Deciding what to build is just the beginning when tackling a woodworking project. Once you have an idea of what you want to build, then you need to figure out what to build it out of… Plywood, Softwood or Hardwood. Each can have a place in your next building project, and, if chosen properly all three can be combined to ensure your project looks great, will stand the test of time, yet won’t break your budget!
Plywood, not just for Basements Any More
When you think of plywood, you may have images of cheap-looking, construction-grade material that is only suitable housing tools in your basement. You may be surprised to learn that today, plywood comes in many configurations, several of which are very high quality, suitable for use in high end workpieces.
At it’s core, plywood is a manufactured wood panel made from thin sheets of wood veneer. Advantages to using plywood are that it’s inexpensive, flexible in applications where it can be used and is a renewable resource. Plywood comes in hardwood, softwood, decorative and marine grades and is extremely resistant to cracking, shrinkage, twisting/warping and is extremely strong.
Softwoods… Affordable, Renewable, Versatile
Softwood typically come from trees that have cones (conifers). Contrary to the name, softwoods aren’t necessarily softer than other types of woods, but they typically grow faster and straighter than hardwood trees, so they are more plentiful and yield more lumber from a single tree, so they tend to be cheaper than hardwoods.
Softwoods are usually found in local homecenters and make a very affordable choice when building projects that call for solid wood. Examples of softwoods are pine, fir and cedar.
Hardwoods… the Gold Standard
Hardwoods come from the trees that drop their leaves each winter. Think ash, birch, mahogany, oak, teak and cherry. Hardwoods are typically used in fine furniture, but they can be expensive, so many woodworkers use a combination of plywood and hardwoods to create a project. For example, plywood is available with a very nice birch facing. This plywood can be used for the sides, back, dividers, shelves and even the top of a cabinet or bookshelf. Then a hardwood veneer can be glued to the sides of the plywood to hide the edges. This combination makes assembly quicker, reduces cost and still results in an outstanding finish.
In the end, a woodworking project can be built any number of ways, using many different materials. When starting out, consider using plywood and locally-grown softwoods to keep costs down while you improve your skills. As you gain experience, start incorporating more expensive hardwoods into your projects.
For Further Exploration
- Click here to download a Periodic table of Wood showing 118 wood species with photographs
- Click here to download a Woodworking for Dummies cheat sheet