Woodworking Mistakes to Avoid When Designing Pieces


Just as the orchestration is an essential component of a symphonic composition, the choice of wood is essential to a woodwork design. For an effective finished piece, wood selection ought to develop along with the other aspects of the design, rather than as an afterthought.

Wood is not an amorphous material like moldable plastic waiting to be injected to fill out a design. It has its own character in infinite biological variety that must work with a design by mutual enhancement. What looks good in pine may look awful in lacewood.

This matters not only visually but also for practical construction. A table component that works in hard bubinga may not be physically sound in soft butternut. Cabinet components in mahogany may need to be redesigned for beech, which has a much greater range of hygroscopic movement.

Similarly, it is a mistake to select wood only on the basis of its color. Clients often request, for example, a “light colored” wood. Port Orford cedar, curly maple, white ash and white pine would all meet the color requirement but with very different visual effects and physical properties.

The photo directly below is intentionally unfocused to show only the colors of these four woods. The next photo, focused, shows how grain and texture create different visual effects among the woods. What the photos cannot show is, for example, that the cedar on the left is much less dense than the ash, which is third from left, but has a wonderful spicy aroma.

closeup of wood grain
wood grain

Finally, just as a great musical performer might inspire a composition, very special wood can sometimes be the motivation for a design. For example, a slab of figured bubinga may inspire a table designed specifically for that board of wood.

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