durable, machines incredibly well, and can be worked very easily with hand tools. It's superb at takind stains and finishes easily and evenly. It takes a light orange color when freshly cut and tends to age to an attractive slightly darker orange brown color. Biggest drawback is it's a bit pricey and you need to make sure you are getting the real thing and not one of the many look alike cheaper kinds sold.


            • #7
              Re: Wood Choice

              Mahogany does have open grain though. It doesn't finish as smoothly as some others, unless you use a grain filler, or don't mind it. Oak is the same way.
              As the others have said, match what you have, especially if you have a large piece in the same room.
              If not, it is hard to go wrong with Cherry or Walnut.


              • #8
                Re: Wood Choice

                Mahogany is more of a midgrain wood. Varies a little from closed to slightly open but its not nearly as open as oak. I use is a lot and have never used filler. It's very easy to get a completely smooth finish with it.
                Last edited by Velosapien; 03-02-2008, 11:53 AM.


                • #9
                  Re: Wood Choice

                  What does everyone think of Ash? If what I have heard and read is true it is a good inexpensive starter-wood similar in looks to oak.