A Few of the Most Popular Woodworking Woods

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Redcedar, Eastern

Juniperus virginiana
Type: Softwood Origin: Eastern U.S. and Canada
Weight: 2.50 Cost: Inexpensive to Moderate
Color: Red or purplish red heartwood usually mixed with white sapwood, even grained.
Uses: Cedar chests, carvings, veneers, and pencils.
Working properties: Easily worked, but sometimes brittle. Usually left unfinished, but takes non-turpentine based finishes well. Good decay resistance.

The odor of redcedar can be refreshed by simply sanding the wood to expose and break more of the oil cells that contain the essential oil.  For veneers that are too thin to sand, the oil can be purchased and applied to the veneer to renew the wood's insect repellant properties.


Sequoia sempervirens
Type: Softwood Origin: West coast of U.S.A.
Weight: 2.17 Cost: Inexpensive to Moderate
Color: Red, sometimes with white sapwood, moderately even grained.
Uses: Outdoor furniture, decks, paneling, plywood, light outdoor construction.
Working properties: Easily worked with sharp tools, although quite soft, takes finishes well. Good decay resistance and quite stable.

Naturally fire and decay resistant, redwood has long been a favorite for outdoor construction on the Pacific coast.  Note that this is the well-managed coastal variety of redwood; the giant sequoia, Sequoiadendron gigantea, is no longer exploited for trade.

Rosewood, East Indian

Dalbergia latifolia
Type: Hardwood Origin: India, Indonesia
Weight: 3.95 Cost: Somewhat Expensive
Color: Medium to dark brown, with streaks of green, red, dark brown, and black.  Has coarse, usually interlocked grain.
Uses: Veneers, musical instruments, turnings, and fine furniture.
Working properties: Works easily, but tends to tear out when planing.  Glues moderately well; may need to be sealed with shellac prior to finishing with polyurethane or lacquer, due to its high oil content. Also, see toxicity report.

Indian rosewood is a traditional wood for musical instruments, and is used as a replacement for Brazilian rosewood, which is listed as endangered due to overharvesting for the lumber and perfume industries.  Indian rosewood is growing slightly scarce, but has been better managed than its Brazilian cousin.


Tectona grandis
Type: Hardwood Origin: Southeast Asia
Weight: 3.33 Cost: Somewhat Expensive to Expensive
Color: Golden brown with dark brown markings, Coarse texture.
Uses: Boat building, outdoor furniture, cabinets, flooring, and veneers.
Working properties: Severe blunting of cutters due to high silica content, difficult to glue, but this highly durable wood takes oil finishes very well. Also, see toxicity report.

A favorite wood for marine construction, teak's popularity has led to a growing scarcity and corresponding rise in cost.  While other woods can approximate teak's natural toughness and resistance to weathering and marine borers, none can quite match its deep luster and bronzed hue.


Dalbergia decipularis
Type: Hardwood Origin: South America
Weight: 5.42 Cost: Very Expensive
Color: Pinkish yellow to salmon with reddish brown streaks, fine grained.
Uses: Turnings, veneers and inlays, cabinets, jewelry, and woodenware.
Working properties: not easily worked due to extreme hardness, but worth the effort. Takes finishes very well. Also, see toxicity report.

A beautiful wood that has a fruity, sweet scent when cut, tulipwood was mistakenly identified for decades as D. frutescens, which is actually a coastal vine.

Sipo / Utile

Entandophragma utile
Type: Hardwood Origin: Tropical Africa
Weight: 3.07 Cost: Moderate
Color: Light brown, darkening with exposure to a deep golden brown.  Similar in appearance to mahogany.
Uses: Furniture, veneers, boat building.
Working properties: Works fairly easily, but may blunt cutters.  Very stable and durable.  Easily finished to resemble mahogany.

Sipo is gaining popularity as a mahogany substitute.  It is durable outdoors, not difficult to work, and has a color and luster that closely resemble South American mahogany.

Walnut, Black

Juglans nigra
Type: Hardwood Origin: U.S.A.
Weight: 3.33 Cost: Moderate
Color: Dark chocolate brown, occasionally with lighter streaks. Moderately coarse textured.
Uses: Furniture, gun stocks, paneling, plywood and veneers, boat building, musical instruments, turning, and much more.
Working properties: A tough wood and decay resistant, works well, bends well, accepts finishes well. Very stable. Also, see toxicity report.

One of the darkest colored domestic hardwoods, walnut is the traditional wood for gunstocks due to its high shock resistance and reasonably fine grain.  One unusual feature of this wood is its tendency to lighten with age; most woods get darker with exposure, unless exposed to the bleaching effects of sunlight.


Millettia spp.
Type: Hardwood Origin: Africa
Weight: 4.58 Cost: Somewhat Expensive
Color: Alternating stripes of medium and dark brown, moderately coarse texture.
Uses: Turning, Veneers and inlays, fine furniture, and cabinetry.
Working properties: Fairly readily worked, looks best when filled, takes finishes fairly well.  Also, see toxicity report.

Very hard and prone to splintering, wenge (pronounced WHEN-ghee, with a hard 'G') shares walnut's tendency to lighten with exposure.  Be careful of the splinters from this wood; wounds tend to get infected.


Microberlinia brazzavillensis
Type: Hardwood Origin: West Africa
Weight: 3.96 Cost: Somewhat Expensive
Color: Alternating streaks of light and dark brown, moderately coarse texture.
Uses: Turning, Veneers and inlays, furniture, skis, and cabinets.
Working properties: Works fairly well once it is dry, may tend to tear out due to interlocked grain, accepts finishes fairly well. Also, see toxicity report.

This wood both looks like a zebra and, when cut, has a somewhat disagreeable, "horsy" smell.

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Understanding Wood; A Craftsman's Guide to Wood Technology, R. Bruce Hoadley, Taunton Press, 1980

Time Life Books - The Art of Woodworking Series - Encyclopedia of Wood, St. Remy Press, 1993

All photos © David Tilson