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What Is the Best Wood for Shelves? (10 Ideas with Pictures)

man chooses and buys plywood in a construction supermarket

If you are making wood shelves for the first time, part of your job is to determine the best wood type for the shelves. Overall, you will want to look for hardwoods because these wood types will be the most durable and withstand the most weight. At the same time, you want to select a wood that looks nice and is accessible.

Below, we will go over the 10 best wood types for shelves. Many carpenters use these wood types for building shelves because of their durability and appearance. Scroll down to learn more about these woods.

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The 10 Best Woods for Shelves

1. Mahogany

mahogany wood
Image Credit: optimarc, Shutterstock
Wood Type Hardwood
Best For Paneling, furniture, boats, instruments

Mahogany is in great demand. It is harder than most other woods, including Oak. This makes Mahogany a great choice if you want a durable and scratch-resistant shelf. Mahogany also has a very classic and antique look that is attractive to most.

Of course, the big downside of Mahogany is its price. Even Mahogany without a finish can cost as much as $28 per board foot, making Mahogany one of the most expensive wood types on our list.

Pros
  • Hard
  • Durable
  • Attractive
Cons
  • Expensive

2. Red Oak

oak wooden bar blocks stacked at carpentry woodwork workshop with tools
Image Credit: Gorlov-KV, Shutterstock
Wood Type Hardwood
Best For Furniture, cabinets, doors

Red Oak is a favorite wood for shelves by hobbyists and novice carpenters. Because of its red grain, Red Oak looks a lot fancier than it actually is. It has an exquisite color that certainly will make any shelf look beautiful. At the same time, Oak is highly durable and inexpensive.

Even though Red Oak is relatively durable, it still can be dented relatively easily, though it is resistant to scratching. It can also be easily damaged by water, which means this is not the shelf for you if the shelf will be exposed to high amounts of moisture.

Pros
  • Durable
  • Attractive
  • Affordable
  • Scratch-resistant
Cons
  • Easily dented
  • Not resistant to moisture

3. Cherry

Wood Type Hardwood
Best For Furniture

Cherry wood is considered one of the most aesthetic wood types for shelves. Because of its rich, red color and fine grain, it is often used for boards and panels. When cared for properly, Cherry is a favorite among collectors and antique hobbyists.

In addition to its beautiful appearance, Cherry is relatively easy to shape and polish. It also is one of the lighter hardwoods on this list, making it easier to transport.

The huge downside of Cherry is its price. As you likely know, Cherry is one of the most expensive woods you can get. Cherry lumber often sells for over $100, though density can impact the price.

Pros
  • Beautiful
  • Valued by collectors
  • Easy to work with
  • Light
Cons
  • Expensive

4. Walnut

walnut wood texture
Image Credit: DWilliam, Pixabay
Wood Type Hardwood
Best For Cabinets, carvings, veneers

Walnut is one of the most stable hardwoods native to North America. It often has multiple hues on a single board, making it a beautiful choice. Simultaneously, Walnut is incredibly strong, lasts a long time, and is relatively easy to work with.

The downside of Walnut is that it is a bit expensive. Additionally, Walnut can be scratched relatively easily. What this means is that Walnut is best for professional shelves that will be given the utmost care and attention.

Pros
  • Beautiful
  • Strong
  • Durable
  • Easy to work with
Cons
  • Expensive
  • Easy to scratch

5. Birch

birch wood trunks
Image Credit: Pezibear, Pixabay
Wood Type Hardwood
Best For Furniture, cabinets, doors, toys

Birch is an incredibly strong wood that is often used in cabinets and furniture. It can withstand a good beating while remaining relatively attractive. It can even absorb paint well, making it a great choice if you intend to paint the shelf.

Just like some of the other top wood types on our list, Birch is expensive. It also can crack and warp if it is left in an excessively dry environment.

Pros
  • Strong
  • Durable
  • Easily painted
Cons
  • Expensive
  • Not suitable for dry environments

6. Maple

different kinds of maple wood
Image Credit: optimarc, Shutterstock
Wood Type Hardwood
Best For Kitchen accessories, cabinets

If you already have different types of wood in your home, you will likely want your shelf to match. Maple is a good wood for this reason. It is very strong, and it can be stained easily so that it will match other parts of the room.

