How To Buy Hardwoods – Species Selection Guide

How To Buy Hardwoods - Species Selection Guide

When you are starting a DIY project, one of the most important things to think about is the materials that you are going to use. It’s no good simply choosing any old wood and hoping for the best. Hardwood is a great choice if you are looking to make heavy-duty items that will stand the test of time. However, there are many different types of hardwood and each has its own benefits making it suitable for certain projects.

In this guide, we are going to be looking at the various types of hardwood and providing you with all the information you need to make the right choice when buying hardwood.

Species Selection

One of the things that make buying hardwoods such a trying task is that there are just so many species out there that can be used. Now, it is important to point out that while there are literally thousands of hardwood trees, not all of these are regularly harvested for furniture making. That isn’t to say that you couldn’t use any, it’s just that foresters and suppliers tend to go for certain types.

In this section, we are going to spend some time looking at some of the most common choices or hardwoods. We will detail their uses and what you can expect when working with them.

American Cherry

American cherry is often very patchy and can come with a lot of black resin pockets. If this type of character appeals to you then great, but most people find that it makes jointing the boards much more tricky if you want a uniform appearance. To counter the problem, you might go for English cherry which tends to have a more favourable appearance.

In any case, cherry is a great choice when it comes to ageing, since it does so beautifully. What’s more, it is incredibly easy to work with and won’t damage your tools. For people who are just getting started, cherry is a great beginners hardwood.

American Cherry
American Cherry
English Cherry
English Cherry


One of the great advantages of using beech is that it is one of the most affordable hardwoods out there. However, while it might be good for some of your first projects, many people find that they quickly tire of it.

When you are buying beech, you will notice that some stock has a bit of a pink tinge to it; this means that it is steamed beech. Unsteamed beech doesn’t have this quality. Neither is worse nor better and it largely comes down to personal preference. However, you want to be sure that, for any single project, you stick with either one or the other for consistency.

Another great thing about beech is that it is extremely versatile and can be used on its own but also works very well when combining hardwood with plywood for example.

Beech Hardwood
Beech Hardwood


Oak is a very popular wood that is durable and aesthetically pleasing. However, you have to be careful where you buy it since a lot of suppliers don’t allow their wood to dry properly before selling it which can lead to staining. It is a better idea to source your oak from timber yards that kiln-dry their own woods.

The more expensive oak is, the better quality you can expect and the risk of yellow stains is minimal as the wood will have undergone a good drying process. Furthermore, you should look at the grading, if you want to make projects that last then it is worth shelling out a little more for a higher grade.

If you want a specific appearance on your oak then it is possible to request that the timber yard provides you with quarter-sawn which offers a more stable board. That said, the medullary rays that come as a result of this aren’t always consistent so you may end up with a bit of a mixed bag in terms of appearance. As with many other hardwood aspects, this is a personal choice but if you want consistency, this might not be the best way to get it.

Quarter Sawn Oak showing Medullary Rays
Quarter Sawn Oak showing Medullary Rays

Sweet Chestnut

Sweet chestnut is very similar to oak but far less frequently used. However, we think that it has a lot of great qualities and should feature in many more projects than it does. For starters, you won’t pay anywhere near as much as you would for oak and sweet chestnut is considered to be one of the most affordable hardwoods out there.

In terms of appearance, sweet chestnut looks the same as oak only it does not have those medullary rays we talked about earlier. You’ll notice it isn’t quite as dark in colour either. A lot of plantations will include sweet chestnuts with their oak as they will happily grow together but the sweet chestnut is ready for harvest much earlier so the vendor can get in an early sale.

One thing to be mindful of when buying sweet chestnut are sellers that try to tempt you with horse chestnut instead. While the names may be similar, the qualities certainly aren’t and you will find that your furniture does not turn out as well. When using sweet chestnut, it will work well alone but it is also ideal as a reinforcement or secondary timber for oak furniture.

