Hardwood Furniture: How To Pick the Right Wood Type and Stain Color for Your Expandable Dining Table

In the late 19th Century, architects and design philosophers began to rebel against the Industrial Revolution. Mass production had ruined the architectural and design worlds and devalued the individual worker's craft.

This led to the American Craftsman style or the American Arts and Crafts movement which valued artistic work in all branches of domestic craft, including furniture.

The movement was also a rebellion against the stuffy Victorian ideal of over-decoration. This led furniture makers to eschew the gaudy fabrics common in furniture at the time and adopt local hardwoods as a mainstay in their construction and designs. 

The movement was an emphasis on form and simplicity. And the best hardwood furniture encompasses both concepts. 

After the movement's heyday, hardwood furniture never went out of vogue. Both craftsmen and furniture manufacturers sold beautiful pieces of furniture.

Today, when you walk into a furniture store, you see remnants of the American Arts and Crafts movement everywhere. And while manufacturers tend to use the less expensive wood to build their furniture, you can still find quality hardwood furniture at decent prices.

But the question is: What is the right wood type and stain color for your home?

In the next few paragraphs, we're going to show you how to pick the right kind of hardwood furniture for your home.

Two Kinds of Wood

When looking at furniture, you need to understand the two major kinds of wood. Hardwood and softwood.

Of course, both of these names are misleading. Softwoods aren't always soft and hardwoods aren't always hard.

The major difference between the two is botanical. Hardwoods are made out of flowering trees called Angiosperms and softwoods are made of conifers or gymnosperms. 

And, generally, yes, hardwoods are harder than softwoods, but there are some exceptions out there. Hardwoods typically have a higher density and thus last longer than softwoods.

You're more likely to find hardwoods in higher priced wooden furniture, decking, flooring, and construction materials. But most timber comes from softwood. You'll find most window frames and other building components are made of softwoods. 

We'll cover the different wood in each category in more detail later, but hardwoods include oak, cherry, mahogany and walnut among others. Softwoods include pine, ash, beech, cedar, and redwood among others.

The Wood grain and Color of Wood

Depending on the wood your hardwood furniture is made of, you'll see varying patterns and colors. These patterns depend on the structure of the cells within the tree. 

There are two kinds of cells in a tree's wood. Longitudinal cells align themselves with the trunk's axis. And the ray cells line up perpendicular to the axis of the tree.

The longitudinal cells are what's responsible for the grain in your wood or the pattern you see when you cut wood.

Depending on how you cut the wood determines the type of grain that's showing. And there are several types of wood grain you could see in your hardwood furniture.

End Grain

End grain is the grain you would see if you cut a board across the grain. This grain type shows tightly packed, dense lines.

Plain Grain 

If you cut the wood parallel to the natural grain of the wood but tangent to the growth rings, you'll get plain grain. Plain grain is what you typically see in hardwood floors and flat sections of hardwood flooring.

Quarter Grain

Cut wood parallel to the natural grain direction and through the growth rings and you'll get quarter grain. Quarter grain is a more uniform grain with less variation in pattern. 

The type of grain also depends on the tree. Some trees have a more defined wood grain while others do not. Each species will have a particular pattern and color to their grain. 

How To Assess Your Hardwood Furniture

Knowing exactly what you're looking at will help you choose hardwood furniture for your house. And this will get easier to do as you practice. 

Sometimes a type wood was used in a particular style. So ask yourself, "what style is this furniture? Does the style date to a particular period?" This might clue you into the kind of wood you're looking at in hardwood furniture.

If the style is a bentwood, for instance, you're most likely looking at wood from an Ash tree. Ash is easier to bend once wet than most hardwoods.

If the furniture isn't stained yet, you can go by color. Of course, the color will slightly vary between trees of the same species. But the tone of the wood will remain consistent. 

The only tree that will have a green tinge to the wood is a Poplar. And a Rosewood, in accordance with its name, is a dark purple color.

Lastly, look at the wood's grain. Ask yourself, is it an open or a closed grain wood? Is it wavy? Is it straight? Is it mottled or swirled?

Various woods have differing grain patterns and we'll cover the grain of each wood later.

Veneer, Combination, or Solid 

Not all hardwood furniture is solid. Some furniture companies, to make the furniture less expensive, will put a hardwood veneer over a composite board. 

While your furniture will look beautiful from the outside, it won't last as long if it's veneer. If you accidentally scratch through the veneer, you'll have a permanent scar you can't buff or sand out.

Another technique in reducing the cost of furniture construction is using multiple kinds of wood. Your furniture may not be all hardwood. 

