5 Best Types of Wood for Shelves (Top Wood Species by Project)

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The important thing about making wood shelves is knowing what you are going to do with them. You can focus more on aesthetics if the shelves hold small, light objects. However, shelves that are going to support heavy objects like books or home appliances need to be constructed well with strong and durable wood.

Another essential aspect of the type of wood that you get for shelves is your location. For instance, if you live on the West Coast, you won’t face much difficulty procuring new pine.

In any case, you need to look for high-grade, solid wood, preferably hardwood or high-grade softwood with no loose knots or cracks. A defective plank may have rough sides that are challenging to paint. The typical defects that you may come across are knots which may exude sap and even fall off altogether, leaving holes in your shelf.

Finally, you have to decide whether you are going to paint your shelves or leave the wood as it is. In the case of the latter, then you should select wood that is high on aesthetics like redwood, walnut, or Douglas fir.

Best Types of Wood for Making Shelves

Now that we know a bit about what to look for in wood for shelves, let’s take a closer look at what you can get. Here are five best types of wood for making shelves:

Western Red Cedar

18" Perfection Blue Label Western Red Cedar Shingles - Hobby Pack
Western Red Cedar shingles. See on Amazon.

If you are familiar with the region of the Pacific Northwest, you will be aware of this variety of softwood. You can find western red cedar abundantly in Washington, Oregon, and nearby areas in the region. We tend to prefer hardwood over softwood for making wooden shelves, but western red cedar is an exception.

This variety of wood occupies a position of prominence due to its characteristic growth pattern. Western red cedar has a soft, red tint that gives it its name. However, this wood has a shade unique to itself. You can cut this wood and paint it easily. Hence, you get a softwood option that is both elegant and robust, ideal for shelves in your living space.

Salient Features Of Western Red Cedar

  • Appearance: Light brown
  • Durability: High durability
  • Hardness: 350 (Janka hardness)
  • Density: 0.38 (103 Kg/M3)
  • Workability: Easy to cut and paint
  • Cost: Moderately cheap in the Pacific Northwest region


Pinewood (Image: jhenning)

Unlike Western red cedar, you will find pine readily available in all regions of America. You can walk into any hardware shop across the country and get pinewood. So, what is it that makes pine so popular as a wood for making shelves?

The first point about pine is its affordability. Second, being even softer than cedar, you will be able to cut it with ease. Then, the wood has a pleasant grain, and although it takes on an excellent finish, it looks good on its own as well. Being so soft, you need to consider the load that you are going to subject it too.

But, for light objects, pine will do nicely. Also, you can put heavier loads on shorter pinewood shelves. You can also increase the load-bearing capacity by using thicker planks and providing additional support.

Salient Features Of Pine

  • Appearance: Light, yellowish-brown
  • Durability: Good
  • Hardness: 380 (Janka hardness)
  • Density: 0.42-0.67 (103 Kg/M3)
  • Workability: Effortless to cut and sand
  • Cost: Cheap


Black Walnut Lumber 3/4"x4"x12" - 2 Pack
Black Walnut Lumber. See on Amazon.

If you are looking at some serious hardwood for your wooden shelves, walnut will provide you with an excellent option. You don’t need to treat or paint walnut. Although neither cheap nor readily available, the depth and grain of walnut is worth, the effort and money spent.

With walnut shelves, you can load on the heavy stuff without compromising on good looks. Hence, you can use this wood for shelves that add to the décor of your home, mainly if you apply a finish that goes well with the background.

Salient Features Of Walnut

  • Appearance: Dark brown with black streaks
  • Durability: Highly durable
  • Hardness: 1,010 (Janka hardness)
  • Density: 0.49-0.7 (103 Kg/M3)
  • Workability: Easy to work depending on the grain
  • Cost: Expensive

Douglas Fir

2 in. x 4 in. Construction Douglas Fir Board Stud Lumber - Custom Length 4ft
Douglas Fir Board Stud Lumber. See on Amazon.

Here’s another softwood suitable for shelves. However, Douglas fir can be found only on the west coast and eastern Asia. Being commonly available and also hard and durable, it plays a prominent role as a construction material as well.

It takes paint well, but if you want to enhance the natural beauty of the wood, you would do well to stain it. Thus, you get the elegance of hardwood, but at a much cheaper rate. So, whether you use it for making shelves in a shed or the interiors of your home, Douglas fir is a suitable choice.

Salient Features Of Douglas Fir

  • Appearance: Light brown with a hint of red/yellow
  • Durability: Moderately rot-resistant but can deteriorate due to insect attack
  • Hardness: 660 (Janka hardness)
  • Density: 0.3 (103 Kg/M3)
  • Workability: Machines well but can soon make sharp blades blunt
  • Cost: Expensive, but not expensive as oak except clear fir


2 in. x 4 in. Construction Redwood Board Stud Lumber - Custom Length 4ft
Redwood. See on Amazon.

As these trees are so massive,  they contribute to America’s greatness, and even get a mention in a popular song, “This Land is Your Land” – “(…From the redwood forest to the Gulf Stream waters…).”

Due to its ample abundance, redwood is not that expensive although you might have to pay a tidy sum for higher grades. Redwood exhibits a high degree of weather resistance and can be durable if left untouched. A redwood shelf with black steel supports creates a striking contrast.

Salient Features Of Redwood

  • Appearance: Reddish-brown with dark brown striations
  • Durability: Highly durable
  • Hardness: 450 (Janka hardness)
  • Density: 0.45-0.51 (103 Kg/M3)
  • Workability: Easy to work with hand or machines but has a tendency for planer tearout.
  • Cost: Mid to upper price range


Shelves are indeed a significant part of any room or home. Whether they are in an office, store, or home, well-constructed shelves add significantly to the ambiance. However, you need to know how you are going to use the shelves before planning to build them.

Part of the function of a shelf is its utility. You build shelves to place objects on them. Period. On the other hand, aesthetics also play a significant role in how we make shelves. You can get creative while designing a shelf. The way you finish the wood is also a critical aspect. You can learn more about different types of wood finishes in another interesting post of ours.

Now that you are aware of what goes into constructing robust shelves.  They add significantly to the ambiance of the room. We have covered the five best types of wood for making shelves. You can create masterpieces, with suitable wood, and knowing what to do with it!


Featured Image by FeeLoona