Sweet Chestnut Hardwood
Sweet Chestnut Hardwood


If you buy walnut, you will be told that sap is ‘not a fault’ and when buying ash, you may be told the same thing about the brown staining which is found around the middle of the tree and that is commonly referred to as olive ash. Now, yet again, this is down to preference, there are some people that love this appearance and want to create pieces that are imperfect for aesthetic appeal. However, for most of us, uniformity is key so it is important to make it clear to the supplier that you are not in the market for olive ash.

Working with ask is something that you might attempt later down the line on your woodworking journey as it is a notoriously difficult wood to finish. The reason for this is that ash requires a lot of grain filling but because of its pale colour, this is no mean feat.

Ash Hardwood
Ash Hardwood


One of the things that we find most amazing about maple is that it comes in such a glorious range of colours. Some timber will be white whereas others may have a pink hue or even a tinge of yellow. Of course, for consistency’s sake, you will want to make sure that you use the same colouration within a single project unless you want a very mixed up look. The best way to avoid a non-uniform appearance is to always buy a bit more than you need.

Maple is an amazingly durable type of hardwood and is considered to be one of the hardest. For this reason, it is typically used for heavy-duty pieces of furniture. Moreover, it ages very well and doesn’t cost the earth.

Maple Hardwood

How Much To Buy

When you have decided on the best type of wood for your project, the next step is to think about how much you are going to need. Of course, it is going to vary from project to project but a good rule of thumb is to make sure that you always buy at least an extra 1.5 cubic feet; we’d suggest going up to an additional 2 cubic feet just to be on the safe side if this is possible.

If you go to a timber yard or hardwood supplier, you’re going to find that, for the most part, the wood is cut into flat boards. These will vary in thickness and this is something that you will need to discuss with the supplier. You’ll need to measure up what you’re going to need and buy as many boards accordingly. The reason that the boards are cut this way is to allow for a more natural joint. If they are cut wider, the grain can become mismatched leaving you with something that doesn’t look as uniform as you might like. That said, if you want a more rustic look to your project, this isn’t such a big issue.

You should also consider the price. A lot of people are tempted by cheap wood because they think that they are getting a bargain. However, this isn’t always the case and when buying hardwoods, what you are looking for is durability and quality over bagging a bargain.

For this reason, we would always suggest shopping around to find the best deal. You’ll typically find that, with raw materials like this, you’ll get better value the more you buy. Of course, you don’t want to go over the top and buy too much if it is just going to sit in an outbuilding and rot away.

Where To Buy Hardwoods

Sourcing hardwoods isn’t much of an issue; around the UK, there are several companies, wood yards, and specialists that will help you to find the perfect palette of wood for your project. But while you may begin heading off to DIY stores, as your skills progress, you may want to move onto a more specialist supplier that can cater to more specific needs.

Timber Yards

Timber yards are a great place to buy hardwoods especially if you are looking for an uncomplicated experience. The staff at these yards are knowledgeable and on hand to offer advice as well as helping you to choose the right wood for you.

One thing to keep in mind when shopping for hardwoods at a timber yard is that you probably aren’t going to get the most handsome deal in terms of a bargain. But as we mentioned earlier, it’s more important to source quality and that is something you will get from a timber yard. If you consider buying a cubic metre of American Cherry, you might expect to pay around £100 including VAT but you should also factor in that this accounts for the waste wood you’ll end up with. It might seem like a lot but it’s the price you’ll have to pay to reap the benefits of using hardwood and enjoying your project.

One of the advantages of using a timber yard is that you’ll get flat sawn boards that are incredibly uniform. This is ideal for beginner or intermediate woodworkers or those that don’t have a thicknesser and need something that they can put together hassle-free. That said, while a lot of timber yards do offer planed all round boards, there are also other types of cut on offer such as rift sawn stock that is ideal for creating things like legs.

The best way to determine what stock is on offer and the price you will pay is to check out the website of your chosen timber yard.

DIY Stores

For the most convenience, you might head to your local DIY store to select your hardwood. This is usually an affordable option and when you go to places like B&Q, you will have the advantage of knowing that all their wood is responsibly sourced. The wood is precut and there are several options to choose from.