Although Maple is gorgeous, it is not very weather resistant. It is sensitive to humidity change, for example. The wood also must be sealed to have even staining.

Pros
  • Durable
  • Easy to match other wood types
Cons
  • Sensitive to moisture
  • Must be sealed

7. African Padauk

African Padauk Wood
African Padauk Wood (Image Credit: Ragesoss, Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0)
Wood Type Hardwood
Best For Flooring, furniture, carving

African Padauk is not a very common hardwood, but it is incredibly versatile and a great choice for indoor shelving. It can come in many colors, allowing it to fit any design or style. It is also resistant to rot and termite damage.

Because African Padauk is not a common wood type, the most difficult part of working with it is finding it. It is not available at all wood sellers. More so, it can emit an odor when you are first working with it that some are allergic to.

Pros
  • Attractive
  • Comes in many colors
  • Resistant to rot and termites
Cons
  • Can be difficult to find
  • Sometimes causes allergic reactions

8. Koa

Wood Type Hardwood
Best For Furniture, accessories, clocks

Koa, otherwise known as Tigerwood, is a long-lived and strong wood. Oddly enough, it has low weight, making it a sought-after wood since it is easier to work with. It also has a distinctive look that many love, all while being water-resistant.

It can be difficult to work with Koa, unfortunately. If you are a first-time user, you might want to opt for a wood type that will more readily take your handling. Plus, it can be difficult to find at some retailers.

Pros
  • Strong
  • Long-lived
  • Low weight
  • Water-resistant
Cons
  • Difficult to work with
  • Can be hard to find

9. Douglas Fir

Wood Type Softwood
Best For Door frames, window frames, lightweight furniture

Douglas Fir is not one of the strongest woods on our list, but it is a favorite shelf type for cabinets. It is dependable, attractive, and affordable, depending on where you live. As a result, Douglas Fir is the best wood for closet shelves.

If you select Douglas Fir, you don’t want to put excessive weight on the shelf. For example, Douglas Fir is not the right choice for bookshelves and other shelves that will have excessive amounts of weight.

Pros
  • Dependable
  • Attractive
  • Affordable
Cons
  • Softwood
  • Not excessively strong

10. Pine

pine lumber
Image Credit: Pixabay
Wood Type Softwood
Best For Children’s furniture, lightweight furniture

The last wood type on our list is Pine. Pine is not the most durable or strongest wood, but it is lightweight and attractive. It is a good choice for beginners because it can easily be worked with and even be stained.

If you select Pine, it’s imperative that you use it with lightweight jobs. Because it is a softwood, it is more vulnerable to breakage, and it is not excessively strong.

Pros
  • Lightweight
  • Attractive
  • Easy to work with
Cons
  • Softwood
  • Not excessively strong
  • Vulnerable to breakage

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What Wood Should Not be Used for Shelves?

Whenever you are making a shelf, you will want to avoid wood that is soft, not very strong, or easy to damage. For example, most softwoods and plywood are simply not strong and sturdy enough for a shelf. All the woods above, except for Douglas Fir and Pine, are hardwoods as a result.

If you decide to select Douglas Fir or Pine, it’s imperative that you pair it with the right use. Either wood type can make an excellent shelf for small decorative trinkets, but it should not be used for bookshelves and other heavy-duty work.

You will also want to avoid any wood with large nuts or poor-graded sides. Any lumber with these attributes will be challenging to finish and paint.

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Conclusion

The best wood for shelves is Mahogany, Red Oak, or Cherry. These three wood types are highly durable, making them ideal for cabinet use. If you are on a budget, we recommend Red Oak specifically.

If you aren’t sold on one of these three types of woods, any one of the other wood types will work as well. If you select Douglas Fir or Pine, just be careful how you use it since it is a softwood.


Featured  Image Credit: Sergey Ryzhov, Shutterstock

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