The Pros and Cons of Different Types of Wood for Furniture

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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

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

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 it polishes well. 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

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

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.

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

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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