Choosing the suitable wood for a project is very important. There are many factors to consider when selecting which woods to use, including hardness, density, and moisture content. Determining these key characteristics will help you determine how each wood type should be treated before assembly or construction. When possible, choose woods with similar properties so that they can be easily cut, glued together, and stained.

Below are some basic tips on choosing wood for your next carpentry project:


Hardness is a measure of resistance taken by a board to saw cuts. The softer the wood, the easier it is to work with. Most softwoods like pine are also fairly easy to dry out. To select the best wood for a project, know what types of cutting operations need to be performed and understand the properties of different woods.


Density is a measurement of weight per unit volume. It’s measured in pounds (lb.) per cubic foot (cubic ft.). This value includes all components, such as sapwood, heartwood, bark, etc. However, the most common density specification is the specific gravity, sometimes called “dry-weight.” A typical range of specific gravities is from 0.40 to 0.60. Specific gravities less than 0.40 are usually used for fine furniture making. At the same time, denser woods are often found in outdoor projects and other more demanding applications where strength and wear resistance are required.

Moisture Content

Moisture content represents a balance between water content inside and outside cells of a piece of wood. As this ratio increases, the board will develop greater dimensional stability when exposed to heat and humidity. Many kinds of wood like cedar contain almost twice the water contained in fir. Other species like red oak tend to have a higher percentage of water within their structure. Because this information varies depending on the species and the part of the tree from which the wood was sourced, accurate estimates cannot be made without laboratory tests.


Select trees from the same family and keep them at a uniform size. If you are using multiple species, make sure that they do not cross-grain line up when finished. Keep them away from sources of air pollution as any chemicals, dust, or oil residues may cause discoloration over time. Always test pieces after final trimming. Use clamps firmly on both ends of the boards while drying so there will be no warping. If stains are applied to unfinished surfaces, apply a thin coat and allow it to thoroughly penetrate into the pores; let dry completely, then apply a top coat of paint. Let dry again before varnishing.

Wood Types

As stated above, knowing the differences among various woods allows you to identify a particular one for a certain purpose.

Softwoods are typically considered to be materials made from plant fibers. They contain many cellulose fibers and are usually lighter colored than hardwoods.

Hardwoods are generally defined as being grown from living tissues of plants that contain lignin, a polymeric substance. Lignin adds structural support and helps give hardness and durability to hardwood products.


The knowledge presented here should help give you a better idea of choosing appropriate wood for your next carpentry project.