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Hardwood Lumber Buying Guide

Hardwood Lumber Buying Guide

Prized for its hardness, stability, and variety of colors and grain patterns, hardwoods are the material of choice for many applications including joinery, high-end furniture, outdoor paneling, decks, and flooring. 

Some of the most popular hardwoods include ash, birch, cherry, mahogany, maple, oak, poplar, teak, and walnut. In addition to the decorative quality of the grain, look for boards that will be as stable as possible during changes in humidity.

The team at Forest Plywood has put together a short guide of what to look out for, and what to avoid, when shopping for hardwood.

Still unsure whether hardwood or softwood is best for your project? Our blog post breaks down the advantages of Hardwood Versus Softwood.

Hardness Of Hardwood Lumber


Hardwoods are significantly more dense than common softwood lumber such as pine and fir. In order to withstand everyday use, most high-end furniture and wood flooring is made of harder wood species. 

The lumber industry uses the “Janka hardness test” to test and rate common woods for hardness. The test measures the force required to embed a steel ball halfway into a sample of wood. A higher number on the scale indicates a harder and more durable wood.

Because hardwood is denser, it has the advantage of taking stain better than more porous softwood.

Hardwood Lumber Cuts


During the milling process, lumber can be Flat Sawn, Rift Sawn, or Quarter Sawn.

Flat Sawn – Least Stable

This is the most common, but least stable, cut. The milling process involves simply slicing horizontal layers along the length of the log. Although it is the most affordable option, this type of wood may have problems with twist, cupping, and bowing over time.

Instead of an even grain, flat sawn wood has an irregular, wavy pattern.

flat sawn wavy texture

Rift Sawn – More Stable

Rift Sawn hardwood is more stable than Flat Sawn hardwood and has an end grain that is slanted between 30 to 60 degrees.

Quarter Sawn – Very Stable

Quartersawn White Hard Sugar Maple

Quarter sawn planks have a fairly straight grain. Quarter Sawn lumber has a fairly straight 60 to 90-degree vertical grain, with an end grain that runs up and down. Quarter sawn lumber may have ray flecks that add an interesting pattern in many species of hardwood lumber including maple, oak, sycamore, and beech.

However, because it’s not possible to use all the wood in a cut of timber with this method, these planks are generally more expensive.

Tip for the budget-conscious: Quarter Sawn and Rift Sawn lumber can be found on the edges of a flat sewn plank. It can be cut off, and the less stable center portion used for firewood or other purposes.

Hardwood Defects 


Knots can cause problems for woodworkers and sometimes fall out during handling or machining. Although there are methods for locking in loose knots, in most cases it’s  best to avoid them.

When lumber isn’t sealed, dried, and stored properly, it’s prone to twisting, bowing, and cupping over time. To ensure the lumber you buy is high quality, your best bet is to purchase it from a reputable specialty lumber store.

At Forest Plywood, our lumber inventory covers a broad range of materials in both domestic and imported species, including high-end hardwood lumber ideal for finish work.  Whether you’re a professional contractor or planning a DIY woodworking project, our experienced team is here to answer your questions.

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