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?.