Some woods are chosen for looks, some for economy and some for durability. But some woods offer value in a combination of all three characteristics. These four woods are easy to work with, great to look at, relatively inexpensive and fairly easy to source. While they might not be the most beautiful, durable or inexpensive woods on the market, they’re a good mix of all three.
Western Red Cedar
Western red cedar is a softwood. As its name implies, it has a red tint. It also has a straight grain which, combined with the coloring, makes finished projects visually interesting. As far as smell, you either love it or hate it: it’s slightly reminiscent of pine but has a scent all its own. Readily available at home centers and lumberyards alike, this moderately priced wood handles moisture without rotting making it ideal for outdoor projects. Whether you stain it or paint it, western red cedar offers a balance of visual interest, economy and durability. It’s a good substitute for the somewhat more expensive, harder-to-obtain California redwood.
Oak is a staple wood for many woodworkers – and with good reason. One of the hardest hardwoods, it’s available in red and white varieties. White oak is resistant to moisture and has a more attractive grain and figure, making it the go-to for furniture as well as outdoor projects. Red oak, while not as visually attractive or moisture-resistant, is just as strong as its white counterpart. Both varieties of oak are less expensive than nearly any other domestic hard woods. Red oak is readily available at most home centers and lumber yards. White oak, while sometimes found at home improvement centers, has a better price, quality and availability when obtained from a lumberyard.
Fir, sometimes referred to specifically as Douglas Fir, is one of the soft woods with a high value. This wood has a straight, highly pronounced grain, making it relatively easy to work with. Despite this, the grain pattern isn’t very visually intriguing and the wood doesn’t take stain well: finished projects are usually better off with a coat of paint. Fir is one of the harder soft woods and It’s inexpensive and readily available from both home improvement centers and lumberyards.
Birch is available in both yellow and white varieties. It’s one of the harder hardwoods, although not as hard as oak. White birch is a good substitute, visually, for the increasingly more expensive maple, although it isn’t quite as difficult to work. Birch is stable, easy to work with and provides no surprises during use. While it’s hard to stain, it’s easy to paint. Birch is readily available at both home centers and lumber yards and is one of the less expensive hard woods.
The word value doesn’t just apply to price: a cheap wood that doesn’t withstand the test of time or is difficult to work with isn’t much of a deal at all. Value woods are a fair mix of low price, easy workability, and moderate visual interest. Some woods lend themselves better to certain projects, but generally, value woods provide the best of all worlds for woodworkers and clients alike.