The Pros and Cons of Different Types of Wood
Pine is an inexpensive, lightweight wood that can be yellowish or whitish with brown knots. It's often used for rustic pieces, like farmhouse-style tables.
Pros: It's low-cost, and it takes paint well, so it's great for kids' furniture. (The same holds true for birch and poplar.) Pine develops a nice, rustic patina from age and use, and it resists shrinking and swelling.
Cons: It's a softwood, so it's prone to scratches and dents.
Cherry is a hardwood with a fine, straight grain that ranges from reddish brown to blond. It is often used for carved chairs but also shows up in clean-lined Shaker-style tables and cabinets.
Pros: It's easily shaped, and it polishes well. Unstained, it has a rich, beautiful color.
Cons: It's expensive. Sometimes the color darkens with age.
Maple is a creamy white hardwood that sometimes has a reddish tinge. One of the hardest wood species, maple is often chosen for heavy-use items, like dressers and kitchen cabinets.
Pros: Maple is affordable and ultra-durable. It can take a beating and look great for years. Because it takes dark stains well, maple is often stained to mimic a pricier wood, like cherry or mahogany (which is a controversial pick itself because of deforestation in the regions where it's harvested).
Cons: If maple is not properly sealed first, the staining can look blotchy.
Oak is a hardwood that tends to be very grainy. There are two varieties: red oak, which ranges from light brown to pinkish red with a swirling, waterlike pattern, and white oak, which has a tiger-stripe grain with yellow rays and flecks. Oak is often used in pieces made in the Arts and Crafts or Mission style.
Pros: It is very durable and often cut in a way that makes it resistant to warping. Because of its visible wavy grain, it has a distinctive look. A clear finish nicely highlights the grain.
Cons: Stain can overly darken and exaggerate the grain, so it can end up looking two-toned.
Walnut is a straight-grained hardwood that ranges from chocolate brown (when it's from the center of the tree) to yellow (from the outer portion of the tree). A top pick for head-boards, ornate antique-style dining tables, and mantels, walnut is typically clear-coated or oiled to bring out its color.
Pros: It's a very strong and stable wood that can take intricate carving. The color can be beautiful.
Cons: Some may not like the variation from dark to light that's sometimes found on a single wide board. It's also one of the more costly woods.