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Furniture Woods - Why Can't Mahogany Look Like Oak

Updated: Dec 15, 2018

You have been going to estate & garage sales, thrift shops and antique stores hoping to find a beautiful old piece of furniture for your home.  Finally, the perfect piece is found at the right price, but it needs to be refinished.  The piece is very dark and the finish has stains and nicks.  You would love to make the piece lighter but the refinisher says it can’t be done.  Why?  In this blog we will give you basic information on some of the most popular woods used in furniture.  It will give you a beginning in understanding the color, grain, and how the wood takes stain and finishes.  And maybe help you understand why mahogany cannot look like oak. #woodfinishes



Ash can have a gray to creamy white coloring, with long straight grains.  It is a very strong wood but not very pretty so it is often used as the base for pieces that are to be veneered.  It is also good for turned pieces such as legs for chairs and tables.  It does not take dark stains well.  Ash was the wood often used in Windsor chairs.


Bamboo is a wood that is made of pieces of the bamboo shoots that are laminated (glued together) into solid boards.  It is a pale yellow color and can be easily stained.  Because it grows so quickly it is a very sustainable wood. It is now being used often in flooring, clothing, textiles & furniture.


Cedar is most notably used in cedar chests and outdoor furniture.  Cedar is a softwood with a very recognizable red color and has a very distinctive odor from the oils in the wood.  It is difficult to change the color.   Cedar is very popular now for outdoor furniture because of its natural oils that resist rot and decay. 



Cherry is a very hard wood with a beautiful grain.  It has a fine even texture and is ideal for carving or turning.  It is difficult for cherry to take most stains because of its hardness.  It also ages very well.  Cherry now is most often seen in high-end furniture and cabinets.


Mahogany is known as the king of furniture woods.  It is a hard wood with a fine grain.  It has a wide variety of designs in its grain due to the size of the tree.  Trees can grow to 150 feet.   The wood stains easily but in general, it will not go lighter then the natural wood color.  Mahogany is not being grown in sustainable forests at this time.  Chippendale’s wood of choice was mahogany.  It was also used in the Victorian era.


Maple is found in two varieties:  it can be hard and soft.  The hard variety is one of the hardest woods and is very hard to use, but the soft variety is the opposite.  Maple can have different types of grain.  The most common are tiger stripe and bird’s-eye.  It ranges from white to pale cream.  The hard maple does not take stain well but the soft maple takes stain easily.    It was often used in less expensive furniture.


Oak is a yellowish, large-grained, open-pored wood. It comes in two types, red and white.  It is a very hard wood and very easy to work with in furniture.  It does not take dark stains well.  White oak is the most popular of the two types and the most often used in furniture.  You will find oak is the wood that is most often quarter sawn. Oak furniture has been found as far back as the 15th century.  It was used extensively in mission style furniture such as Stickley.


Pine is a soft wood and white, yellow, ponderosa, and sugar are a few of the  varieties.  It is very easy to work with and carve with hand tools.  It was used in much of the Early American furniture.  Pine will take stain easily and can be made darker. 


This wood is a tropical hardwood that is becoming harder to get because it is not being grown in sustainable forests.  Teak’s prices are growing rapidly.  Teak is usually used in outdoor furniture.  As it ages, it gets a beautiful grey patina.  It is a very oily wood, which makes it very durable, and an oil finish is the best results.


Walnut is a hardwood with a light to dark brown color.  It can also have a very chocolate brown look.  It has an open grain and is often used in turning, carving, and veneer work. #veneer  Walnut will grow more lustrous with age.  Like most other dark woods going lighter is difficult.  Because of its dark color walnut is used extensively in todays furniture.  Walnut was a very popular wood in the 18th Century.

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