Best wood for beginner?

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Forum topic by JDJ posted 06-07-2011 12:11 AM 38943 views 2 times favorited 45 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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14 posts in 3915 days

06-07-2011 12:11 AM

I’m a new woodworker and I plan to build a lot of small furniture type stuff and was wondering what the best wood would be to use. Should I just use pine and plywood for everything? I’m in an area of the country where hardwood is difficult to obtain (plus its expensive!). What’s a good cheap hardwood to start working with if pine isn’t acceptable?

I would love to use beautiful hardwoods but I can’t afford them to “practice” on. I don’t think I have the skill to do them justice at this point either.

45 replies so far

View Don W's profile

Don W

20280 posts in 3902 days

#1 posted 06-07-2011 12:27 AM

you can make some pretty nice stuff with pine. I still use pine a lot. There is no doubt adding hardwood created a mixture, but I’d start with pine, its easier to work with and its cheaper. As you gain confidence and learn how to choose the softwood, you can gradually move into something more expensive.

If you have access to a planer, you can also look into rough sawn lumber. Its cheaper. Its an extra step, but it also give you some flexibility. If you don’t have a planer, no worries, you will someday.

-- - Collecting is an investment in the past, and the future.

View gillyd's profile


136 posts in 3981 days

#2 posted 06-07-2011 12:41 AM

I second the suggestion to a planer. I am a newbie woodworker as well, and I can you without a doubt that I get so much more satisfaction from milling my own wood. You personally might not find it entertaining, but I enjoy taking a rough, beat up, old piece of wood and crafting it into something that might be usable. Maybe its my controlling personality :)

View BobTheFish's profile


361 posts in 3887 days

#3 posted 06-07-2011 12:52 AM

typically I see after pine, the most commonly used and available wood is oak (it’s even available at most of the home depots I’ve seen and it’s right next to the pine). Then after that, I see a crapload of maple. If you aren’t happy with pine, I suggest either of those. Oak’s pretty easy to work with, maple can be a little harder. Honestly, I’d just check around, see what you can find, and what you might feel comfortable with pricewise and with workability. You might even find some cedar (technically another softwood, but I’m guessing you’re wanting some variation from pine) or poplar or even, just maybe, MAYBE some walnut or cherry that’s not going to break the budget.

I’d stick with some of the clearer varieties without too much figuring until you get used to the wood before getting into “lesser” grades that might have a knot or crotch or something else that might require a little more TLC. (they can be FANTASTIC for adding interest to a project, but still require a bit of attention).

Best of luck.

View Mark's profile


1818 posts in 4609 days

#4 posted 06-07-2011 01:17 AM

your cheapest hardwood is poplar which is an okay wood to use but I wouldnt recommend it for furniture. I personally LOVE pine. Its the easiest and cheapest way out but you can do ALOT with it. Next up I absolutely am addicted to working with cedar (softwood). You can build the nicest things with cedar and never worry about bugs or rotting. But the problem with cedar is it can get just as expensive as a hardwood in some areas. I get good deals on maple and I really love its natural look in the end. I don’t know if maple may be available to you but give it a shot. Its one of the cheapest hardwoods you can get and one of the best looking. Long story short, ‘cause I blab alot of jibberish, my vote is maple for hardwood and cedar for softwood if you want to upgrade from pine.

-- M.K.

View GaryK's profile


10262 posts in 5323 days

#5 posted 06-07-2011 01:41 AM

You are in a part of the country that has Southern Yellow Pine everywhere. It’s a great pine. It won’t get your saw blade all covered in pitch or clog up all your sandpaper. Plus it’s cheap.

You can get it all the way up to 2×12 in most stores.

A planer will help you to get it to the size you want since it comes with rounded edges.

After you learn more you can just use whatever hardwoods are available cheap in your area.

-- Gary - Never pass up the opportunity to make a mistake look like you planned it that way - Tyler, TX

View reggiek's profile


2240 posts in 4605 days

#6 posted 06-07-2011 01:52 AM

I use alot of pine for making prototypes and for practicing new joinery techniques….I also keep some around for brushing up my joinery…and for testing machine set ups…..It is a wonderful inexpensive wood….I would not use it for fine furniture….but it does make inexpensive practical pieces. Butternut and Basswood are medium woods (not soft…not hard) that folks use alot….and they are great for beginners.

