If you're looking to create something outside or build something for your yard, you're going to want to work with wood that works great outdoors.
Now, it may sound silly to say that some wood works better outside than other woods would—because wood comes from trees that live outside 100% of the time—but the fact of the matter is that some wood fares much better outside after it has been cut and planed down than other wood does.
Hard Woods vs Soft Woods
When it comes to working with woods and lumber, there are two categories to be aware of. Hardwoods and softwoods. It may sound weird to say that some wood is soft, but in comparison to other woods, some wood types are just softer than others.
When you're working outside, commonly, you work with hardwoods. Most Hardwoods come from deciduous trees.
Deciduous trees are the trees you learned about in school that lose their leaves in the fall. Now, this isn't a hard and fast rule, but it's a good way to determine quickly if the wood you're working with is hardwood or softwood. Ask yourself if the tree loses its leaves in the fall.
Softwoods are often made from conifer trees. These trees have needles and stay green all year round. Think pine trees.
Hardwoods get the moniker hardwood because the trees grow slower. A slower growing process means that the tree has time to build strength slowly and grow a really dense tree trunk.
It makes sense when you think about how an old oak tree looks next to an old pine tree. An old oak tree is likely to be thicker and shorter, while an older pine tree is likely to be thinner and taller. The natural growing properties of these two types of trees lend themselves to the different types of wood that come from these trees.
When it comes to picking a hardwood vs. softwood for a project, there are some differences that you should consider. Firstly, hardwoods are stronger and weather a little better than softwoods. Hardwoods are also considered to be more durable because of their complex structure.
Hardwoods are also generally a little bit more expensive. This is because the wood is considered to be more versatile with what you can do with it.
Softwoods are lighter and used for a lot of indoor projects. They can also be treated so that they gain some of those qualities that hardwoods have. Softwoods are popular right now because they often feature a lighter color, which is popular in interiors, especially.
If you're going purely for aesthetics, Hardwoods generally feature a very strong grain pattern, while softwoods do not feature a very distinctive grain pattern.
When you think of cedar, you may think of your grandparents' old cedar chest, and a strong smell may come to mind. Not only does cedar make an excellent chest that preserves cloth very well, but it's also great for outdoor projects.
We talked about how hardwoods are the most common woods to use in an outside project, and Cedar is one of the few exceptions. Cedar is considered a softwood. And that brings with it pros and cons for outdoor projects.
You're going to see cedar really commonly used on things like chairs for fence posts. Cedar can also be used to build things like outdoor benches or even things like cedar siding.
There are huge portions of the country where most of the houses use cedar shingles and siding on the sides of the house.
Cedar is a really incredible outdoor wood because it's resistant to some of the biggest enemies of wood: termites, beetles, and general rot. Cedar is incredibly resilient, and though it wears a little faster than hardwood wood, the natural resins that cedar produces make it a contender.
Because of the resin in cedar, you don't necessarily need to seal or paint your outdoor cedar projects, but it's a good idea if you would like to prolong the life. Because cedar has a shorter life span than hardwood, anything that you can do to extend the life of your cedar project is a bonus.
Acacia is a really stunning wood that is very strong. Acacia is a hardwood, which helps make this wood really resistant to the elements. Another major bonus of this wood type is that it's pretty affordable for hardwood.
If you're just starting out in outdoor projects, and you don't want to invest in super expensive lumber until you've had a little practice, try acacia.
Another benefit of acacia is that it has a lot of natural oils. These natural oils are part of what helps make acacia resistant to weathering, and these oils also help bugs, and insects steer clear of the wood.
It's important that you treat or seal your acacia project if you plan to leave it outdoors long-term. Acacia is a very pretty wood, but it can discolor if it spends too much time in the sun or gets warped by the rain.
Acacia projects do best when they're kept away from excess moisture. That means keeping your acacia side table on the patio and keeping your acacia chairs away from the sprinklers.
When we think redwood, we think of the Redwood Forest. When a woodworker thinks Redwood, they think of a great outdoor would type. You're going to see a lot of redwood used to create outdoor furniture, so if that's something that you're interested in creating yourself, redwood might be a great place to start.
Redwood can be an expensive wood, though, because these trees take a very long time to grow. And unlike other woods on this list, there isn't an abundance of redwood available to use. The lack of abundance of redwood can make it hard to come by if you're looking for it for a project.
Some of the benefits of using redwood in projects are that it holds its structure and its finished shape very well. It's an extremely hard softwood, so it's going to be very sturdy and durable over time. When you build with redwood, you are building something that lasts.
