10 Best Wood for Shelves – Bookcases, Closets, and More

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Wooden shelves are wonderful fixtures in any home. They hold your book collections, magazines, clothes, and other valuables. If you’re planning to make your own, it’s important to know that type of wood you’ll use will dictate its longevity and allure. 

It will also impact the design and cost of your project. To determine which option is the best for you, here are the best wood types for shelves.

10 Strong Wood Options to Use for Shelving

#1: Mahogany

mahogany wood

Mahogany commands a high demand among woodworkers and is a highly sought-after wood. It is known to be harder than most woods, including oak. 

Mahogany is known to be durable and scratch-resistant. It is a great choice for shelving, creating a classic and natural beauty wood. 



#2: Walnut

walnut wood

Walnut is known to be stable hardwood and is native to North America [1]. This specific wood type is strong and sturdy. Walnut shelves are known to last a long time when cared for properly.

It is considered a beautiful choice of wood due to its depth, grain structure, and dark brown quality. Thus, it is frequently used to make headboards and ornate antique-style fixtures. Antique collectors often prefer walnut wood.  



#3: Red Oak

Red Oak

Its red wood grain variation makes the red oak a favorite among woodworkers and carpenters alike. This reddish color, at times reddish brown color, makes exquisite furniture.



#4: Birch

birch wood

Birch wood is often used to make cabinets and furniture since it is known to be incredibly strong. Furthermore, it can easily absorb paint if you plan on making painted shelves. It can withstand extreme pounding while maintaining its aesthetic. 



#5: Cherry

cherry wood

Cherry wood is considered and prized for its aesthetic value. It is characterized by its rich red color. 

Furthermore, its fine grain makes it more attractive. It is one of those wood that is easy to work with in terms of shaping and polishing. 



#6: Maple

maple wood

If you are a wood furniture lover, you’ll know maple is a common material for various pieces. If you’re making wood shelves, then using maple wood might be suitable for you. 

Pieces from maple wood can easily match with other pieces of the room. 



#7: African Padauk

African Padauk wood

African Padauk is a wood that is hard to come by. It is uncommon to see it on the market shelves. 

It is very versatile and would be a great choice for making shelves. It comes in a variety of colors for you to choose from. 



#8: Koa

Koa wood

Koa wood is also known as Tigerwood. Koa wood is known to be a long-lived and strong wood. Despite this, it is known to have a low weight making it easier to work with. 

Koa wood also has a distinctive look that is appealing to many while being water-resistant at the same time.  



#9: Douglas Fir

Douglas Fir

Douglas Fir is commonly used in shelves for cabinets. It is preferred for a dependable, attractive, and affordable piece. 

You get the elegance of hardwood at a cheaper rate per board foot. It is considered the top wood choice for indoor shelving. Besides, staining douglas fir wood can be easy, so you can choose to enhance its look further.  

Douglas Fir wood is not one of the sturdiest of wood. Thus, it is not recommended to put excessive weight and heavy loads on the shelf. Furthermore, it is not recommended to use this wood when making bookshelves. 



#10: Pine

stacks of pine wood

Pine is not the most durable nor the strongest type of wood. However, pine shelves are lightweight and attractive. It is a wood type that is recommended for beginners since it is easy to work with and can be stained. 

In addition, it is readily available in most regions of America. Pine wood is mostly used in lightweight jobs. But due to its softwood quality, it is more prone to breakage when heavy objects are placed on it since it is not strong. 

You can increase its load bearing capacity by providing additional support. 



Other Softwood Alternatives to Consider

There are also other softwood alternatives to consider when making shelves. Here are two softwoods you can use in your next  DIY project. 


Poplar wood has a grain that is straight and uniform. It is affordable compared to other woods. Due to its lightweight and moderate strength, it can bend well and be carved easily. It is ideal for house fixtures, toys, and wood shelves. 


If you want a pinkish-brown shelf, you can opt for alder. Not only is it affordable and easily available, but it can also be stained without much effort. You might want to check out the different knotty alder stains colors here! 

If you’re a beginner DIYer who’s pinching pennies, it’s a good soft wood that’s nearly durable as the hardwoods listed above.

Wood and Materials to Avoid

Planning your project, such as DIY bookshelves, starts with the design and materials to use. A lot of woodworkers choose the best woods based on durability and appearance, but there are options you need to be wary of. 

stack of plywood

First, make sure to avoid materials that are soft that can be easily damaged. 

One of these materials to avoid is known as wood composite products. Some wood composite products include medium density fiberboard and hardwood plywood. Plywood is made from wood veneers that are glued together. These are not strong enough for a shelf. 

Make sure to avoid wood with large nuts or poor-graded sides. This kind of wood is difficult to finish and paint. 

When in doubt, you can refer to these categories: solid wood, high-grade wood (good wood), non-defective wood (no loose knots), and hardwood (no particle board). 

Cheapest Wood Options for Shelves

Plywood is one of the best wood for shelves in terms of affordability. It is an inexpensive engineered wood that is a product of different wood species that are glued together. Furthermore, it is easy to work with and can be found in any hardware store.  

See Also: Ideal Wood Types for Floating Shelves 

Box Shelves

Recommended Thickness of Wood for Shelves

Wood thickness ensures that the shelf will hold up once you place some weight on it. An ideal and recommended thickness of wood for shelves would be two inches. Anything less will result in your shelf snapping.

Strongest Wood for Bookshelves

One of the strongest wood for making bookshelves is maple. It possesses a straight grain with a white tone, and times reddish-brown hues make it attractive. It is known to be highly durable, and sturdiness and can withstand dents and scratches. 

Other wood options for bookshelves include the following:

Design and Construction Tips for Building a DIY Bookshelf

Making DIY bookshelves are usually made from solid wood boards. Make sure to use a strong frame so the shelf can bear heavy loads. Make sure to scribe on your bookshelf once the cabinet is plumb and fastened in place. 

diy bookshelf

Best Tools to Use

Make sure you have a circular saw, scribe tool, mallet, stud finder, jigsaw, tape measure, hammer, nailset, level, cordless drill, and a utility knife. 

Best Wood Types to Use for a Closet Shelf

Plywood is considered one of the most recommended wood types to use for closet shelves. It is one of the most versatile and dependable materials, specifically for closets. 

Other wood options include the following:

Best Wood Types to Use for a pantry Shelf

Cherry wood is a beautiful hardwood that is recommended for a pantry shelf. It comes in a variety of colors you can choose from, which include white, yellow, dark brown, and red. It is easy to work with since it is flexible and can be carved easily.

pantry shelf

Other wood options include the following:


Wood selection is very important when making shelves from scratch. Before you buy, make sure to weigh in all the options that are available to you. The best wood for shelves we recommend is mahogany. If you don’t prefer its reddish tint, you can also utilize walnut and red oak.

Robert Johnson is a woodworker who takes joy in sharing his passion for creating to the rest of the world. His brainchild, Sawinery, allowed him to do so as well as connect with other craftsmen. He has since built an enviable workshop for himself and an equally impressive online accomplishment: an extensive resource site serving old timers and novices alike.
Robert Johnson
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