What Kind of Wood Should You Build With? | WOODWORKING BASICS

What Kind of Wood Should You Build With? | WOODWORKING BASICS

One of my favorite Star Trek lines–
“Damnit, Jim. I’m a doctor not a–” Narrator: –Micro Jig. Maker of the Grr-Ripper. Work safer. Work smarter. Steve: For new woodworkers, one of the most confusing things to learn is not what tools to use or how to use them, but how to
decide what kind of wood to use. There are a lot of choices, and enough
industry jargon to confuse anyone. In this video I’ll try to boil it down to the
basics that you need to get started. I’m gonna limit my discussion to the most common materials you’ll use for woodworking– hardwoods, softwoods, plywood, and MDF. Of course, this just scratches the surface, but it should be enough to give you the confidence to head over to your local home center or lumberyard and make an informed buying decision. Sometimes the term lumber refers just to solid wood. In other words, wood that’s milled from a tree as opposed to manufactured products and sheet goods such as plywood or MDF. There are two kinds of solid wood to choose from– softwoods and hardwoods. Technically, a hardwood is any wood that comes from a deciduous tree, one that has leaves like an oak or maple, and they’re usually physically harder than softwoods. An amusing exception would be balsa
which is an incredibly soft wood, but since the balsa tree is deciduous
it’s considered a hardwood. Softwood is lumber that comes from a conifer tree. Typically one with needles and cones like a pine tree. But usually when most of us talk about hardwoods we’re referring to it’s physical hardness. Personally, when I talk about softwoods I’m generally talking about pine which is a relatively soft wood. Most of us buy dimensional lumber, boards that have been cut and dried to standard widths and thicknesses. Three quarter inch boards are the most
commonly sold for woodworking. All solid lumber is susceptible
to expansion and contraction. During rainy or humid months boards will draw in the moisture causing them to expand along their widths. Then, in the drier months they’ll contract
as they lose that moisture. Expansion and contraction is an important topic to understand and to keep in mind when building with solid wood, but
beyond the scope of this video. For small projects this wood movement is not too much of a problem, but if you’re gonna be making a big project such as a tabletop, I suggest
Googling more about this topic. Whenever you go to a home center or a lumberyard chances are that scent that you smell is pine. It’s the most common wood you can
buy and usually the most affordable. Pine boards are commonly used in
home construction and framing. If you buy a two by four it’s most
likely pine such as Douglas Fir. Home centers will carry a large selection of relatively inexpensive 3/4 inch pine boards in various widths and lengths. They are perfect for projects that you intend to paint, but a lot of people love the natural look of pine, too. If you like the look of pine, my suggestion
is to show off what makes it unique, and pick out boards that have weird
grain patterns and knots. The ones that most people leave behind. Pine is easy to work with. It cuts and sands smoothly, and it’s gentle on your blades. The main drawback to pine is that it is soft, and it’ll scratch and dent easier than hardwoods. So, it’s not always the best choice for
furniture that’ll receive a lot of use. Also, it can be challenging to find boards that are straight and not curved or warped especially the wider they get. Check to see if a board is straight by looking
down its length with one eye. Don’t be in a rush. Just take the time to pick through the bin for the best boards you can find. When you think of fine furniture and classic woodworking you probably imagine wood species such as mahogany or walnut or cherry, and these represent just a tiny fraction of the hundreds of hardwoods and exotics that you can buy. Mostly people buy hardwoods
in exotic species because of their grain pattern, their color, and their durability. If you want to build something that’ll last for hundreds of years any hardwood is a good choice. Hardwood is rarely stained, and of course, it would be a waste of money to cover it up with paint. It’s almost always protected with a clear topcoat such as varnish, or lacquer, or oil. Hardwoods are great for combining to achieve different looks by contrasting wood. Walnut and maple, for example, are
commonly seen in chessboards. The density of hardwoods can make them tough on tools, and they can be difficult to work with. Less than sharp table saw blades are notorious for leaving burn marks on cherry and maple. Of course, the biggest drawback is that
hardwoods can be extremely expensive especially the more exotic species which can cost hundreds of dollars for even a small board. Plus, it might be difficult to even find
hardwood lumber where you live. Luckily, there are online hardware retailers that’ll pick out good looking boards and send them right to you. The most common hardwood and relatively
affordable species in America is oak. It, along with maple and walnut, are usually
available at my local Home Depot. Oak does have its own issues, but it looks nice, and it’s a great choice for starting out
making things with hardwood. Plywood is one of the most popular and most versatile building materials you can use, but it can also be one of the most confusing to buy mostly because there are so many types and grades all with their own coded designations
that describe its quality. Plywood differs from solid lumber
because it’s manufactured. Thin veneers of real wood are stacked in opposite grain directions and glued together. This crisscrossing is what gives plywood
