Wood furniture knows no style boundaries. It can be found on ornate, traditional pieces to sleek, modern furniture. And you'll find it everywhere in the home—from the kitchen to the bedroom and every space in between.
By identifying 13 of the most popular wood types used in furniture and the nine most common wood finishes, we help simplify the process of looking for that perfect furniture piece.
Common Woods Used in Furniture
Ash (white ash): With a pale wood color, ash is a tough hardwood. It is extremely flexible without losing its strength, so it is often found in bent and curved furniture.
Birch (yellow birch): This is a common hardwood used in all types of furniture. Birch is light yellow-brown in color, and similar in color and grain to maple.
Cedar: A softwood that is mostly used in closets, armoires, chests, and dressers, cedar is a light reddish color with lighter streaks and knots. Cedar has a distinctive scent and is effective in repelling insects, especially moths.
Cherry: Often used in fine furniture, cherry is an expensive hardwood. It takes stains and finishes easily and ages beautifully.
Mahogany: As one of the most treasured woods, mahogany is a main-stay in fine furniture. This expensive wood has a reddish-brown to deep red coloring.
Maple: Maple is a dense, attractive hardwood that's often used in furniture and is the most common wood used in butcher blocks. Maple is a light brown color with a reddish cast.
Oak: Commonly used in furniture, oak has two main variations: red and white. White oak is gray-brown in color, while red oak has a reddish cast with a gray-brown color. Because of its strength and beautiful grain, oak is often used in solid wood furniture and veneers.
Pecan: Used often in dining furniture, pecan is a strong hardwood. It is also commonly found in veneers. Pecan has a pronounced grain, and the color ranges from pale brown to reddish brown.
Pine: The primary wood used in unfinished furniture, the light color of pine takes stains well, and therefore can take on many colors when stained or painted. Pine often has knots and clearly marked ring growths creating a recognizable grain.
Teak: Weather-resistant teak is commonly used for outdoor furniture like chaises and patio dining sets, as well as in shower accents like mats and stools. The color of teak varies from a golden brown to a dark brown. It is an expensive wood.
Walnut: Traditionally used in fine furniture (like cabinets), expensive walnut is also often used in veneers. Walnut is chocolate brown with dark or purplish streaks.
Wenge: This expensive, cappuccino-colored hardwood is often used in modern décor. Wenge is dark brown to black with black graining. (Pronounced when-gay.)
Composites: Plywood and particle board are manufactured wood products.
Plywood is made of multiple, thin layers of wood that are glued and pressed together. Plywood is strong and resistant to warping, shrinking, and swelling.
Particleboard is made of glue, sawdust, and wood chips that have been mixed together and pressure treated. Particleboard is a common component of inexpensive furniture that has a veneered or laminate facade.
Common Wood Finishes
Inlays: As a popular decorative technique, inlaying involves inserting contrasting materials into depressions in a base object to create a design with a flush, flat surface. Common on accent tables and jewelry boxes, inlayed wood pieces are often expensive as the inlay process is not easy. Materials often for contrast detail work are other woods, metal, or ivory.
Lacquer: This is a protective finish applied in many thin coats. Lacquer can have many sheen levels from matte to high gloss.
Liming, Pickling, and Whitewashing: All three create a white effect on wood giving it a rustic, weathered appearance. This look is achieved by applying a lime mixture, bleach, or white stain/paint to the wood.
Paint: Often found on country, cottage, or coastal-style furniture—wood can be painted any color.
Resin: Unlike other surface finishes, resin soaks in and hardens the wood's individual fibers. Resin-treated wood often has a natural, almost unfinished look and is able to withstand heavy wear. Resin can be clear or colored.
Stain: Stains can change the color of wood to any color under the rainbow from a darker brown to blue.
Shellac: Derived from an insect resin found in southeast Asia, shellac is non-toxic sealer for furniture that can be found in many colors.
Varnish: As one of the toughest finishes, varnish is resistant to impact, heat, abrasion, water, and alcohol. Varnish gives the wood a clear finish, but can sometimes darken the wood. It's available in many sheen levels from high gloss to matte.
Veneers: Veneers are created by bonding a thin layer of fine, decorative wood to the face of furniture made of less expensive materials. Furniture with a veneered finish is usually more affordable than furniture made of solid fine wood. Veneers can be applied in patterns to add visual interest to a piece.
Wood joinery is a characteristic of durable, high-quality furniture. As a traditional technique, this type of construction features unique, puzzle-shape cuts of wood that tightly lock together without any use of glue, clips, or fasteners. Common wood joinery techniques are French dovetail, mortise and tenon, as well as tongue and grove. These structurally sound techniques have a distinct look and level of quality.