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Custom Furniture Design: Choosing the Right Wood for Your Project

Timber Knowledge Tips & Guides
15 June 2023 min read

Custom Furniture Design: Choosing the Right Wood for Your Project

In the realm of custom furniture design, the choice of wood is a decision that carries significant weight. The type of wood you choose can dramatically influence your piece's look, durability, and functionality. 

At Woodshop Direct, we understand the importance of this decision and are here to guide you through the process. 

This article will delve into the world of wood, offering insights into the different types available, their unique characteristics, and how to pick the right one for your custom furniture project.


Understanding the Basics: Hardwood vs Softwood

Before we delve into specific types of wood, it's crucial to understand the basic distinction between hardwood and softwood. Contrary to what their names suggest, the terms 'hardwood' and 'softwood' do not necessarily denote the hardness or softness of the wood. Instead, they refer to the type of tree from which the wood is harvested.

Hardwoods come from deciduous trees, which shed their leaves annually, such as oak, walnut, and mahogany. These woods are generally denser and more durable, making them ideal for furniture that can withstand heavy use.

Conversely, softwoods come from coniferous trees, which retain their leaves all year round, like pine, spruce, and cedar. These woods are typically lighter and less expensive, making them a popular choice for projects with budget and weight considerations.


Delving into Hardwoods


Oak is a popular choice for furniture due to its strength, durability, and attractive grain. It comes in two main types: red oak, which has a warm, reddish tone, and white oak, which is more durable and has a lighter, more neutral colour. 

Moreover, oak is a versatile wood that can be stained to various shades, making it adaptable to different design aesthetics.



Walnut is renowned for its rich, dark colour and fine grain. It's a hardwood that's strong yet easy to work with, making it a favourite among furniture makers. Furthermore, walnut's deep tones can bring a sense of luxury and warmth to any piece.



Mahogany is a high-end hardwood known for its reddish-brown colour and straight grain. It's highly durable and resistant to warping, making it an excellent choice for pieces like dining tables and bookcases that require stability.


Exploring Softwoods


Pine is a softwood that's light in weight and colour. It's less expensive than most hardwoods, making it a popular choice for budget-conscious projects. Plus, pine is easy to work with and takes paint well, offering various design possibilities.



Cedar is a softwood known for its natural resistance to moisture, decay, and insect damage. It has a distinctive reddish colour and a pleasant aroma. Further, cedar is often used for outdoor furniture due to its durability in various weather conditions.


Making the Right Choice

Choosing the right wood for your custom furniture project depends on several factors, including the piece's intended use, budget, and personal aesthetic preferences. 

For example, a durable hardwood like oak or mahogany would be a wise choice if you create a dining table with heavy use. On the other hand, if you're crafting a decorative piece where weight and cost are considerations, a softwood like pine or cedar might be more suitable.


Stepping Beyond the Traditional Choices

The woods mentioned above—oak, walnut, mahogany, pine, cedar—have proven their worth in custom furniture, but they aren't the only contenders. The world of wood is teeming with other fantastic options, each bearing unique characteristics that could add an unexpected twist to your project.



Ash, a hardwood, is known for its shock resistance which makes it a fantastic choice for pieces that will endure frequent use or heavy loads. Also, with its light colour and straight grain, ash brings a contemporary feel to furniture, aligning well with modern aesthetics.



Highly regarded for its strength and hardness, maple is a furniture favourite. Whether you choose the subdued grain pattern of hard maple or the pronounced character of bird's-eye maple, you’re sure to get a durable piece with a touch of elegance.


Exotic Woods

For a furniture piece that stands out, consider delving into the world of exotic woods. For example, woods like teak, rosewood, or zebrawood bring unique colours, grain patterns, and textures that are hard to replicate. Yes, they might be pricier, but their uniqueness can be well worth the investment.


Balancing Sustainability and Style

In an era where sustainability isn’t just a buzzword but a necessity, being conscious about where your wood comes from is crucial. Opting for woods from sustainably managed forests, or reclaimed or recycled wood, adds an extra layer of value—both ethical and aesthetic—to your custom furniture piece.

Reclaimed wood, for instance, carries an eco-friendly tag and bears the charm of time-worn looks and character-filled grains. Every dent, scratch, or patina tells a story, making your furniture a conversation piece.


The Role of Finish

The choice of finish—a simple oil rub or a glossy lacquer—can significantly affect your custom furniture's final look and feel. It can actually highlight or subdue grain patterns, deepen or lighten the colour, and enhance durability. Therefore, understanding the impact of different finishes on different woods and choosing the right one is key to achieving the desired look and longevity.


Functionality and Climate Considerations

When picking wood for your custom furniture, don't forget to consider its intended use and the conditions it'll be subjected to. For outdoor furniture or pieces for a humid area, woods with high natural resistance to moisture, like teak or cedar, are ideal. On the other hand, darker woods like walnut can help minimise visible fading for a piece likely to be exposed to sunlight.


Tailoring to Your Skills

For DIY enthusiasts, the workability of the wood should also be a factor. Some woods, like pine or poplar, are more forgiving for beginners, while others, like oak or maple, might need more experienced handling.

In essence, while aesthetics matter, functionality, sustainability, budget, and even your woodworking skill level should come into play when choosing wood for your custom furniture project. Remember, the right wood can transform a great design into a masterpiece that stands the test of time.


Woodshop Direct: #1 Professional Wood Supplier

Choosing the right wood is an important step in custom furniture design. The type of wood you select can significantly influence your piece's look, feel, and longevity. By the same token, whether you opt for rich walnut tones, oak's durability, pine's cost-effectiveness, or cedar's weather resistance, your choice of wood will significantly shape your project.

At Woodshop Direct, we're passionate about helping our customers make informed decisions about their woodworking projects. Moreover, we offer a wide range of hardwoods and softwoods, all sourced responsibly and made with the utmost care. Reach out to us today to discuss your project, and let us help you choose the perfect wood to bring your vision to life.