its strength and stability. The thicknesses of plywood gets mindboggling with odd variations, but the most common thickness used in furniture and other woodworking projects is probably 3/4 inch or at least close to that. In general, the more layers the plywood
has the higher the quality. Plywood that comes sanded on both sides is also best, and look for plywood with the least
amount of voids along the edge. For woodworking projects, Baltic
Birch is commonly used. If your home center doesn’t carry it in full sized sheets they usually sell it in cut sheets called
handi-panels or hobby boards. I really like using these for projects
and recommend them. You can also buy specialty maple, oak, cherry,
or other hardwood plywoods. These can be pretty expensive, though. For shop projects, jigs, or fixtures, there’s nothing wrong with saving money by buying a lesser grade of plywood. Mostly, it’s an aesthetic difference. There are a lot of advantages to using
plywood instead of solid lumber. In the US at least, it’s fairly inexpensive.
Plywood is very strong and stable. You don’t have to worry about expansion and contraction, it won’t warp, and it’s a great option for large surfaces
such as a tabletop. It’s equally strong in either direction so you don’t need to worry about the grain direction besides what looks best. There’s a few disadvantages to using plywood. For one, a four by eight sheet of plywood is heavy and difficult to move around and manage alone. However, most home centers are able to cut it down into smaller pieces for you. Second, while the face of plywood looks great the edges can be a little bit of an eyesore. You can cover these up with iron on edge banding which works really well, or make your own edge banding cut out of solid wood, or if you’re feeling really frisky, just embrace the layers, and use them as a design element. Lastly, the thin wood veneer on plywood
can be tricky to cut. Cutting against the grain can cause it
to chip out or splinter. A good trick is to run some masking tape
along your cutline when cutting against the grain, and use a sharp blade. Finally, I want to talk briefly about
medium density fiberboard or MDF. It’s not to everyone’s taste, but it is inexpensive, and it can be useful on some projects. MDF is commonly used in knockdown furniture, like what you might assemble from IKEA or other retailers. It’s usually covered with a laminate or a veneer. The material itself is super easy to machine
and work with. It cuts like butter, and edge profiles rout out easily. It’s a great option for small decorative interior projects that you’re gonna paint, and you don’t have to worry about it splintering the way wood or plywood can. MDF can be a bit fragile especially near the edges where it can collapse like cardboard if you’re not careful. The faces, though, are very strong,
but if you’re going to use it for shelves longer than two feet
or so they’ll eventually sag. It’s also extremely heavy. A full sized sheet of MDF is no fun
to move around yourself. But the biggest drawback to MDF is the nasty fine dust it creates when you saw or sand it. It’s definitely not something you want to breathe. Make sure you wear a respirator and have some sort of dust collection attached to your tools. The way my shop is equipped, I certainly wouldn’t want to work with MDF everyday, but a few times a year doesn’t bother me. There are a ton of other materials available, but this should be enough to give you the confidence to go to the home center or lumberyard and find exactly what you need for your project. The variety of exotic hardwoods are almost limitless and can be a lot of fun to experiement with especially on boxes and other small
projects that won’t break your bank. But I would also like to encourage you to use free wood. Craigslist is a great resource for people
giving away free lumber. Also, if you don’t mind a little extra work,
consider using wood from old pallets. I’ve broken down a lot of pallets that
were made out of oak. Most of all, have fun, and don’t be
afraid to try something new. Thanks for watching everybody. This week’s episode was brought
to you in part by audible.com, the world’s leading provider of audio books with a library of over 250 thousand titles. I’ve been a fan of Star Trek my entire life, and I thought it would be fun to show you this model I made when I was about twelve years old. Yep, it’s Mr. Spock fighting a three headed monster that never appeared in any episode. Notice the lifelike realism in Spock’s face, and how I must have been way too
busy to bother painting the ground. And in honor of Star Trek Beyond coming out this week I wanted to recommend Leonard: My Fifty Year Friendship With a Remarkable Man by William Shatner. In this biography Shatner shares personal
stories about Leonard Nimoy. It’s a fascinating look at a man who had a deep love for art and took the craft of acting very seriously. This book is funny, it’s interesting, and
at times quite heartwarming. You can download this or any other book free, and get a free 30 day trial of Audible by going to audible.com/woodworking. This book is yours to keep regardless of whether you continue with the service or not. Oh, I wish they had a model of Kirk fighting the Gorn. Hey, everybody. I hope you enjoyed this week’s video. Click the box on the left to see more
videos in this basics series. Also, please take a moment to check out
and subscribe to my other channel Home and Garden For Mere Mortals. This week, Hilah, from Hilah Cooking, will show you what to look for when buying a watermelon. Hey, what goes better with summer than watermelon?


