Choosing the right material for your home improvement or crafting project is more than just picking a certain species of wood. When strength is an issue, individual characteristics in the wood make the difference. Bland, straight-grain wood is generally stronger than wavy, complex wood with all its beauty.
Identify Grain Patterns
Hickory, maple and oak represent some of the hardest domestic woods per the Janka scale, which ranks wood for density. Strength is sometimes associated with wood density, but it doesn't always mean that certain species are stronger than others. Grain patterns are typically the best indicator of wood strength. For example, yellow pine has less density than red oak, but if the oak has an interlocked grain -- wavy patterns or lines that run perpendicular to each other, the tight-grain patterns of yellow pine may make it stronger than oak. When hand-selecting lumber for chair or table legs, stiles and rails in cabinetry or any structural part that requires strength, choose straight-grain lumber. Reject parts that have deviations in grain such as waves, rays, curves, bold grain patterns or knots and use them for picture frames or molding.
Wood milled from the center of the tree is heart wood, which is the strongest type of wood, sometimes marketed at a premium price. Grain orientation is another strength indicator. Side grain has close, tightly-spaced lines. Face grain typically has bolder, flame-like patterns. Tabletops are typically face grain. Butcher-block surfaces are side grain, and much stronger than face grain. If you have a choice, use side-grain surfaces to bear weight or add strength to projects such as chair or table frames.