For hardwood, one of the most forgiving is Walnut….but it depends on where you are as to what wood is the least expensive. Where I am…oak is the cheapest hardwood found locally….it is not the easiest to get along with….but it is ok if you work it carefully (it has a very open grain that will chip, crack and is difficult to carve detail into). Maple is a sensible wood and there are several others like….Poplar, cherry…etc…. These are the domestic hardwoods and are usually cheaper then the imported…

If you plan on doing this for a while….the best bet is to mill your own….find a small sawyer that will sell you unfinished woods at reasonable prices….then mill it to your own specifications and use (you save alot of $$ this way).

-- Woodworking.....My small slice of heaven!

View BentheViking's profile


1782 posts in 3899 days

#7 posted 06-07-2011 03:53 AM

I am in a similar boat as you JDJ. I am starting out and don’t have a planer and feeling very limited not just by choices of woods, but being stuck with certain sizes. Check out Stevie Henderson and Mark Baldwin’s 2x4 Series of books. It has lots of great looking projects all made from dimensional lumber. I picked like 5 of them up off of for less than $15 shipped. I think I will start with stuff until I can have a better equipped shop.

Also, check craigslist and sometimes you can find some decent deals on nicer hardwoods that are leftover from other people’s projects. Another thing I do is look for hardwood scraps at wood shops or construction sites. What other people think of as scraps you may find a great use for especially with small projects. I just grabbed a ton of scrap sapele off of a site that I will be able to use for a large project (probably a tile top coffee table) and a few smaller projects as well.

Just my two cents

-- It's made of wood. Real sturdy.--Chubbs Peterson

View gfadvm's profile


14940 posts in 4025 days

#8 posted 06-07-2011 04:08 AM

Make friends with some hardwood floor installers. They throw away a LOT of beautiful wood that make great boxes and small projects allowing you to get you feet wet with some hardwoods for little or no $.

-- " I'll try to be nicer, if you'll try to be smarter" gfadvm

View bigike's profile


4059 posts in 4623 days

#9 posted 06-07-2011 04:12 AM

I use the wood from pallets and some of it is sycamore, oak, walnut, poplar, these are some of the woods I find on the pallets we get at my job but I’m sure any shipping and receiving co will let you have some. I mainly look for nice grain patterns, I notice most of the wood is oak though.

-- Ike, Big Daddies Woodshop, http://[email protected]

View SnowyRiver's profile


51457 posts in 4815 days

#10 posted 06-07-2011 04:45 AM

I agree with pine or poplar. Poplar being a bit more expensive, but you can make great projects with either.

-- Wayne - Plymouth MN

View Sawdust2's profile


1466 posts in 5422 days

#11 posted 06-07-2011 04:51 AM

Poplar. Easy to work. You can even make some nice stuff with it. Stains OK after a seal coat.
Find a local lumber yard and go see what sort of a deal you can make with them.
Stay away from the big box stores.
If you have a Rockler or Woodcraft nearby you can try them but they tend to have a premium price on their lumber.
I’ve gotten a few good deals on craigslist.


-- No piece is cut too short. It was meant for a smaller project.

View auggy53's profile


159 posts in 4015 days

#12 posted 06-07-2011 05:30 AM

im new at this stuff also , i bought a planer not long ago and really like using it . i drive through industrial parks and salvage old pallets , you get alot of pine wood and oak wood out of them but you really have to be carefull with the nails and such. i like free wood !

-- rick

View alan coon's profile

alan coon

115 posts in 5048 days

#13 posted 06-07-2011 05:33 AM

Alder out here is fair priced, and easy to work with. I have built several sets of cab’s with it, stains and finishes well.

-- Al, South E. Az., But it's a dry heat.

View McKinneyMike's profile


80 posts in 3996 days

#14 posted 06-07-2011 10:59 AM

Poplar would be my choice for any beginning woodworker. It is very easy to work with, it is relatively stable vs other woods, will not fill tools with pitch and it just a dream. It is not a wood that you will likely want to stain, but in the beginning, I would focus on your technique and your craft. Getting things square, joints tight and learning the basics.
Poplar is just a superb wood to build utility projects that can be painted and actually used, while honing ones skills. I still like it for a great deal of work.

-- McKinney Hardwood Lumber --Specializing in exotic and figured hardwood lumber -McKinney, TX

View AaronK's profile


1512 posts in 4799 days

#15 posted 06-07-2011 03:46 PM

hey don’t knock all the poplar at lowes – i got some nice purpley stuff I used to make drawer sides and bottoms. really nice looking and has a distinctive mild scent!

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