Best Wood for Bookshelves


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No matter where they are placed, bookshelves play an important role in interior decor in a living room bedroom or an office.

As a woodworker, you would have had numerous occasions where you had to make bookshelves.

Building bookshelves is one of the easiest things to do, but you have to keep certain factors in mind. Before you reach for your saw, hammer, and nails, read this post to get a better insight into the best type of wood for bookshelves.

The first and foremost consideration you need to make is the type of wood you will use. Plywood presents an excellent option because of its strength and durability. The cost factor is also another consideration that attracts woodworkers to use this material. It is one of the most inexpensive varieties of wood that you can find.

The drawback of using plywood, however, is that it is not a smart-looking material. If you use plywood, you need to apply some form of finish like veneer, varnish, or paint. Woodworkers also apply trim made of hardwood to give the otherwise rather rough-looking plywood edges a smart look.

The solid wood options for or making bookshelves are endless. Your local lumber supplier will give you options on the best wood to use depending on your particular requirements.

Types of Wood for Bookshelves

wooden texture

As we mentioned above, there are numerous options for making bookshelves with solid wood. Two broad categories that you can consider for wooden bookshelves are softwood or hardwood.

Hardwood Options

wood types and colors

We harvest hardwood from deciduous trees. A few examples of hardwood are maple oak, mahogany, and teak. Hardwood is usually heavy with a distinct grain pattern that you can enhance by applying wood stain or varnish to the surface.

This variety of wood exhibits more resistance to scratches, dents, abrasions, and a fair degree of water resistance. The main factor of using hardwood for bookshelves you need to consider is the weight of the structure. If you will be moving the bookshelves around frequently, then hardwood is probably not suitable for your purposes.

Softwood Options

Old brown wooden planks for text are isolated on white background.

Spruce, pine, fir, and cedar the awesome types of wood that come under softwoods. Because of the softness, you always have to consider this factor when you use softwood for making bookshelves. However, commercial treatment can render softwood as hard as hardwood. The main advantages of using softwood for bookshelves or other projects are its lightness, lower price, and easy availability.

Money-Saving Plywood

MDF, PARTICLE BOARD. Wood panels of different thicknesses and colors.

Another great option for making bookshelves is plywood. It comes under the category of engineered wood and is versatile and cheap for making bookshelves. Although the thickness factor comes into play here, plywood remains a popular option that we shall discuss below.

Composite Wood Bookcases

You can make bookcases from medium-density fiberboard (MDF), or particleboard. While particleboard is made of chips glued together, MDF consists of sawdust and wood chips mixed with glue and compressed into boards.

The advantage of using composite wood for making bookshelves is its relatively low price and its ability to take stain and paint easily. However, you might not find bookshelves made of composite wood as sturdy and versatile as those made of solid woods and the finish is nowhere near the look of a high-end cabinet – but it can be a good budget choice for storage cabinets in a shed, garage or a cabin – where the finish is less important.

Best Wood for Bookshelves

Let us now move on to what we consider to be some of the best wood for bookshelves that you can find:

Pinewood

Wood shelf

You can make some sturdy bookshelves from solid pine lumber. With good bookshelves, you have the option of applying a finish or leaving the wood as it is.

Even without any finish, a pinewood bookshelf has its charm. If you add stain or lacquer to the surface of pinewood, you will be able to enhance its durability and looks.

Pinewood planks come in pre-cut widths, so all you have to do is cut them into the particular lengths required and assemble them. It is highly prone to warping and bending, hence you need to be very careful about getting straight planks.

Pinewood also tends to have several knots, which you don’t need to be too worried about. These knots can be removed, but you can leave them in the wood to add a rustic look to your shelves if you prefer it.

Cherry

1" X 4" X 48" Solid Cherry Hardwood Lumber Board
Solid Cherry Hardwood Lumber Board (Image: Amazon)

Cherry is a strong and lightweight wood, easy to handle, and comfortable to cut. Cherrywood is one of the most highly-prized types of hardwood in the United States. Woodworkers and furniture experts cherish this smooth-grained reddish-brown hardwood because of the rich brown color, which darkens with age. The most popular cherry wood that we use for furniture and bookshelves comes from the black Cherry tree.

Birch

Birch is a wood that enjoys wide popularity for making furniture, especially cabinets and bookshelves. It is particularly useful if you plan to paint the wood, which is most likely. Birch grows mainly in Europe, Asia, and Japan. But today, it grows in North America and Canada as well.

Birch comes in light colors, but it tends to darken over time. Woodworkers prefer birch thanks to the smooth texture and easy workability. Because it is such a flexible variety of wood, birch also makes good-quality plywood. Baltic birch is a very popular raw material for Baltic birch plywood.

Maple

Maple Wood Veneer Grunge Texture Sample

Maple lends itself to various stains so you can easily match it to existing wood in the room or customize the wood color. It is among over 120 species of wood used for furniture making. The grain pattern of maple wood is smooth and straight which goes well with bookshelves.

An interesting thing about maple is that woodworkers prefer sapwood to heartwood. This is due to the pale, creamy color that looks great if stained or varnished. If you’re trying to decide between the last two see our comparison of Birch and Maple here.

Plywood

Modern wardrobe with slide out rack for coathangers. Detail of modern furniture

We make plywood by growing together thin layers of wood veneer and molding them under pressure to form boards. The wood grain orientation of each layer is at right angles to each other, Which gives it tremendous strength and toughness.

We get different grades of plywood according to the type of wood and its quality. Although plywood comes in different thicknesses, we can safely assume that ¾” thick plywood is a good choice for making bookshelves. The advantage of using plywood is that you can stain it or paint it later on, thereby enhancing the look of the wood and adding protection. The downside of plywood is the rough edges which we need to cover with trim or veneer.

Another plus point of plywood is that you can treat it and make it termite resistant, weather-resistant, and be resistant to heat and moisture. Plywood is easily worked with and can take nails and screws quite comfortably.

Conclusion

Although we have listed out the best types of wood for making bookshelves, you can use almost any type of wood.  However, you need to keep in mind the massive weight of books, so, choose your wood thickness, and type accordingly. Making wooden bookshelves is one of the most satisfying projects for the woodworker, and you can do justice to it by using any of the types of wood we have mentioned here. Make some good wooden bookshelves in your woodworking shop today and show the world what you can do!