How to Choose Lumber for Woodworking

  1. Choose between hardwood and softwood
  2. Pick a dimensionally stable wood
  3. Learn various wood milling cuts or grain structure
  4. Know how to spot different types of lumber defects
  5. Learn where to buy quality lumber


Choose between hardwood and softwood

The first thing that you will have to decide on when choosing lumber for woodworking would be to decide between hardwood and softwood. The terms hardwood and softwood don’t really pertain to the actual hardness of the wood.  The distinction has to do with plant reproduction. Hardwoods are angiosperms or those that produce seeds with covering.  These are deciduous trees which lose their leaves during the fall.

Softwoods come from coniferous trees.  These are gymnosperms that have their seeds fall to the ground without covering. Only 25 percent of all softwoods is utilized in woodworking.

Hardwood lumber may include hard maple and lignum vitae, while soft lumber could be Southern Yellow Pine and Red Alder.

It is up to you to decide that type of wood, taking into consideration your project. Some projects like workbench or violin need a good mix of hardwood and softwood.  For example, violin makers utilize a soft spruce for the instrument’s soundboard. They also used maple for the other parts of the instrument like its back, sides, and neck.

Workbenches may also have a base made of pine, which is a softwood, while its top is made of hardwood like maple. After all, the base of the bench won’t take a lot of beating unlike its top so pine should work out well. However, the top of the bench needs to be durable hence the use of maple and even beech.


Pick a dimensionally stable wood

Buy the most stable wood as much as possible. This is very crucial if you are to build fine furniture. You also want to get a stable wood if you have woodworking tools requiring great stability.

Keep in mind that wood moves when it dries. It also changes dimension in seasons and location, caused by temperature changes and humidity. In particular, wood’s width expands as the humidity rises.


Learn various wood milling cuts or grain structure

There are basically three types of grain structure- flat sawn, rift sawn, and quarter sawn.

Flat sawn is the most common wood milling cut, although it is also the least stable. It is often used for table tops and floating panels. It is very likely to warp and cut, although it can be visually striking. You can opt for flat sawn if you know how to offset wood movement.

Rift sawn is the one that is commonly utilized for legs of furniture. It is also common for stiles and rails of doors. Rift sawn has annual rings around 45 degrees to the face of the board.

The most dimensionally stable milling cut is the quarter sawn, which is usually, utilized in stiles and rails of frame. It is also ideal for drawer parts, panel doors and case sides. While it is stable, it may look boring for many.


Spot the different types of lumber defects

Lumber defects can be categorized into two—man made and naturally occurring.  You’d want to avoid defects, although skilled carpenters and woodworkers can work around these imperfections. It is also common for some defects to be part of a design aesthetic.

Some of the more common lumber defects are bow, which pertains to a curve along the face of a board; check which is a crack in the wood structure and usually runs lengthwise.

There’s also the crook, which is a warping along the edge from an end to another.  Wood is also susceptible to cupping, or warping along the face of a board, and twisting or warping in lumber where the ends twist in opposing directions.


Learn where to buy quality lumber

You should also know where to source quality lumber for woodworking in your area. You can start with local wood mills. If you can’t find what you need there, you can search for regional hardwood dealers. You will be able to save money and get good quality wood through local mills and dealers. If you’re lucky enough, you can even get a few exotic hardwoods.

You can also ask the employee of the local wood mill or hardwood dealer about how long the wood has been stocked in the house. Keep in mind that the stock you should must always be given time to acclimate to the weather in your area. Buying new lumber isn’t necessary as you would still have to store it for a few weeks before you commence with your project.


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Willway Lumber can be located at 28728 Fraser Hwy, Abbotsford, BC V4X 1K8 and can be contacted via phone number (604) 856-5144