Choosing Your Project Wood

Most of my DIYs are from scrap wood. Usually, these projects are made with either a curbside find that I feel compelled to save from the landfill or maybe a remnant I picked up for a really good price. However, more often than not, I have to purchase the wood I need for a project to get the right dimensional lumber as well as the right look I am going for.

Some wood boards are made from soft grains and some are made from dense grains. It is important to figure out the final look that you want your project to have before you start doing the actual project. Our local big box hardware stores have about 4 main choices of wood boards. Whitewood, Select Pine boards, Poplar, and Oak boards. Whitewood usually has a knotty pine look to it, but depending on the region you are from, it could be either a Spruce, Douglas Fir, Pine, and so on. It usually is a cheaper board that is made from softwood and it has a good selection of knots. Select Pine is a better choice if you want fewer knots and a little denser wood than the white wood. Poplar is also considered a softer wood, but I would compare it to the Select Pine at our local big box hardware store selection as far as density. It seems to mar about the same when banged around. I do like Poplar wood, but the green wood-tone deters me from using it for some projects. Oak boards are available at our local store as well, but oak is pricey and the wood is very dense. It is not an easy selection for the novice DIY’er to make projects from because of those two reasons.

For a primitive or rustic look, I like to use wood that has more knots. The whitewood board is always a good option to work with. It is readily available at most hardware stores and it is relatively inexpensive. I don’t know if our local big box hardware store is now getting it from a different vendor, but the quality of it seems to have diminished. I used to use it as the base for some of my rustic firehose crosses, Now I tend to go right past the selection and purchase the Select Pine dimensional boards. They don’t have the lovely rustic knots I like, but the quality makes a better project. I do pay more for Select Pine than the Whitewood board, but I feel that the firehose crosses finished look requires it. My favorite wood to use when I want a rustic piece is alder wood. The only problem is that you have to find it at a woodshop rather than your big box hardware stores. We have a couple of specialty wood stores in our metroplex. Rockler is one of the more well-known spots to shop for a bigger variety of wood.

Using hardwood in projects can be difficult for novice woodworkers like me. If you choose to dense a wood you can end up with nails not fully sinking in, broken screws (even when you pre-drill), and just a big dose of frustration when completing your project. There are a few pointers that can help you have a successful hardwood project and I will go over some of them in a future post. For now, let’s say that Oak, Walnut, Hickory, and Cherry are all types of hardwoods. There are many more hardwoods, but I just wanted to name a few of the readily available ones. I have chosen some of these boards to make projects before I thought about the inherent difficulties of creating my project from the hardwood. I think that is where some of my gray hair has come from!

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