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    Shawn Heidingsfelder

    The only thing I might add to this topic is the difference between treated lumber and non-treated, and when to use either. Sometimes people think they have to buy the more expensive treated lumber when they don't really need it, or waste money buying the cheaper stuff for an outside project that won't last in the weather.

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    Dan Bell

    I've just started working in a store that has a wide selection of woods, and this video has genuinely helped me alot… thankyou dude

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    Majid Kheirkhah

    Hi Steve, Thanks a lot for your video's. They are very useful for a man like me who is hobby woodworker and for others as well i think. And you are very clear and understandable. Thanks again and keep going.

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    I recently came across a bunch of old, unfinished oak veneer plywood that is extremely dirty. Other than that, it seems okay, but I want to clean it as well as I can before sanding it so I don't just sand the dirt into the wood (or sand through the veneer trying to get it clean). I also am afraid of using too much water, as I don't know how the plywood will hold up or if it will come unglued with too much moisture. Anyone have any experience with that?

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    jose favela

    Jesus christ, I'm new to your videos but your intro scenes are infuriatingly funny. Hate that I love them.

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    Ms. Juicy fruit

    Thanks a lot! The more videos I'm watching on your channel, the more I adore it. I haven't found more informative and brief videos on every topic. So glad I've found this precious channel ! 🙂 P.S.: And the author is so charismatic and cheerful !

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    Except that in this country you only get pine, pine, pine, possible a bit of oak and even more pine. Thats all the choices in regular stores. 🙁

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    LOL I dropped a sheet of MDF, edge side down, on my toe about 3 years ago and broke my freaking big toe. So much pain….

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    Jonathan K

    9:27 Um, no, the biggest draw back is the formaldehyde they add to the glue which off gases in your home. Make sure you buy non chinese boards. Or even ones that state no formaldehyde…

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    Awesome work, as always, Steve. Bit off the subject, but I build small to medium projects – mostly for my own amusement – and i'd like to get into making videos. It would be more to illustrate a progression in a relatively ham-fisted maker, but it might be of use to someone. I have a lot of theory in my head and was thinking of a "The First Time I…" type of affair. Any advice for someone wanting to do that?

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    Paul Williamson

    Worth mentioning here is the fact that given the price of surfaced hardwood and the generally unusable state of the pine boards you're apt to find at Home Depot, a thickness planer will pay for itself in just a couple projects.

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    Sam Petersen

    Steve, where are you located? It was so cool that you posted that lumber yard in San Rafael! I’ve shopped there before. I live in Petaluma!

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    90% of the wood I work with is old crates and pallets I drag home from the factory I work at. It's good quality stuff for completely free, but more than half of any project I make with it is just disassembling and planing.

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    EDIT: It's all Oak.
    I have a 4 foot by 12 foot pallet at home that's made with full dimension 4' 2×8 boards attached to two 12' 4×6, HEAVY! I have yet found a good way to get it apart, but I can't bring myself to get rid of it, so it's currently functioning as my ladder to the loft of my garage. Some day though, I'll find a way to get those damn nails out!

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    Roy Arisse

    Do hardwoods have a finer grain than softwood? I find the pine I've worked with to splinter or chip very easily…

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    Although pallet Wood may be an economical option, keep in mind many of them have been chemically treated. Another great informative video!

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    Malcolm Salmond

    if you want lots of free good quality hardwood try finding a manufacturing plant that uses a lot of aluminium. Most of the aluminium used in Canada seems to come from Malaysia and the pallets it comes on are normally made of 4X4's of various Indonesian hardwoods. The pallets have to be strong so the wood is usually fairly clear. Once in a while I see a very dense red wood that I think would be great for furniture

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    Makes me chuckle about MDF. … We all spent many hours in school sanding down sheets in wood working with no protection before it came out how bad it can be….

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    This video was fantastic. I’m always unsure about what types of wood to use for a project. Great content as usual. Thanks friend.

