Have you ever felt confused when ready to start a woodworking project? You're not alone, but finding the right wood or lumber isn't as hard as it seems. We'll show you how to pick the right type of wood so your next project will be easy and fun.

Pick the Right Wood for Your Project

Wood types, grains, grades, densities, textures, colours, and even defects — there's a lot that goes into lumber. We have a huge variety for you to choose from, no matter what your project is. Shop online or in-store and get the perfect type of wood for whatever you need.

Lumber 101: Hardwoods vs Softwoods

In Canada, there are over 1,000 species of trees. Of these, only about 100 are used for constructing and manufacturing wood products. From this group, it's best to pick the ones that are easiest to work with and most appealing to you.

There are basically two kinds of wood from which to choose — hardwoods and softwoods. 

  • Close up of wood showing a wavy grain pattern


    These are the trees that lose their leaves in the fall (deciduous). Among an abundant variety, only about 200 are plentiful and pliable enough for woodworking. Much like our skin, hardwoods have microscopic pores on the surface. The size of these pores determines the grain pattern and texture. Because of this, hardwoods are classified by pore openings as either closed grained (smaller pores) or ring porous (larger pores). Most popular examples of closed grained are cherry maple, while oak, ash, and poplar are the most popular ring porous types.

  • Close up of honey-coloured wood


    Softwoods come from "evergreen" trees (coniferous). Only 25 percent of all softwoods are used in woodworking. All softwoods have a closed grain (small pores) that is not very noticeable in the finished product. The most popular softwoods are cedar, fir, pine, and spruce.

More Features To Consider Before Buying Lumber or Wood Products

In addition to choosing between hardwood or softwood, there are other certain characteristics that are common in all wood types. Here are some common terms and definitions you should know.
  • Two pieces of wood laid our horizontally


    Heavy woods like oak are identified by their weight and tight grain pattern, and resist wear, dents, and scratches better than softwoods.

  • Two pieces of wood laid our horizontally


    This is the wood property that determines the condition of the surface and stability. It plays an important role in deciding how a wood can be finished.

  • Close up of knotty wood


    Defects in wood are natural and are appreciated by many woodworkers for the unique character they contribute.

  • Grid photo showing different colours of wood


    Colour contributes to the personality of wood. For example, red cedar will give you a very different look and character than white pine.

  • Close up of wood showing a wavy grain pattern


    Grain is the most well-known wood characteristic. Grain pertains to the wood-cell fibres' orientation. The project you are undertaking dictates the most suitable type of grain.

  • Two pieces of wood side by side, vertically


    Lumber grades are determined by the number, location, and size of defects in the board, not its strength. The clearer the wood, the higher the grade.

  • Several pieces of wood planks


    This is the wood's ability not to shrink or expand before or after it has been worked.

  • Close up of treated wood with water beading on its surface


    Durable woods better resist excess moisture and exposure to the earth, where there's a greater chance of decay. Remember, no wood will decay if it's kept dry.

A Closer Look at Wood Grain

Two boards of the same species can look very different. Each tree has its own grain pattern. This is the direction in which the wood cell fibres grow. These variances in grain direction can have a significant impact on your project.

The grain direction is important to consider when building either structural projects or decorative projects such as furniture or crafts. For instance, when working on a structural application, a straight-grained board is generally the strongest. In more decorative projects, grain with varying characteristics can add beauty and personality to the project.

Six Types of Wood Grain

Grain pattern density determines strength. As you'd expect, a piece of lumber with a tight pattern is stronger than one with a loose grain pattern. And when building, a board's strength is maximized when other pieces run across the grain pattern — not parallel to it.

Close up of wood showing a diagonal grain

Diagonal Grain

When a straight-grained log is not sawn along its vertical axis, diagonal grain is the result.

Close up of wood showing a spiral grain pattern

Spiral Grain

When trees grow twisted, spiral-grained logs and subsequent boards are produced. Fibres follow a spiral course with a twist that is either left- or right-handed.

Close up of wood showing a straight grain pattern

Straight Grain

The board's fibres run approximately parallel with the vertical axis of the log from which it originated.

