Softwood can be confusing. Will it work for furniture? In this article, we share some of the insider secrets. Not all softwood plays by the same set of rules. Being informed ensures that you have the best experience when crafting furniture.
You can use softwood for furniture. Pine, cedar, and fir are all common options. Softwoods provide several advantages, including being cheaper, easier to work with, and readily available at local hardware stores.
However, there are a few disadvantages. If you’re not careful, you could spend a lot of time working on a piece of furniture only to have it crack or warp when it’s finished.
This article will explain the advantages of softwood for furniture, which type of softwood is best for your project, and how to avoid getting juked by cheap lumber.
What is the Difference Between Hardwood and Softwood Furniture?
Before we discuss finding the best softwood for your furniture, we need to answer the questions: what is softwood? And how does it differ from hardwood when constructing furniture? You’ve come to the right place.
First, softwood isn’t necessarily softer than hardwood. Balsa wood is considered a hardwood, and it’s one of the softest woods out there. The terms softwoods and hardwoods relate to how a tree grows.
Softwood trees are coniferous – evergreens, trees with cones and usually needles.
Hardwoods are deciduous – flat leaves fall in the autumn, and they usually grow slower.
Now, you should note: most hardwoods are harder than softwoods, but that doesn’t mean softwoods can’t work for furniture. In the sections below, we compare soft and hardwood furniture.
Hardwood for Furniture
Hardwood is commonly selected for furniture because it is durable and has beautiful grain. The dense fibers and porous nature of the hardwoods give them a very premium look when expertly crafted.
Common hardwoods: Cherry, Birch, Maple, Walnut.
Here are three reasons people select hardwood over softwood when making furniture:
- Hardwood is durable; this allows the chair you build to last longer. Hardwoods are more durable because they grow slower and have a more complex grain structure than softwoods.
- Hardwood is beautiful, and this beauty attracts people who make high-end furniture. Woods like mahogany are known for their rich color that darkens with age.
- Hardwoods don’t have sap; sap and resin can be a pain when woodworking. These substances clog up tools and make it difficult to achieve a fine finish.
For these reasons and many more, many people believe hardwood is optimal for furniture. However, there are reasons – often overlooked – to use softwood for a piece of furniture.
Softwood for Furniture
Hardwood is a formidable opponent. But softwood has a few great things going for it when it comes to making furniture. We will go over three of these reasons below.
Benefits of using softwood for furniture:
- Softwood gives a rustic look. Woods like pine usually have lots of knots (be careful the knots don’t cause structural defects). Some people even specifically choose a knotty pine theme for their home.
- Softwood is readily available. There is no shortage of softwoods at your local lumberyard. People use pine for all sorts of construction purposes. If you know how to look for a good piece of wood, then you can get a heap of suitable softwood for your money.
- Softwood is excellent for beginners. You don’t want to mess up a premium piece of hardwood on your first go at making that bookshelf. Softwood and hardwood have many differences in how they handle, but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn a lot of fundamentals on a standard piece of softwood.
There are more reasons to choose softwood. Some people like the smell of pine or cedar. These softwoods have a classic wood aroma, which sets a cozy atmosphere.
If you’ve decided to have a go at making some softwood furniture, our next section will go over which type of softwood is best for your project.
Different Types of Softwood for Furniture
So, which softwood is right for your project? In this section, we will give you an in-depth look at some of the most popular softwoods for making furniture. Selecting the best softwood for your project will ensure you get the results you want.
Here are three softwoods used for furniture:
Let’s talk about these in more depth.
Softwood for Furniture – Pine
Pine is a popular option for furniture. This lumber is available at all lumber yards. Pine is easy to work with, but it is not too soft to create a strong structure. Almost all houses use pine for the framing of walls and ceilings.
Pine is inexpensive. If you have a good eye for quality lumber, you can get some lovely wood for a great price.
Of course, there are some downsides to pine.
Pine is not as weather-resistant as most hardwoods. Even its softwood friend, cedar, is more resilient to weather and moisture. Also, pine produces a fair amount of sap. This sticky substance can make the wood difficult to hone.
Pine and softwoods in general, are known for their knots. If you’re not careful, knots can make your board unstable.
Pros: Inexpensive, accessible, easy to work with, generally pretty stable.
Cons: Not as durable as hardwood, sometimes too many knots, beware of resin.
Softwood for Furniture – Cedar
People love cedar for many reasons. Cedar contains several different substances that make this softwood naturally rot-resistant, insect resistant, and water-resistant. That’s a lot of resistance for a softwood. Also, cedar tends to have straight grains, which even make it resist warping. Finally, many people love the strong cedar scent.
As with all woods, cedar does have some cons.
Cedar can cause some headaches. First, cedar is rather delicate at the surface, which makes it prone to dents and scratches. Second, cedar’s rich colors fade with time. This means you will need to re-stain the furniture almost annually to keep it looking fresh.
Third, cedar is more expensive than woods like pine. The price isn’t outrageous. But, you will pay more for cedar than a wood like pine.
Pros: Very resistant to the elements, smells terrific, less prone to warping.
Cons: Relatively more expensive than other softwoods, easily dents, fades to a grey color.
Softwood for Furniture – Fir
There are a few things about fir that separates it from the pine and cedar. First, fir is a relatively straight-grained wood. While this may not be a dazzling design, straight grain makes the wood easy to shape.
Second, unlike most softwoods, fir produces little sap, so you don’t need to worry about cleaning off any sticky substances. Third, like pine, fir is inexpensive and widely available.
Now for the downsides.
Fir is a relatively coarse wood. This means it is difficult to get a clean edge when building. Also, due to the fir’s growth rings’ patterns, staining your finished piece of furniture can be challenging.
Pros: Relatively inexpensive and accessible. Less resin and sap than other softwoods. Straight grain. Strong and holds well with adhesives and hardware.
Cons: Coarse grain. Fir doesn’t take in stain very well. Not known to be as rot resistant as cedar.
Selecting the Best Softwood for Furniture
Now we will give you a few principles to follow while looking for softwoods at the lumberyard. Woods like pine are often sold in bulk sections. It’s easy to grab the first piece of wood on the pile, but this could cause problems down the road.
Use these three principles when selecting softwood for furniture:
- Avoid center-cut lumber
- Beware of knots on the edges
- Look for a tight grain structure and avoid warped boards
Here’s a closer look at these principles.
Avoid Center-Cut Lumber
Center-cut lumber is what it sounds like – lumber cut from the very middle of the tree. If you think about the rings of a tree, this would be where the rings are smallest. Center cut lumber prone to cracking and warping.
Look at the end of the board; if it contains small rings, it was cut from the tree’s center.
Avoid Knots on the Edges
Knotty wood can have a very striking look. For this reason, you don’t need to worry about avoiding knots altogether. Just remember that knots on the edge of a board can and will fall out – causing the board to become less stable.
Also, knots are inherently harder to drill and cut through. If you don’t care for the rustic look, it’s best to avoid boards with lots of knots.
Look for a Tight Grain
Instead of center-cut lumber, you want a board cut between the middle and outer edge. When looking at the end of your board, you want to see tight grains that do not contain small growth rings. This will ensure that your board is sturdy. Also, avoid boards with obvious warps.
Warps make everything worse.
Softwoods are a good option for making furniture. Of course, there are pros and cons, and maybe someday you’ll want to try your hand at a hardwood project.
Softwoods like pine, cedar, and fir all have various benefits when crafting your furniture. If you follow the principles outlined in this article, you will be on your way to constructing some beautiful furniture.