Sampling some softwoods
Softwoods aren't weaker than hardwoods. Softwoods come from coniferous trees such as cedar, fir, and pine and tend to be somewhat yellow or reddish. Because most coniferous trees grow fast and straight, softwoods are generally less expensive than hardwoods.
It's also relatively easy to find sustainably grown softwoods (woods grown on tree farms to ensure an endless supply of wood); this means you're not contributing to the deforestation of the world and will always have a supply of wood .
The most common type of cedar is the western red variety. Western red cedar, as its name implies, has a reddish color to it. This type of wood is relatively soft (1 on a scale of 1 to 4), has a straight grain, and has a slightly aromatic smell.
Often referred to as Douglas Fir, this wood has a straight, pronounced grain, and has a reddish brown tint to it. Fir is most often used for building; however, it's inexpensive and can be used for some furniture-making as well. It doesn't have the most interesting grain pattern and doesn't take stain very well, so it's best to use it only when you intend to paint the finished product. Douglas fir is moderately strong and hard for a softwood, rating 4 on a scale of 1 to 4.
Pine comes in several varieties, including Ponderosa, Sugar, White, and Yellow, and all of them make great furniture. In some areas of the country (especially southwest United States), pine is the wood to use. Pine is very easy to work with and, because most varieties are relatively soft, it lends itself to carving.
Like cedar, redwood is used mostly for outdoor projects because of its resistance to moisture. Redwood (California redwood) is fairly soft and has a straight grain. As its name suggests, it has a reddish tint to it. Redwood is easy to work with, is relatively soft (2 on a scale of 1 to 4), and is moderately priced. You can find redwood at your local home center.
Homing in on hardwoods
Most woodworkers love to work with hardwoods. The variety of colors, textures, and grain patterns makes for some beautiful and interesting-looking furniture. The downside to hardwoods is their price.
Ash is a white to pale brown wood with a straight grain. It's pretty easy to work with (hardness of 4 on a scale of 1 to 5) and takes stain quite nicely, but ash is getting harder and harder to find. You won't find ash at your local home center — it's only available from larger lumberyards. Ash is a good substitute for white oak.
Birch comes in two varieties: yellow and white. Yellow birch is a pale yellow-to-white wood with reddish-brown heartwood, whereas white birch has a whiter color that resembles maple. Both types of birch have a hardness of 4 on a scale of 1 to 5.
Beech:Beech is another hardwood that bends easily, but it isn't as attractive as ash. Beech is often used with more expensive woods, primarily in inconspicuous places -- chair and table legs, drawer bottoms, sides and backs of cabinets. Beech takes a stain well, and is often stained to look like mahogany, maple, or cherry. Beech is both hard and heavy,and is difficult to work with hand tools. It is inexpensive.
Hardwood Manufacturers Yellow Birch
Birch (yellow birch):
Birch, a common hardwood, is used in all aspects of furniture construction. The wood is light yellowish brown, very similar in color and in grain to maple. The grain is quite pleasing. Birch is close-grained. It is moderately expensive.
This hardwood, often called white walnut, is similar in many ways to walnut. The wood is light brown, with occasional dark or reddish streaks. The grain is pronounced and leafy. Butternut is coarse-textured, with visibly open pores; it is usually filled. Butternut stains well, and is often stained to look like dark walnut. The wood is light, and is easy to work with hand tools. It is moderately expensive.
Oak (red oak, white oak):
This abundant hardwood has always been valued for its strength and its attractive grain; It is used extensively for solid furniture and, in modern furniture, for veneers. White oak is a rich grayish brown color; red oak is similar, but with a pronounced reddish cast. Both types of oak are distinctively grained, with prominent rays or streaks. The wood is open-grained. It is moderately expensive; red oak is usually less expensive than white.
This southern hardwood is quite strong, and is used extensively in dining and office furniture; pecan veneers are also common. The wood varies from pale brown to reddish brown, with some dark streaks; the grain is quite pronounced. The wood is difficult to work with hand tools; the price is moderate.
Although most furniture is made from the woods listed above, many other woods are used in furniture construction.
Some of the other woods used for furniture are alder, apple, aspen, chestnut, cottonwood, cypress, fir, hackberry, hemlock, holly, koa, laurel, locust, magnolia, pear-wood, spruce, tupelo, and willow. Treat all wood according to its apparent traits.