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    One of my first projects i’d like to tackle is making closet shelves. I was pretty intimidated by the idea of going out and getting wood. This was exactly the info I needed to build my confidence . Thanks!

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    Clay Pylant

    Steve, thank you for the great videos, I am learning so much. Question. I need to build a wooden gate for my mom's fence, but it is not going to be made of fence board. It will be decorative. Do I need to use treated lumber? All of it is so ugly and not the look I want. Can I used an oak or something similar and treat it to be weather proof? Or just build it and it lasts as long as it lasts?

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    I am so glad you used a meter with centimetre.
    3/4 inc = 2.54 cm
    Not sure why he doesn't use metrics.

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    I would like to get some help here… I'm trying to start woodworking… got all the basic tools to get me started… I have watch this video (and some other related videos) numerous times and understand what kind of wood I need to get started… I have visited local homedepot and Lowes in Canada and I get more and more confused every time I get there… I don't know what type of wood to buy to build myself a shoe bench for entrance and cannot find a straight piece of lumber when I do find the type I'm looking for

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    A S

    Usually I want to make small enclosures for electronics, mostly of 220mm X 100mm but i don't know what thickness of MDF I need so that it doesn't sag.

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    gnarth d'arkanen

    I know this is an old upload… BUT for all you Star Trek fans who see this (you too, Steve)…

    Plug the following into the Search bar up there :

    Leonard Nimoy, The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins {your therapists can thank me later} ;o)

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    T. Fger

    Depends. On where you are, what wood is available, what you want to make. For the things I have been making for over 20 years, I use 1/2" plywood. I am working on the design for a chair that will use 3/4" plywood. I seldom use anything but plywood. I like it, works very well for the things I usually make, smells good. I have some aromatic cedar stuck away until I find a jewelry box design, for my grand-daughter. Also have some other wood stuck away, waiting for a special thing I want to make. And a batch of oak flooring for the occasional build. But on the whole, plywood is my wood of choice.

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    Daniel Armstrong

    Maybe you or someone here could offer me some advice about a project I've been designing.

    My original idea was to make a bed out of either oak plywood (which is expensive) or a softwood ply wood. I want to use my buddy's cnc and cut out the side profile of a bed frame, a few dozen times; I then want to stack these boards along with spacers onto a few lengths of threaded rod to create a heavy and study bed frame that from the front or rear will show a stacked effect with either equal sized voids or larger voids in between each profile piece.

    I'd really like to use oak, as I just finished 3 other pieces (a book shelf, a filing cabinet, and a desk top) using oak. All of these pieces are going into my nephews room and I'd like the bed to match and have the same stain and material. Of course, even if I use the expensive oak plywood, the edge grains may not look very pretty and may not finish well given the criss cross grain pattern. My other idea was to use thin oak planks, planed and jointed to create the same effect. My concern is given the thickness of the planks (I dont want anything thicker than 3/4" and would prefer a final planed thickness of 1/2" or smaller), the joinery would not be possible using invisible Male female joints. I'm pretty confident given the threaded rod, spacers, and spacers, the lateral stresses on the joints will be minimized, but I'm still worried about durability.

    The project is for a twin bed. The outer faces on the bed portion will be 12" at the joinery and will be arched with a cnc down to a thickness of 10" at the center. The interior profiles will be 4" at the joinery and arch up to 2" at the center. The idea is to fit the mattress snugly in between the two faces with about 4" of the 12" mattress peaking higher than the side faces so that his blankets can drape without a significant bulging from the frame and so that when he sits on the bed, the bed can sink without digging the side boards into his legs.

    So my question, at last, is what kind of wood should I use? Would the planks with face to face joinery be strong enough? Will the reduced vertical width of the boards be strong enough for a hardwood to support the distributed weight of the bed plus occupant? Should I just go for the plywood so that the cut profiles are single pieces of wood (as close to single piece as you can get with ply)? I want strength and durability, as well as something that will match the wood and finish of my other pieces. Cost is a concern, but only after the mechanical strength and visual asthetics. Softwood ply is the cheapest option, the planks (which I've designed and priced) is the second cheapest, and the hardwood ply is the most expensive. I'd need roughly 10 sheets of hardwood ply, and after accounting for spacers (both mechanical and decorative) I'd be left with a lot of wasted material in odd shapes and sizes, which is consideration number 4, as oak and other dense hardwoods take a lifetime to grow and I'd hate wasting too much material. I'd also be willing to use a different wood if I could stain or finish it to match the color of the oak (with 3 coats of a clear finish and a few coats of sealer).

