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

If you buy something through our posts, we may get a small commission. Read more here.

Wooden shelves truly enhance a home’s charm. Whether you’re displaying beloved books, favorite magazines, clothing, or treasured keepsakes, the wood you choose plays a vital role in both the shelf’s aesthetics and longevity.

Moreover, the type of wood you opt for will influence your design choices and the overall budget of your project. If you’re pondering over which type to go for, let me guide you through the best wood 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 also known as durable and scratch-resistant, making it a great choice for shelving, creating a classic and natural beauty wood. 



#2: Walnut

walnut wood

Walnut is known to be a stable hardwood that 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. If you’re considering painted shelves, birch is a prime choice because of its ability to absorb paint seamlessly. And, believe me, it can handle quite a bit of weight and wear while still looking great.



#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. And if wooden shelves are on your to-do list, I’d highly recommend using this wood type. It’s served me well in many of my creations.

In addition, 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. 

However, 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, too. 



#8: Koa

Koa wood

I’ve worked with Koa wood, often referred to as Tigerwood, on several occasions. It’s renowned for its durability and strength. Yet, what I particularly appreciate is its lightweight nature, making it a joy to craft with.

Moreover, Koa wood boasts a unique appearance that has charmed many of my clients. Plus, its water-resistant properties are a definite bonus. It’s a wood that brings both beauty and functionality to the table.



#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, I’d advise against using Koa wood for bookshelves. While it has many great qualities, there are other woods better suited for that specific purpose.



#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

When embarking on a shelving DIY project, don’t overlook the potential of softwoods. I’ve worked with several, and there are a couple I’d like to recommend:


Poplar wood boasts a straight and uniform grain pattern. Notably affordable when compared to other wood types, its lightweight and moderate strength allow for easy bending and carving. 

As a result, Poplar wood is an excellent choice for various applications, including house fixtures, toys, and wooden 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, but as I mentioned, it’s not the most ideal wood for shelving. 

If you’re on a budget, you can opt for the affordable options listed above, like Pine or Douglas Fir. Both have served me well in past projects without breaking the bank.

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

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 headshot

Robert Johnson is a passionate furniture maker & carpenter, sought after for his knowledge on the craft.
You’ve probably seen his down-to-earth wisdom in USA Today, Bobvila, Family Handyman, and The Spruce, where he has shared commentary and guidance on various woodworking topics.

Robert is the brain behind Sawinery, where he aims to share tips, tricks, and a passion for all things carpentry.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Articles
Join our community on facebook and get 3 woodworking plans for free!
    Your Cart
    Your cart is empty