The Best Wood Species for Your Dining Table

One of the first questions we ask ourselves when looking for a handcrafted dining table is, “What type of wood do I want?”  This may not be something we initially care much about, but the result of the chosen wood can have a lasting effect on the look and efficiency of our furniture.


As defined by Merriam-Webster, hardwood trees are described as “the wood of an angiospermous tree as distinguished from that of a coniferous tree.” Hardwood trees are considered deciduous trees, meaning they lose their leaves when the seasons change. Coniferous trees usually have needle-shaped leaves and tend to keep their leaves year-round. Most coniferous trees are evergreen trees or shrubs. Coniferous trees are considered softwood, and are typically used in general construction, for boxes and paper, plywood and veneers. Hardwood trees however, have a dense heartwood or middle, and are less permeable and hard in nature.  In the Midwest, our hardwood species include but are not limited to; Alder, American Beech, Ash, Aspen, Basswood, Brown Maple, Birch, Cherry, Elm, Hard Maple, Hickory, Red Oak, Soft Maple, Walnut, White Oak, White Pine, Yellow Poplar. These various hardwood species are used in many applications, including flooring, musical instruments, cabinetry, millwork and fine furniture. 


After the trees are harvested and made into lumber, the products are inspected, graded and sorted, determining what the wood can and should be used to produce. At Set the Table, the hardwoods used to create our dining tables and chairs are of the highest graded level, and include Brown Maple, Cherry, Elm, Hard Maple, Hickory, Red Oak, Walnut, and White Oak. 


Brown Maple, also called Soft Maple, often resembles the look of Cherry and Hard Maple and is found growing in the Eastern United States. Brown Maple can be stained to numerous colors and is our wood of choice for any painted furniture. The graining of Brown Maple is more subtle, with the heartwood (inner wood) being light in color and the sapwood (outer wood) being wider. Although softer in density, this wood species is still very suitable for fine furniture and can give you the look you are going for, without the high price tag. Brown Maple is often used in residential and commercial applications, creating a smooth, contoured look for a more modern style of furniture. 


Cherry, also called Black Cherry, is found throughout the eastern half of the United States. It can vary greatly in color, but has a very uniform appearance. It can also be stained in lighter and darker finishes, but is often kept natural in color due to its beautiful variation. It is a fairly hard, durable wood and is extremely dimensionally stable after the drying process. Cherry is a great wood choice for classic and more ornate dining table and chair styles, and looks rich with a higher level of sheen (shine).


Elm, which is also called American Elm or Gray Elm, is found in hardwood forests throughout the eastern United States.  Elm is moderately heavy and hard in strength and durability. It is known for its unique graining pattern, often mimicking a zebra or tiger with its unusual and unique “striped” look. Elm can be used for dining tables and chairs in a number of settings ranging from more traditional to more contemporary or modern. 


Hard Maple also known as Sugar Maple, is primarily found in the Great Lakes and Mid-Atlantic regions. Due to its high strength and durability, Hard Maple is more costly compared to that of other hardwoods. It is beautiful in its natural color, and is smooth in texture and appearance. Hard Maple can vary greatly in grain and pattern. Curly Maple is a more unusual and distinct variation of Hard Maple, and is named such because of its curly grain appearance. Hard Maple is a wonderful choice for table slabs and can be used in applications where one enjoys decorating with natural elements and color. 


Hickory wood is commonly known for its stunning grain patterning and in its natural state, oftentimes has many knots, giving it a rustic appearance. It is a strong, tough, hardwood, often used for tool handles, basketball courts, and other applications where durability is key. Hickory is used mostly with a natural stain so that the unique graining can remain visible.  An ideal wood for dining table slabs, or in homes where a more rustic style is evident. 


Red Oak remain one of the top wood species used for furniture and are found growing mostly in the eastern half of the United States.  Red Oak is a heavy wood and grows rather quickly. With a fairly uniform but open grain pattern, it can be used for creating dining tables and chairs in commercial or residential settings, oftentimes being mixed with other wood species in a space. 


Walnut, also known as Black Walnut, is found growing throughout the United States.  The wood is dark and sometimes reddish in color and is often kept natural in finish. The wide, straight grain of Walnut combined with the durability of this species, make it one of the most highly sought after woods for fine furniture and is therefore usually higher in price. From solid table slabs to decorative, elegant pieces, Black Walnut can be used in almost any space and for any look. 


White Oak can be found growing in many areas of the eastern United States, but is plentiful in the southern regions, including southern Appalachia. Known for its strength, impenetrability of liquids, and decay resistance, many barns in the United States were built using White Oak. At Set the Table, all of our barnwood furniture is made with this species. Quarter-Sawn White Oak is also a great solution for anyone wanting a rustic table or large farmhouse table. The Quarter-Sawn cut appearance of the wood gives it a distinctive look that is a little more costly, but hard to find in other species.



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