Some furniture makers will use hardwood on the visible surfaces and softwood on interior surfaces. When choosing hardwood furniture, it's important you inspect all surfaces and see whether what you are getting is genuinely a hardwood set.

Classic American Furniture Woods

When deciding which wood grain and color to pick for the furniture in your house, you need to understand the different woods available in furniture.

Black Walnut

The Black Walnut tree is generally farmed in the central United States, but its native land is the Eastern U.S.

It's fairly tough and moderately dense with a beautiful, yet subtle natural luster. Its bending strength is moderate and is still used for steam-bending to make furniture parts.

The color is a light to dark chocolate brown. It can have a purple hue and even darker streaks. It will grow even more lustrous with age, however, and is typically steamed to make its sapwood darker.

The grain will be mostly straight with some wavy and curvy spots throughout. It's a type of wood that's chosen for the variability of its grain patterns. 


There's a myth that George Washington cut down his father's Cherry tree when he was a child. But of course, it's a myth perpetuated to sell a biography in the 1800's.

Nevertheless, Cherry trees do grow in the Eastern U.S. and it's likely Washington had some furniture made of the Cherry tree (whether he chopped the wood himself or not).

Cherry is a fairly popular wood used for fine furniture making. And its color, like its fruit, is a rich reddish brown that darkens with age and light exposure.

Cherry wood is smooth and satiny. Its grain is a fine uniform straight grain. 

White Oak

A fun fact about the White Oak tree, early settlers actually boiled and ate its acorns. But the main use for the white oak is hardwood furniture.

It's a hard and heavy wood that is also great for bending for furniture. 

White Oak is light to dark brown in color. It features a mostly straight grain and a coarse texture. The rays in this wood are longer than that of Red Oak. This feature makes it a more robust and premium wood for fine furniture.

How to Pick a Stain for Hardwood Furniture that Works

Apart from choosing the right type of wood for your furniture, you need to pick the right stain.

You'll want to pick a stain color that accents the colors you choose for both your walls and your other furniture.

There are two kinds of stains out there. Pigment and dye stains. The most common of these are the pigment stains.

Dye stains require a lot more experience and expertise to use on your furniture. A lot of times dyes come as a powder that needs to be dissolved in either oil, alcohol, or water.

It's really easy to accidentally streak your wood or make its surface uneven with dye stains. 

If you choose to stain your own hardwood furniture, then we'd recommend you choose pigment stains.

Each type of wood has its own unique stain profile. Pick the wrong stain for the type of wood and you'll end up with an odd color.

Our stain color palette is a collection on hand selected stains that enhance the natural beauty of your chosen hardwood, while offering a selection of colors to match any style.

Cherry Stains

As we pointed out before, cherry wood darkens and warms slightly with age. So, you may want to keep that in mind as your pick a stain color to match the furniture in your room. 

As you can see from our descriptions of each wood, the wood grain and natural color of the wood will be unique to that species of wood. Of course, the best way to mitigate this is to buy furniture that is all of the same wood type.

But sometimes, you just love a certain piece that only comes in a certain other wood types.  

If you select furniture in all the same wood type, you can use a natural wood stain. This will bring out the original wood color best. 

You can also darken the wood if the original wood color doesn't match other furniture or colors in the room.

Cherry stains come in a variety of colors. From a lighter Harvest color to a much darker Briar.

But be careful when choosing cherry wood stains. Know that the darker wood stains will look even darker with age on cherry wood. 

Black Walnut Stains

One of the best reasons to stain and finish black walnut, or any hardwood, is to bring out its beautiful wood grain. 

While a natural finish looks amazing on walnut furniture, you can bring a more reddish and vintage look to the furniture with a darker stain.

The mid range stains are best for that vintage look. From the Gold Pecan to the Vintage Antique and the Michael's Cherry Stains, you'll see a beautiful golden hue on your hardwood furniture.

White Oak Stains

White oak is almost like two different kinds of wood in one tree, especially when it comes to staining and finishing this hardwood.

The large pores in the early-wood will soak up a lot of stain faster than the rest of the wood. Which means that woodworkers have to be careful when staining this beautiful wood.

But when done right, white oak stains are gorgeous.

White oak, just like its name suggests, is a lovely light colored wood. And if you want your space to be light and airy, choose a natural stain for this wood.

But you can get the wood to match your other hardwood furniture by choosing a darker stain such as Golden Brown or Burnt Umber.

Conclusion: Quality Hardwood Furniture

Now that you understand the various kinds of wood used in furniture, you can choose something that's right for your home.

Depending on what you will use the furniture for and how your house is decorated will determine what you choose.

We craft each piece of our furniture to order. So, take a look at our hardwood furniture store and make your selection today. We would love to craft a piece just for you!