Selecting Wood

Few decisions are as important to building outdoor furniture as the choice of wood. The chart below rates several species in terms of resistance to decay, strength, capacity to withstand shock, working properties (like planing and sanding or drilling, gluing, and fastening), and relative cost. There is probably no one ideal choice. Although a wood like teak combines strength with excellent decay resistance, it is very expensive, and difficult to find and work. Pine, on the other hand, is readily available and economical, and is easy to work, but most species are highly susceptible to decay and relatively weak. Many woodworkers consider native species with superior strength and decay resistance, such as cedar and white oak, to be an acceptable compromise.

Keep in mind that the same qualities that make a wood like teak tough on blades and cutters will yield sturdy furniture. Cedar, although it is more forgiving to blades and tools, has a tendency to contain a considerable number of knots, which increase waste and as well as the risk that the strength of the furniture will be compromised by a dead knot that was not cut out. Knots are also more susceptible to rot.

Whichever species you select, take the time to choose your boards carefully. Avoid lumber that is cupped, bowed, or warped in any way. For maximum stability, choose air-dried lumber with a maximum of 20 percent moisture content. The wood should contain as little sapwood as possible since the sap will attract wood-eating bugs.

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