More than 100,000 species of natural wood grace this planet. Like Michelangelo, a gifted woodworker sculpts color, grain, strength, weight and purpose to bring out the best in a building. Where flexibility is called for, bendable oak or elm is a better choice than highly dense mahogany. Exceptionally strong Douglas fir can weather abrasive elements. Cedar makes much better outdoor deck material than beautiful maple, which tends toward natural decay.
Popular Natural Wood Species
Following are samples that show color and texture variations in just some of the natural wood species. In addition, the Minwax website shows a chart of popular wood species, their characteristics and uses. We also like the Wood Database, where you can find additional technical details on wood species.
It was hard to choose among so many lovely options, but here are some of our favorite natural woods. Half of them have photos illustrating real Versatile Wood Products projects. Click a photo to learn more about each project.
This natural wood is from one of the largest evergreen trees in the world. The timbers are very large in dimension and are also of good quality. Most commonly, Douglas fir is used for structural purposes where wear and abrasion are a factor. The wood is exceptionally strong for its weight, and is one of the heaviest softwoods available in North America.
Birch is fine-grained, medium hard and heavy. Pale in color, it often has a satin-like sheen and sometimes a rippled texture. Birch is also naturally waxy, which makes it resistant to water. It makes high-quality plywood and is valuable for furniture-making.
Oak has an especially beautiful grain pattern and is strong, heavy and of medium hardness. Colors range from creamy white and light brown to reddish hues. Oak is equally at home in historic and contemporary settings.
The cherry wood specie ranges in color from a tan blond to reddish brown. Despite small mineral flecks and pitch and sapwood pockets its close and uniform-grained surface is satiny smooth. Over time, cherry forms a patina and the color becomes deeper and richer. Cherry can also become lighter in color when exposed to natural sunlight.
Sapele is a common stand-in for true Mahogany that is highly dense and moderately hard and heavy. When first cut, it ranges from yellow to salmon. As the wood ages, the color deepens to a rich red or brown.
Maple is strong, hard and has a very smooth texture and fine grain. It is naturally resistant to scratches and cracks. Colors range from creamy white to light reddish brown. Maple is commonly used for flooring, fine woodworking and furniture.
Poplar is a favorite choice for paint grade interior projects such as cabinetry face frame. Its combination of economy and workability make it a popular utility wood. It is also used in veneers, where it can be stained or dyed to mimic other species.
Eastern Black Walnut
Walnut is known for its especially beautiful grain patterns, which range from straight to varied. A stable wood, walnut’s natural color varies from dark brown to purplish black. Sometimes walnut also contains light brown streaks, known as sapwood.
Alder has a very even wood grain and is very straight. Coloring ranges from light brown to a reddish caramel. Over time, alder turns a shade lighter through sun exposure. It has numerous wormholes and tight, open, and split knots. This makes it ideal for a rustic style home decor.