The Pros and Cons of Different Types of Wood for Furniture

The kind of wood you choose could impact your budget, your cleaning routine—and even your commitment to sustainable living.

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Browsing through online furniture stores for great wood pieces, but don't know your oak vs. maple? Not sure if pine is a hardwood? From wood colors to cost, here's everything you need to know about the five best types of wood for furniture: pine, cherry, maple, oak, and walnut. We've included helpful pictures and descriptions of each, so you can more easily identify the wood by its grain and color.

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Pine wood color
John Lawton

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: Pine is 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: Pine is a softwood, so it's prone to scratches and dents.

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Cherry wood color
John Lawton

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 shines up easily with a good furnish polish. Unstained, it has a rich, beautiful color.

Cons: Cherry wood is expensive. Sometimes the color darkens with age (which can be a pro for some people).

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Maple wood color
John Lawton

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.

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Oak wood color
John Lawton

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. While teak is often used for outdoor furniture, like Adirondack chairs, oak is a good alternative because it tends to resist water damage.

Pros: Oak wood 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.

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Walnut wood color
John Lawton

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 headboards, ornate antique-style dining tables, and mantels, walnut is typically clear-coated or oiled to bring out its natural color.

Pros: Walnut is 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. Walnut is also one of the more costly woods.

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