Close up of wood showing a wavy grain pattern

Wavy Grain

This type of grain results when the direction of wood fibres has constantly changed.

Close up of blue-painted wood showing an irregular grain pattern

Irregular Grain

Boards of this type have fibres at directions that are varying and irregular from the log's vertical axis (e.g. fibres around knots).

Close up of wood showing an interlocked grain pattern

Interlocked Grain

Boards with this grain result from trees whose fibres lined up in opposite directions in each growth year.

Making the Grade

When you are choosing lumber, do you know what the stamp on the wood actually means? Fear not, we've deciphered those hieroglyphics for you. So the next time you go to the lumber yard, you'll sound like a pro.

Grades of Hardwood

Grading designation depends on the number of defects in a given length and width of hardwood boards. As with softwoods, a lower grade can be perfectly acceptable, depending on placement and usage. Hardwoods are graded by the National Hardwood Lumber Association. Here's a chart to help explain the grading system. Grades are listed from highest to lowest.

 Grade Name  Abbreviation  Minimum Board Size  % Usable Material on One Face
 First and Seconds  FAS  6 inch x 8 feet  83
 Select  Sel  4 in. x 6 ft.  83
 #1 Common  #1 Com  3 in. x 4 ft.  66
 #2 Common  #2 Com  3 in. x 4 ft.  50


There are grades below #2 Common, but they are typically not suitable for woodworking.

Grades of Softwoods

Softwoods are divided into two categories: dimensional lumber, with a grade based on strength, and appearance boards, which are typically used for woodworking projects. Grading of softwoods is overseen by a number of different agencies, so you will be more likely to find some variations in terminology. Grades listed here are from highest to lowest.

 Grade  What it Means
 C Select  Almost completely clear of defects. Widely used for interior trim and cabinets.
 D Select  Fine appearance, similar to C Select. May have dime-sized knots.
 1 Common  Best material for high-quality pine with a knotty look. Knots will be tight, meaning they won't fall out and are generally small.
 2 Common  Tight knots, but larger than found in 1 Common. Often used for panelling and shelving. Very suitable for general woodworking projects.
 3 Common  Knots larger than 2 Common. Also used for panelling and shelving, but especially well-suited for fences, boxes, and crates.

Common Lumber Defects

Graphic of wood showing a defect called twist


Multiple bends in a board.

Graphic of wood showing a defect called cup


Hollow across the face of a board.

Graphic of wood showing a defect called crook


Warp along the edge line, also known as crown.

Graphic of wood showing a defect called knot

Knot or Knothole

A tight knot is usually not a problem. A loose or dead knot, surrounded by a dark ring, may fall out or may have already left a hole.

Graphic of wood showing a defect called split


Crack going all the way through the piece of wood, commonly at the ends.

Graphic of wood showing a defect called wane


Missing wood or untrimmed bark along the edge or corner of the piece.

Graphic of wood showing a defect called check


Crack along the wood's annual growth rings, not passing through the entire thickness of the wood.

Graphic of wood showing a defect called shake


Separation of grain between the growth rings, often extending along the board's face and sometimes below its surface.

Graphic of wood showing a defect called bow


Warp on the face of a board from end to end.

Lumber Grading Stamp

While lumber of the same species and size is still at the mill, it is designated and separated by grade. It is then identified by a stamp and often inventoried by its grade and species. When selecting wood, be sure you look for its grading stamp because different lumberyards sometimes use different names for the same grade. (And remember, if you are having trouble figuring it all out, ask for help).

Grade designations depend on particular defects such as knots or wane. Keep your project final results in mind when selecting the grade of wood. Grade does not indicate consistency of colour or grain patterns.

Manufacturer  Mill's number, name, or symbol, e.g. 12.
Certification Mark  Symbol of agency providing quality-control supervision, e.g. WWP®
Grade  Often abbreviated, e.g. 1COM.
Moisture Content  Abbreviation for MC when board-surfaced. MC 15 is 15 percent or less; KD or S-DRY is 19 percent or less; S-GRN is green wood with more than 19 percent MC.
Species Mark  Symbol or abbreviation for types of tree, e.g. Ponderosa Pine would be PP.

Related Articles