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November 16, 2007

Least Favorite Wood to Work With?

OK, Christmas is not that far off, and we all know what that means as woodworkers:  We better get off our rears in gear and start making some gifts! 

This time of year it's not uncommon to get requests from family members or close friends (or not so close friends) on what they would enjoy us making them for Christmas.  I take this as a big compliment when folks do this.  However, when they start asking for a particular kind of wood for it to be made out of, I cringe.  I hold my breathe and wait to see what they say.  Does this happen to you?

What's that one species of wood that you just don't enjoy working with?  I'll be honest with you, the one species that I don't enjoy is OAK, particular red oak.  I know, I know, it's one the most popular woods available to us as woodworkers here in the US.  But I still don't use it unless I have to.  

Here's some of my reasons for not using red oak very often:  Red oak is hard as nails which is why it's equally hard on saw blades. The grain pattern is difficult to match when gluing up panels.  I don't even like the way it smells when it's cut.  And probably the biggest reason of all, it's used frequently in styles of furniture that I don't enjoy building.  I'm not sure how you would even classify the "oak factory outlet" style of furniture.  I do like mission style furniture, but red oak is usually not the species of choice.  Besides, I like mission style with a twist, using different species of wood such as cherry or walnut.

So, let me have it if you disagree with me.  And for those that agree with me, but have always been too ashamed to admit it, it's time to speak up!  Let me know what you think!

-Craig Stevens

Comments (6)

Tom Sheehan:

Craig, the wood I least like to work with is mahogany. I think it is too prone to splintering and creates way too much dust when sanding.
My most favorite is white oak. One man's junk is another man's treasure.

(WR) Craig Stevens:


Thanks for your post. If we all enjoyed working with the same wood our work would be pretty boring. I actually do like white oak (at least much more than red oak). White oak has a nice grain pattern and when it's quarter sawn, can be down right beautiful.


jay angel:

my least favorite wood to work with is hickory, i have made my wifes kitchen cabinets from it and i must say that it is beautiful, and doesnt look a thing like the "hickory" you get from the box stores.
however hickory is impossible to plane without extremly sharp blades as it chips and splinters around any grain shift, the color is impossible to match to any filler that i have found or made, as it changes color all the time, and to remove the voids where it has chipped takes hours of sanding and leaves you with a wavy board.
jay angel

(WR) Craig Stevens:


I hear you about hickory. I think it's a beautiful wood, full of character, but a devil to work.

I'm reading Christopher Schwarz's Workbenches book and it give lists of the weight and stiffness of common woods. Shagbark hickory ranks first in stiffness and second in weight weight (behind purpleheart). Needless to say, this is a tough wood.

So, taking any commissions for hickory cabinets?



My wood source got a bundle of stuff called coyote wood - very nice looking and a royal pain to work with. Little nasty splinters get you when you're not looking, when you are looking and when you are even thinking of looking.

Purple heart. Dusty, hard, doesn't smell all that good.

Honorable mention: Bloodwood. Smells great, looks great, fantastic finish but splinters easily and they stab you good and deep. When you cut it you're never sure if the cut is going to release internal stresses and cause your part to become a hockey stick. I'll still use it from time to time but I just can't love it like I'd like to.


What a great post. Thank you for your hard effort. It's a brilliant work.

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