How to choose the best wood for your project

It is amazing how many things we make out of wood. Look around you sometime and note the number of things (including your house, most likely) that would never be possible without it. Now think about what people did before they invented things like plastic, rubber, and stainless steel.


For our purposes here today, We are talking about wood in the context of home repair and improvement. Whether its a shed, chairs, tables, or some good decking for your porch, wood is the go-to material for it all. So, understanding that, we must now think about selection. This short article will attempt to give you an overview of the different woods out there and how to best utilize them in your DIY project.


The first thing I always do when planning a new project is to sit down with a pen and paper and plan out the construction of whatever I am building. When you do this, make sure to use specific measurements to create this rough set of blueprints. No need to get too elaborate with them, though. Remember, this is only for your own use.


This plan will give you an idea of exactly what kind of pieces you will need and how large they will need to be. That takes a lot of the work out of it, leaving you free to consider the quality of the lumber itself rather than size, shape, or quantity. And that is where we get to the part that some find rather tricky. Don’t just go to the pile in the lumber yard and grab the first thing you see. Pick it up and look it over, checking it out in great detail. Here is a list of qualities to look for:

1. Straightness

This is an obvious one to check if buying a long piece like a 2×4. Just look at it from the end and see if it looks straight. Remember that woods have a tendency to flex with the weather. When they get wet, they become softer and more pliable. They will lose this quality as they dry out. This means that if you take a bent board and nail it in place so that it is straight, it will remain straight when it has dried. This method has been used for centuries to straighten sticks for various purposes. So remember, if your board is just slightly bent, it’s no big deal.

2. Knots

In general, try to always get lumber that is free of knots. These things make it much harder to straighten a board, and are unsightly. Also, they can sometimes become weak spots. A few are not really a problem, but avoid anything that is really knotty.

3. Hardness

There are a half million types of trees out there, but you really just need to know the difference between hardwood and softwood. Let me just save you some time here and give you a simple rule: Anything that is going to bear a lot of weight should be made of hardwood for maximum strength. Anything that has to flex and bend without breaking should be made of softwood. For most construction purposes, I use hardwood. Tables, chairs, decking or a shed all have to bear significant amounts of weight. If you don’t know how to tell softwood from hardwood, just take your fingernail and see if you can easily press a mark into the surface. If so, it is soft.


Of course, this is just a very rough and basic introduction to a complex subject. With so many different kinds of trees in the world, selection is almost an art form. But for those of us who don’t do this everyday, just look at these three factors and you will do fine.