Choosing the Right Wood for Your Baby Furniture

Choosing the right wood for your baby furniture can be downright mind-boggling.

  • Do you want a hardwood or a softwood?
  • Do you want an expensive wood or an inexpensive wood?
  • Do you want a straight grain, curvy grain, thick grain, thin grain?

This guide will help simplify the process and give you the best wood (within your budget) for your baby furniture.

Hardwoods vs. Softwoods for Baby Furniture

First off, you need to understand the difference between hardwoods and softwoods. You’re thinking, “hardwoods are hard, and softwoods are soft,” right? Well, not exactly. These classifications are actually based on where the wood comes from, not how firm it is. Hardwoods generally come from flowering, deciduous trees, while softwoods come from conifer (evergreen) trees. For example, balsa is classified as a hardwood, but it is so soft and lightweight that it is used to craft model airplanes.

Hardwoods for Baby Furniture

Here is a run-down of common hardwoods, their characteristics, and their costs:

Ash (click to buy) (hardness: 4/5, price: 1/5)
Ash is a great wood for baby furniture because of its relative ease of use and its ease of staining. Unfortunately this wood is difficult to find and can usually only be purchased from large lumberyards.
Birch (click to buy) (hardness: 4/5, price: 2/5)
Birch (yellow or white) is a good option for baby furniture because it is widely available, moderately expensive, and stable. Keep in mind that birch is not easy to stain, so painting with a low-VOC or zero-VOC paint is a better finishing option.
Cherry (click to buy) (hardness: 2/5, price: 4/5)
Cherry is a very common wood for making baby furniture. It is easy to work with, accepts stain well, and can be purchased through sustainably-grown forests. Most home improvement stores do not carry cherry, so you will need to pick the wood up from a local lumberyard.
Mahogany (click to buy) (hardness: 2/5, price: 4/5)
Mahogany is a great wood for baby furniture, but it is not sustainably grown, must be purchased through a lumberyard, and is quite expensive.
Maple (click to buy) (hardness: 5/5, price: 3/5)
Maple is a stable wood for baby furniture. Skip the hard maple variety—it’s too difficult to work with. Soft maple is much easier to use and tends to be less expensive than other hardwoods. This is another wood that usually requires a trek to the lumberyard instead of to the home improvement store.
Oak (click to buy) (hardness: 4/5, price: 2/5)
Oak is a very traditional selection for baby furniture. White oak tends to be more attractive than red oak and is more resistant to moisture. Sometimes you can find white oak at home improvement centers, but you can find a better selection at lumberyards.
Poplar (click to buy) (hardness: 1/5, price: 1/5)
Poplar is relatively inexpensive, soft and easy to work with, and stable. Unfortunately it is not the most attractive wood, so painting is recommended. Popular can often by found at home improvement stores.

Many other hardwoods are available and, depending on your budget and style requirements, may be better suited to your baby furniture project. Check with your local lumberyard or a dedicated woodworking store such as Rockler (click here for free shipping).

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Softwoods for Baby Furniture

Here is the second set of options for building your baby furniture. Below is a list of common softwoods, their characteristics, and their costs:

Cedar (click to buy) (hardness: 1/4, price: 2/5)
Cedar is most often known by its smell. It is relatively soft and can be used for baby furniture. Keep in mind that some children are allergic to cedar, so it is better used with dressers and closet linings.
Fir (click to buy) (hardness: 4/4, price: 1/5)
Fir (Douglas Fir) is a common building material and an acceptable wood for making baby furniture. It tends to be inexpensive and widely available at home improvement stores. Be prepared to paint it, as it does not stain well and does not have a beautiful grain pattern.
Pine (click to buy) (hardness: 1/4, price: 1/5)
Pine can make great baby furniture if the grain pattern (and perhaps knots) are acceptable to you. It is inexpensive, soft and easy to work with, and widely available. Even though you can find pine boards at your home improvement store, it may be worth a trip to a lumberyard to purchase higher quality units.

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Baby Furniture and Sustainability

One last note on sustainability. Hardwoods grow more slowly than softwoods, so extensive harvesting can lead to their extinction. Softwoods grow more quickly but can also become extinct through deforestation. Consider making your baby furniture out of a suitable softwood from a sustainable forest (such as a commercial tree farm) and then trimming the baby furniture with hardwood veneers if you desire the more expensive look.

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