Chairs can be built from any wood available. For fine furniture, the hardwoods are the best choice, but some of the most comfortable chairs are built from some of the softest woods. Some of the hardwood chairs take special blades, while most of the softer woods can be used with any tools available to the handyman. If you are going to build a mission-style chair, use hardwood. For an Adirondack-style chair, go with soft.
Generally speaking, hardwoods are the choice for fine furniture and softer woods are often the choice for more casual chair styles.
Chairs Made of Oak
For traditional strength and longevity, no other wood lasts like oak. It has a tight grain pattern that is somewhat chaotic. This means that it is unlikely to split down the grain pattern. It's not prone to shrinking as much as other semi-hard woods, and has that familiar look of fine furniture.
There are two species most commonly used to make oak chairs — American red oak and American white oak, with white oak being the hardest and tightest grained. These hardness characteristics can also mean that it is harder to work with.
Chairs Made of Mahogany
The availability of mahogany worldwide makes it an obvious choice for making chairs. Bassett Furniture notes that this wood is lighter in weight than some other types of wood, but it is strong as oak.
Mahogany's warm colors and semi-soft texture make it easy to work with. It is straight grained, blends well and is reasonably stable due to straight-grain patterns that are usually laminated, making a mahogany chair almost split proof. Mahogany grows on every continent, therefore, there are probably more mahogany chairs in the world than any other specific wood.
Chairs Made of Maple
Maple has an extremely tight grain pattern that is also chaotic like oak. On a hardness scale maple is the hardest wood available, second only to birch, which is rarely used for furniture.
Maple has a warm, light-colored glow that makes it great for chairs, but only the sharpest, carbide-tip saws and drill bits are recommended for milling maple. Glue will sometimes fail to adhere to the smooth, hard surface on the inside of dowel holes. Care and patience need to be applied when building a chair out of maple.
Chairs Made of Poplar
Poplar has also become a widely used wood for chair making because of its flexibility. You will see poplar in bentwood chairs. The chair part components like bent legs and backs are glued up from thinly sliced veneers that are compressed and formed into curves.
The craftsman fashions chairs out of curved poplar to yield unusual designs that can be fashioned with bent wood. These chairs are also very comfortable, as poplar has some flex to it. Unfortunately, this flex factor can also lead to the chair lamination separating if abused.
Cedar and Redwood
Two of the oldest woods in use are the most traditional as well. The famous Adirondack-style chair has been around since before the Civil War. These are the main two woods that are suitable for outside use, as they won't deteriorate or rot. And as the Rowden Atelier Furniture Making School notes, the scent of cedar may remain in the wood, which is more noticeable when chairs are located in confined spaces.
Cedar and redwood are soft, easy to work with, and very comfortable because of a slight flex. Generally not used for fine furniture, redwood and cedar are almost exclusively used in picnic, deck and lawn chairs.
Specializing in hardwood furniture, trim carpentry, cabinets, home improvement and architectural millwork, Wade Shaddy has worked in homebuilding since 1972. Shaddy has also worked as a newspaper reporter and writer, and as a contributing writer for Bicycling Magazine. Shaddy began publishing in various magazines in 1992, and published a novel, “Dark Canyon,” in 2008.