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    Aiden S

    How did you attach the hexagons together for the plywood shelf. I'm just guessing here but I think you used either a ton of glue, small brads+glue, or wih biscuits.

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    Jim Nunyabizness

    My local home improvement stores don't have walnut, but they are ATE UP with poplar. Any advice on using that wood? It seems difficult to apply finishes to.

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    Iair Kolberg

    Hi! Thanks for all your great videos! You are amazing!
    I have a question, you recommend to use pallets for inexpensive projects, and also I love the way they look. But if you want it for an interior furniture don’t you need to do some treatment to the wood? Cure it? Wash it? How don you know is safe to put it inside your house?

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    Thomas Broking

    I would like to know if the woods have a weight per cubic meter? I had worked with wood that was red & about 2000 kilos per meter. I wanted to compare it with pine, oak, Douglas fir, cedar, maple and more. Would you be able to help me.?? Thank you.

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    Thank you for this great video. Question: when you mention "cutting against the grain" in regards to plywood, do you mean perpendicularly to the grain direction?

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    Andy Maker

    My local hardware stores stock only pine and low-grade plywood. But it is ok. I think that sawing plywood creates harmful dust due to the bonding glue maybe?

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    BadAss Technologies

    I don't know where people get the idea that plywood WON'T WARP. It absolutely will, and it does. 30 seconds inside any Lowe's or Home Depot and you'll see stacks of plywood that look like Ruffles potato chips.

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    Dr Frankenstein

    What kind of wood is in the thumbnail? The dark one with lighter spots ? It would look great in a cutting board

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    Every local lumber supplier I can find, aside from online specialty places that charge a fortune and you buy unseen, sell PINE. Well, some call it "whitewood" and it is pine and/or spruce and/or fir. Fence boards (thin) and posts, along with siding, can be found in cedar. The ONLY hardwoods to be found are a small selection of hyper expensive trim boards which are 3/4 in thick, 4 or 6 feet long, and either 3 1/2 or 5 1/2 inches wide.

    THIS is in an area where hardwood trees are harvested and sawed daily. However, the only way to buy from these mills it to buy green lumber, all one species, and in semi truck loads. They won't even talk to you about anything else. The only exceptions are the small Amish mills where one can buy smaller bundles, but one is still looking at several hundred BF of wood.

    I need some good hard maple for a project, but the only way to get it (in an area where thousands of BF of maple are sawed every day, is to order online and, after paying inflated prices for the stuff, pay fantastic shipping charges and hope what I get isn't warped, checked, etc.

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    Doc French

    I live in Kentucky, work with Barn Wood alot, real forgiving, basic, rustic, crafty, easy to find just ride around the country rodes look for old barns that have fallen down, talk to the farmers they'll be happy to give you a whole barn, just to move it. Great Video very informative…. PEACE

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    "…. it's most likely pine, such as Douglas Fir" I laughed when he said that.
    Yes I know a douglas fir is actually a pine, but what I wanted to point out is that depending on where you live dimensional lumber such as 2x4s are mostly spruce.

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    Chris Moody

    More and more in my furniture/cabinet building that is not to be stained, I’ve been using Poplar. Poplar paints beautifully and cost less than Oak, Walnut, Ash etc.

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    Oak, maple, walnut and chestnut are my favorites. They are difficult to get anyway. Wood suppliers here should be called "pine suppliers". The other woods are almost exclusively for export.

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    Richard Martin

    Interesting what you say about hardwoods being deciduous. In Australia almost all hardwood is a species of Eucalyptus – often Mountain Ash, and Eucalypts certainly aren't deciduous. Hardwood is normally referred to as KDHW (kiln dried hardwood) and the quality is normally very good. Like in the USA however, it's not cheap.
    Oak is available to some extent but the other species you mention such as Cherry and Walnut are almost non existent. Australian (Queensland) Walnut is quite different from what you are familiar with.

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    Hello. I want to build a crate/cage for my dogs. It will be 10ft long. What type of wood would you suggest to use for this project.

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    Max Machin

    Love the add-on at the end about free wood. Sustainability of timber these days is a big one, especially for some hardwood. Re-using is always an option I love if the wood is good

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    Stephen Mart

    What would you recommend for a long sofa table? I am planning to make a table to go between the wall and my sofa. It will only be 6-8" deep but will be 113" long. With that length I am unsure the best way to span that length while remaining strong and also manageable (as i don't have a long bed truck).

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