However, the downside of buying from DIY stores is that you have a limited choice of the size of boards. These large retailers will order very specific stock and it is a case of take it or leave it. On the plus side, you’ll get a great shopping experience since the staff at these places are there mainly for customer service so will be able to offer some good advice. If you’re just starting out with DIY then this is a good place to get your first taste of buying hardwood.

Specialist Hardwood Importers

Those who are at an advanced woodworking level and who want to be able to get their hands on wood that is very specific to their needs may do well to use a specialist hardwood supplier. One of the reasons that so many people turn towards these suppliers is that there is much more choice in how the wood is cut.

Earlier, we talked about choosing the right amount of wood and discussed how most timber yards and other general suppliers will provide you with flat sawn wood. A major benefit of using a specialist hardwood supplier is that there really are no limitations on how wide the boards can be cut. You also have the opportunity to speak with the supplier and get them to create a custom cut, which is ideal when working on bespoke projects.

What’s more, you will have access to much more natural wood products. When you go to a general supplier, you’re likely going to be given steamed woods when buying things like walnut and this is done to create a more uniform look. On the downside, it also takes away much of the character of the wood, leaving it looking a bit flat!

Your specialist supplier will offer unsteamed wood that is far better in terms of aesthetic appeal and will certainly give a lot more character to the piece you are creating.

These specialist hardwood importers may also be able to offer you book matched boards which means that they have been cut sequentially from the same log. If you are looking for high-quality wood that will give your piece uniformity, then this is the only way to truly achieve that.

One thing you will need to keep in mind when shopping for hardwoods at these types of places is that the wood may not be as ‘perfect’ looking as what you have been used to in a timber yard or DIY store. These boards are much rawer and may look a little grubby even. However, if you speak to the staff, you’ll probably be able to get them to plane a little of the top surface away so that you can get a better idea of what the wood underneath is like.

That said, this is a much more independent buying experience and when you initially head out to these places, it can be a little intimidating. Of course, the staff will answer your questions, but they aren’t going to hover around while you choose and much of this experience will rely on your own expertise and ability to choose the right type of wood. Moreover, these specialist suppliers don’t typically offer delivery so you will need to make sure that anything you choose can be transported by your own means.

See our UK Exotic Hardwood Supplier List Here >

Harvesting Hardwoods From Old Furniture

If you have some old hardwood furniture lying around, then there is no reason that you cannot salvage the wood and put it to good use. After all, we’re all about reusing and recycling. One of the best ways to do this is to scout demolition sites and home remodellings. You will find skips full of old furniture and hardwood that will otherwise be discarded. Of course, you will need to check with the project manager first, but in most cases, it won’t be an issue to take it off their hands.

Repurposing old furniture
Repurposing old furniture

However you source your hardwood from old furniture, it is important that you prepare it before reusing it. To begin with, you will need to inspect the wood to make sure that it can be reclaimed; in most cases, it should be fine but if there are significant signs of rot then you may have to admit defeat and find another piece.

If it all looks good then you will be able to begin cleaning the wood using a mild detergent and a toothbrush for tough areas. Try to use as little moisture as possible but washing the wood outdoors on a hot day will ensure that it doesn’t stay wet for too long.

Now, you will need to make sure that the wood is free from metal and other protrusions, removing these as you find them. You will then be able to ensure that the wood is even by passing it through a planer before using it for your next project.


Hardwoods provide excellent longevity and stability for furniture and they come in thousands of species. Of course, there are those that are much more popular for woodworkers owing to how readily harvested they are. Understanding how and why each different type of hardwood should be used is the first step in understanding the types you should buy.

Even after this, there is a lot to think about and you will need to consider how much wood you are buying and where you will source it from. While it may feel like a daunting task, you have options and as you progress through your woodworking journey, you’ll become more familiar with what to look for and how to get exactly what you want.

See our UK Exotic Hardwood Supplier List Here >

How To Buy Hardwoods – Species Selection Guide

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