No doubt you’ve heard of hardwood floors, but did you know about hardwood’s many other uses in the home improvement industry? Although softwood comprises 80 percent of the lumber used in home building and renovations, hardwood is prized for applications like luxury decks, stain-grade moldings, and heirloom-quality furniture, where sturdiness combined with an elegant appearance are essential. There is a vast variety of hardwood species, each with its own special qualities. Find out more about the characteristics of hardwood.  

Types of Hardwoods

Ash - Ash is a light brown, straight-grained hardwood. It is sometimes substituted for white oak and grows throughout the Eastern U.S. USES: furniture, hardwood flooring, doors, and moldings.

Birch - One of less expensive hardwood options, birch is not recommended for staining. It is available in yellow or white. USES: small woodworking projects.

Cherry - Cherry is easy to work with, stains and finishes well with oil, and ages beautifully. It resists warping and shrinking. Due to demand, it tends to be more expensive than other hardwood floor types. USES: bathroom  and kitchen cabinets, hardwood flooring.

Mahogany - This durable wood has a close grain and rich reddish brown color. It resists swelling shrinking, and warping. USES: fine furniture, cabinets, wood facings and veneers.

Maple - Available in soft and hard varieties, maple has a fine texture and lovely delicate color. Interestingly, the hard (sugar) maple is the state tree of Wisconsin, Vermont, New York, and West Virginia. USES: fine furniture, hardwood flooring.

Oak - Oak is one of the most commonly used hardwood types for furniture. Oak is a sign of quality in furniture and available in red and white. Red oak is the most abundant species growing in Eastern hardwood forests. USES: furniture, flooring, molding.

Poplar - Poplar is one of the less expensive hardwoods and is a softer wood which makes it easy to work with. USES: cabinets and other light construction.

Rosewood - Rosewood has a deep brown-red color, fine grain, and characteristic scent. USES: high quality furniture, veneers.

Teak - Teak is a great wood choice because is hard and durable. Teak’s resistance to moisture and rot, which has made it a popular choice for outdoor use. It is pricier than other hardwoods. USES: hardwood flooring, indoor and outdoor furniture.

Walnut – Walnut is finely textured, easy to work with and to finish, and resistant to shrinkage and warping. It is also on the higher price end. USES: cabinets, furniture, wall paneling.

Hardwood vs Softwood

Hardwood comes from deciduous trees (species that shed their leaves annually), which are slower-growing than the coniferous trees that yield softwood. Although this fact makes hardwood more expensive, it’s also sturdier and longer-lasting, as a general rule. Hardwood has better resistance to fire and mold, as well. Hardwood tends to be used for furniture making and smaller wood projects while softwood is used for larger home construction, building and remodeling projects.

More About Hardwood

Hardwoods are sold by the board foot, which is defined as a square foot of rough lumber that is 1 inch thick. Hardwoods aren't often used for general construction or for large projects where appearance is unimportant such as subflooring, but rather for fine furniture and quality flooring. With the variety of colors, textures and grain patterns, your choices are almost endless. Consult a knowledgeable carpenter or flooring professional about the best type of wood for your project.  And remember … although they are costlier than softwood, hardwood products can last a lifetime with proper care and maintenance.


Some exotic hardwoods, such as Brazilian rosewood, are close to becoming extinct. This fact has made has caused environmentalists to become very concerned and active in the preservation efforts of many hardwoods. To be sure that you are purchasing sustainably sourced hardwood, look for the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certification.

Updated May 14, 2018.

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