Another bonus of working with redwood is that it doesn't have a lot of resin. This makes it easier to work with and makes it easier for your finished project to hold finishes and stains.
Teak is probably the most popular outdoor project lumber on our list. One needs only to look around at outdoor furniture sold by big retailers to see that teak is everywhere.
Teak boasts several impressive qualities, including a strong resistance to cracking and warping and being very rot resistant. This wood was primarily used to build boats and barges back in the day and has endured as a popular lumber choice because of its reliability.
Teak is expensive, but its ability to naturally repel water and insects makes it a popular choice. Tiek's water resistance properties also mean that it does extremely well in humid climates where other wood types would warp.
Teak is also incredibly beautiful wood with a really warm, beautiful color that stays nice and vibrant throughout its life as long as you regularly oil it.
Regular oiling is essential to maintain the beauty of teak because the sun will alter the color of the wood quickly if it's not regularly cared for.
Another bonus of working with teak is that it's incredibly easy to handle. So if you are interested in handcrafting something, teak is a good choice because it's very malleable while still being strong and holding a shape.
We've always been really drawn to White Oak because of its beautiful grain patterns, but this wood isn't just pretty— it's incredibly sturdy and durable, as well.
White Oak is one of the most popular woods for interior and exterior use. You'll see white oak lots on floors and in cabinets, but you'll also see it in outdoor furniture and even in things like pergolas.
White Oak is it incredibly popular wood choice for many reasons, one of which being that it's very hard and very strong. Any projects that you correctly construct using this wood aren't going anywhere anytime soon.
When using white oak for an outdoor project, you should seal it with a water-resistant top coat, because it's not naturally water resistant. But it is significantly cheaper than naturally water-resistant hardwoods—so adding a little sealant is definitely worth the savings.
White Oak has stood the test of time, being used to build everything from homes and boats to beautiful home accessories like charcuterie boards and intricate paneling.
It's a really versatile wood that takes stain really well, so you can manipulate the final color of your project to really reflect exactly what you'd like it to look like.
Mahogany is another popular hardwood that has been used for decades to craft lasting projects. Mahogany is a really beautiful wood with a strong warm tone and a really even grain.
Mahogany is not a super knotty wood. It's incredibly durable and has a remarkably straight grain that makes this wood a popular choice for fine craftsmanship.
Mahogany has long been used to craft things like boats and instruments, and its natural resistance to rot makes it a popular choice for people crafting everything from outdoor projects to their very own guitar.
When it’s made with mahogany, it’s made to last.
Mahogany is a heavy wood that can be used even in decking and flooring because it's very durable. This durable wood is expensive and rare, though, and very little true mahogany exists.
If you're lucky enough to get your hands on true mahogany, take your time and craft something incredible.
Using Pine in Your Outdoor Projects
If you’re going to use pine in your outdoor projects painting the pine and sealing it is the way to go. Pine is porous, and though it’s an inexpensive material to work with, you need to treat it if you’re going to use it outside.
Paint is a great way to treat and preserve wood. It acts as a barrier against the elements. Picking the right paint is important, though.
Ordinary latex paint won't cut it if you plan to use your pine project outdoors. Make sure to use outdoor paint that has water resistance built into it, or use a water-resistant sealant over your paint.
Every outdoor project needs to be waterproofed in one way or another. Even store-bought outdoor furniture needs to be waterproofed.
When you're building your own outdoor furniture, waterproofing is an important step, but using water-resistant materials throughout the entire process is equally important. Using naturally water-resistant woods is a good start, but it's not everything.
Make sure to use the right screws or nails in your project. Using screws or nails that have been treated to resist rusting is important to the overall integrity of the project.
Other materials whose durability to consider are anything metal used in the project, the paints, stains, and sealants, and any embellishments on the final project like tiling, brass or copper accents, and any fabric cushions.
Outdoor Wood Projects to Try: Table Time
Outdoor wood projects can be simple or complex. You can start with something as small as a birdhouse and work up to a full-scale project like a chair or table.
One of our favorite outdoor projects is a simple wood table with a tiled top. You can construct the table out of any wood that you'd like, using any pattern that has a flat top. Avoid a design with a slatted top, you want something solid.
Once your chosen design has been constructed, waterproof it and let it sit for 24 hours. Then select a coordinating tile to use on the top. Use bonding tape or mortar to attach the tile to the tabletop.
Get creative with the design of the tile, use it to bring a little life to your outdoor setup.
After you grout the tile, seal it and let it sit until everything is cured and the table is ready to go outside. If you want to skip tile, use epoxy on the top instead. It's still a fun look, and it's a great way to make something unique.