Chapter 2: Types of Wood Used in Furniture

Wood has long been a popular choice for furniture. Wood lends warmth and richness to a room like no other material and makes a home more comfortable and inviting. There are about 1,000 tree species in North America. However, some trees make better sources for wooden furniture than others.

Amish woodworkers carefully choose the type of wood they will work with to make a specific piece of furniture. They will not pick wood that is flawed or of low quality, and they only use solid wood. In this chapter, we’ll look at the types of wood the Amish commonly use for furniture and why.

About 1,000 Tree Species in North America

What Type of Wood Is Best for Furniture?

Throughout history, people have prized wood for its natural qualities as furniture-making material. For example, a simple wooden bed may have been the earliest form of furniture in ancient Egypt.

All woods are composed of the same elements, but variations and differences in cellular structure make wood heavy or light, stiff or flexible. Many different types of wood, such as hardwoods and a few softwoods, make excellent choices for furniture. A few examples of popular hardwoods used in furniture include black cherry, black walnut, maple and oak. Softwoods like cedar or pine may also be used in furniture. All of these types of woods are found naturally in North America.

Choosing the best wood for furniture mainly depends on personal preference. Each type of wood offers unique qualities and variations of color and grain. So, for example, if you want a rustic coffee table for a log cabin, you might choose a table made of pine. If you want a Mission style coffee table for an Arts and Crafts bungalow, you might choose stained oak to match the color scheme. However, woodworkers also consider factors such as function, furniture-making techniques and availability when choosing wood for furniture.

What Is the Most Durable Wood?

White oak is very strong and durable, and it was treasured for building ships, bridges, railroad crossties, fences and more. However, many types of woods are tough and ideal for furniture making such as walnut, cherry and hickory.

For example, walnut and cherry have historically been used in furniture and cabinets, whereas as hickory was often manufactured into durable tool handles. Wood, in general, is inherently strong and durable and outperforms many other materials. Wood is also pleasing to look at and can easily be enhanced with stains. 

What Types of Wood Are Used in Amish Woodworking?

Amish woodworkers stock up on only the toughest, most durable woods. They also use woods they can source locally, meaning you won’t find wood shipped from overseas in their workshop. Here are some of the wood types an Amish craftsman might use when building furniture.

1. Oak

Oak trees are found throughout the country and are categorized as white oak or red oak. Both red and white oak are popular choices for furniture, flooring, paneling, and trim. Oak is very strong, stiff and shock-resistant.

Red oak can be any shade from rich brown to cream with reddish grain. It can also be stained to a very light or dark color – whichever you prefer to match your style or decor. Amish woodworkers often use oak in furniture that gets heavy use such as kitchen chairs and tables.

Amish Woodworkers Stock Durable Woods

White oak is similar to red oak in that it is a hard, durable wood and perfect for functional furniture. White oak also fares well against water which is why it is often used for shipbuilding. Regarding color, white oak is not white but has a slight green undertone in its natural state. It is easily stained from light to dark colors and features a lovely tight, swirling grain.

2. Black Cherry

Black cherry grows mainly in the eastern United States. Cherry features a rich, reddish color with circular grains and a smooth texture. Cherry wood darkens as it ages due to sunlight exposure.

Woodworkers may prefer cherry over oak because it is easier to carve. Amish woodworkers value cherry for its resistance to warping and may use the wood to build bedroom or office furniture. A dark stain can enhance its natural hue and can be used to make a gorgeous bookcase or a warm, inviting bed.

3. Maple

Most maple used for furniture is grown in the eastern U.S. and southeast Canada. Maple wood is considered either hard or soft. Hard maple includes sugar and black maple, and soft maple is mainly silver and red maple. Overall, maple is a very popular wood for furniture making. In fact, as much as 90 percent of maple lumber is used to make furniture, cabinets, flooring and architectural details.

Amish carpenters appreciate hard maple for its strength and high resistance to shock and abrasions. Also, it can be polished to a beautiful high shine. Soft maple is not as strong as hard maple but has an attractive, distinctive color and stains well. Soft maple ranges from pale brown to nearly white with brown streaks.

4. Black Walnut

Black walnut trees can be found covering a large portion of the eastern and central United States. Black walnut is commonly used to make gunstocks, kitchen cabinets and furniture. It’s a hard, strong wood with good shock resistance. Woodworkers appreciate that walnut wood is easy to work with using machinery and hand tools. Walnut is typically a chocolate color and valued for attractive grain patterns.

5. Hickory

Hickory trees can be found from Maine down to Texas. Hickory wood is mostly used in furniture, cabinetry, paneling and trim. It’s a very strong, heavy, hard wood and highly shock resistant. Hickory wood may be more challenging to work with, but is worth the effort. Hickory features contrasting light and dark grain patterns for a dramatic look that really stands out with a stain. You’ll find hickory in everything from Amish-built sofas to TV stands.

6. Cedar

Cedar is part of the coniferous family. It’s a beautiful, aromatic softwood with a slightly reddish color and is suitable for a variety of furniture shapes. Because cedar naturally repels moths, it is often used for clothing storage as a chest or wardrobe.

Although cedar is classified as a softwood, it does not mean it is weaker than hardwoods. Amish woodworkers can construct durable pieces of furniture with cedar. Cedar is favored for its rustic charm, fragrance and natural beauty. Due to its ability to handle outdoor environments, cedar is also an excellent wood for outdoor furniture.

7. Pine

Eastern white pine, which grows from Newfoundland to northern Georgia, is commonly used in furniture. It’s a moderately soft, light wood that is easy to work with and paint. With straight grains and dark knots, pine makes an attractive, distinct wood for rustic furniture. Our Amish woodworkers can make pine furniture that resembles the organic shape and texture of the tree.

If you’re not sure how to choose the right wood for your Amish furniture, reach out to us. Contact us to learn more about the ideal wood for your furniture needs and style.

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