Last Updated on February 20, 2022 by Barry Gray
If you have lots of books and clutter that is starting to grow into piles around your home, then putting up shelves to keep all of your stuff neatly organized is probably a good idea. But as an inexperienced woodworker who does not know much about shelving, it can be daunting to decide which type of wood to choose.
If you use the shelves to store heavy objects, you need solid and sturdy wood. Depending on the specific use for your shelves, there are several types of wood that you can use. You can use a few types of wood for shelving: Pine, Plywood, Cherry, Koa, Red Oak, and Mahogany.
My handy guide to the different wood types will help you choose the right type of wood for your shelving project.
How Thick Should Wood Be For Shelves?
The wood’s thickness for shelving depends on the specific use for your shelves. If you need to put up shelves for storing heavy objects like books or electrical appliances, you need to use wood that will not bend, sag, or break.
For storing your collections of encyclopedias or magazines on your shelf, you should use wood that is ¾ inch thick. If you plan to use hardwood solids, it is advisable to use wood 1 ¼ inch in thickness.
This type of wooden shelf is expensive and looks much like a mantle, but it is also more aesthetically pleasing. You would commonly see these types of shelving in expensive homes and mansions.
Best Wood For Shelves
The most common reason for bookshelves sagging is the incorrect type of wood used in the construction of the shelf. The type of wood that is most used for shelves is particle board or chipboard.
Particleboard isn’t as strong and does not have the strength or density of solid wood or plywood veneers; hence, they cannot hold up their weight. They have only a quarter of solid wood strength and aren’t suited for bookshelves.
When choosing wood for your wooden construction project, there are a few qualities that you need to keep in mind when deciding on the type of wood that you should acquire.
Wood Grade: Always choose a high-grade wood, preferably stick to the number one grade.
Wood Type: To avoid sagging shelves, you must avoid particleboard and other weak boards.
Blemish-free wood: You should avoid wood that has deep knots that can begin to wear out or collapse with time. Rough-hewn wood is also not recommended.
With these qualities in mind, let us look at a few harder types of wood that you can use to construct your shelf.
Plywood For Shelving
Plywood is an excellent choice for indoor bookshelves. It is composite wood with the same density as fibreboard and is the standard for lightweight do-it-yourself bookshelves.
Plywood comes in many different grades, representing thickness and strength, ideal for various projects. B/C grade plywood is excellent for garage and tool-shed shelving and works with most commercial glues.
Cabinet-grade plywood is less costly and is easy to find, but more specialized types are rare. For the more expensive varieties of plywood, the veneer trim is sometimes thin, which makes the wood more susceptible to bending and sagging under the weight of your books.
Pinewood For Shelving
Pinewood has to be one of the least expensive and affordable softwoods that you can find. Pine is easy to use, stain and paint and is ideal for people who are only starting with woodworking and learning to make shelves. You can use pine to suit any style or color.
When pine is unpainted, it is yellowish-white in color, often scattered with brown knots. This characteristic of pine makes it an excellent choice for anyone looking to give their home interior a more rustic feel. Pinewood is also an excellent choice for colorful kid’s shelving.
Although pinewood is solid wood, it is not advisable to store heavy objects on your shelves, as pine easily bends, scratches, and dents.
If you will be using pinewood for shelving in a kid’s room or a tool shed, it is recommended that you apply a few coats of varnish or paint to give the wood extra strength and protection from dents and scratches, extending its life.
Cherry For Shelving
Cherry is a hardwood that is lightweight and easy to use, making it an excellent choice for shelving meant for display purposes. Many people would opt to use cherry over other types of wood for shelving because it has a warm, rich and reddish color.
The distinctive color of cherry wood becomes darker and richer over time, making old shelves and cabinets made from this wood highly sought by antique dealers and collectors.
Cherry wood can also be used for hand-carved chairs and other expensive furniture. It is easy to polish and shape, making it ideal for novice woodworkers. Cherry is also a lightweight hardwood, and it can easily store books and other objects.
Cherry’s only downside is the cost. Depending on the density of the Cherrywood, a six feet board of Cherry can easily cost you in the region of $100 upwards.
Koa For Shelving
Koa, also referred to as Tigerwood, is known for its strength and longevity. It is considered the hardest among all the wood types, and it is not recommended for first-time woodworkers because it is tough to work with.
A shelf made from Koa is perfect for your dining room, bedroom, or other interior spaces. Koa is water-resistant and can withstand extreme climate conditions, making it ideal for the outdoors on patios and porches.
The most common variation of Koa is Brazilian Koa, which has a dark grain and a rich brown color giving it a unique and distinctive look. For wooden shelving and cabinets, you should try going for the softer variety that is more manageable and easier to work with.
Red Oak For Shelving
Red Oak is probably one of the easiest of the hardwoods to handle. With its intricate grain, Red Oak sometimes can look more expensive and fancier than it is.
This wood is a low barrier of entry for stable and reliable display shelving or bookshelves. Red Oak stains and finishes easily without any blotching. It is also effortless to sand down, but you should remember to use a sanding block or pad to give the wood an even finish.
Red Oak is well-loved by hobbyists and entry-level carpenters. Unlike Koa, Red Oak is not water-resistant, and it can get damaged by water. When Red Oak comes into contact with water, it starts to blacken. It also dings and dents easily, but it is somewhat resistant to scratching.
Anyone looking to make shelves would not have much difficulty when working with this wood type as it is easy to handle and cut, and the finishes on a Red Oak shelf or cabinet are stunning.
Mahogany For Shelving
The one thing about using Mahogany in your wood construction is that it conveys a sense of style and elegant beauty. It is easy to paint and stain, but I can’t think of any reason anyone would want to paint Mahogany since it is already aesthetically pleasing on its own.
Mahogany often competes alongside White Oak for the highest demand for wood types in the United States.
Mahogany can be used for shelving in libraries, offices, and other interior spaces. A shelf constructed from Mahogany is 70% more durable and more rigid than most commercial woods, including Oak. The hardness of Mahogany makes it a highly durable wood that is resistant to scratches and dents.
The only disadvantages of using Mahogany for shelving are its cost and availability. Mahogany is a much sought-after wood, and a foot of Mahogany would cost anywhere in the region of $28.
Douglas Fir is an excellent choice if you are building a bookshelf or making a cabinet. This softwood type is highly recommended for light to medium weight shelving and cabinets.
It is technically not a fir but a pine that shares some of its characteristics with other pinewood types. Douglas Fir is a highly durable wood, and most people “wood” often stain Douglas Fir to give it an appearance of dark hardwood, similar to Oak.
It is a very versatile wood that anyone can use for almost any DIY project, from shelving to cabinets to bookcases. Since Douglas Fir is a softwood type, it also comes with some disadvantages of softwood, which was previously mentioned in this post.
If you are a novice carpenter and you are making a shelf for the first time, I recommend using pine for constructing your shelf. However, if you are a master carpenter with a few years of experience, then you can go for Mahogany or Red Oak for the shelf.
Mahogany can also be used to give your interior space a more stylish and elegant look.
If you need ruggedness and durability, you can opt for Koa since it is a tough and durable hardwood. Koa is also water-resistant so that it can be used indoors and outdoors.