When building with wood, it is a good idea to learn about the material you are using. You wouldn’t make a cedar chest out of pine, would you? Nope, because it is a cedar chest, it has to be made out of cedar.

Many people don’t realize that different types of wood have different functions. Cedar was used for boxes, chests and closets because the aroma of the cedar has been known to keep moths and other little critters away. Cedar also helps keep things from getting musty. Cedar smells nice, yeah? But using cedar to build a rabbit hutch would be like writing a blank check to your vet. Cedar can cause all kinds of nasty respiratory problems to small animals as well. It's important to know the value of a wood’s properties.

Hard Wood vs. Soft Wood

You can break it down to a more basic level: hard woods versus soft woods.

Hard Wood

Hardwoods are great for things such as flooring and furniture. They are, well, hard. Hardwood is more dense and less likely to dent and scar. There is a downside to using hardwood. It is not as easy to cut and if it is cut or planed too thin it will become brittle and break. Make sure you use sharp tools when working with hard wood. It is pretty unforgiving for smaller projects like bird houses and small wooden toys. When cutting the wood be aware that hard wood can cause the saw to kick or buck it your blade it too dull.

Soft Wood

Building with wood that is soft is not as tough as building with hardwood (go figure). Soft wood can crack or splinter when you are using screws on it. The way around that is to drill pilot holes before you even think about putting screws into your project. Also, try to make sure you put the screw in so that the top is flush with the wood.

If you plans call for countersinking the screw, do so. Being a little lazy about countersinking soft wood and just trying to muscle the screw below stock level will result in a dip that you can’t sand out. Again, when cutting, make sure your blade is sharp, soft wood cuts very nicely, but a dull blade can cause splintering.

Get to Know the Folks at the Lumber Store

Another tip for building with wood is to talk to the people you get your wood from. Even if they are not a woodworking neophyte like yourself, they still know who is buying what kind of wood for what kind of projects in your area.

Plans for your project, if you purchased any, will have wood recommendations. Sometimes that particular type of wood might not be an option for you, but knowing “Al the wood guy” over at the local lumber yard has its advantages. Old Al should know what you can use as a substitute.

Generally speaking, the other big difference between soft wood and hard wood is price. Softwood grows faster so it is more abundant which makes it cheaper. While most hardwoods take longer to mature in demand and a bit more expensive.

Get to know Wood to Build With.  Building with wood is well worth the research into the properties of the material you are working with and will only enhance your finished product. Good luck and watch for splinters!