Not every type of wood is fit for a table top. It’s essential to find a wood with the right grain pattern that’s not only visually appealing but also durable. Especially when it comes to dining tables, the wear and tear is real. I get that not everyone has a background in furniture craftsmanship. That’s why I’ve put together a list of the best woods for table tops.
The Best Types of Wood for Table Tops
1. Cherry Wood
Cherry wood tops my list because it is an excellent wood species for dining table tops and formal tables. I see a lot of dining table and kitchen table options made from cherry. The smooth texture is what attracts a lot of people, as well as the warm shade of brown, which seems to really bring some color into a room.
Cherry wood looks great to start, but they really start to shine over time after they have gotten some wear. They start as a light brown and start to turn darker year after year. Even the grain pattern is attractive and not disruptive, so you won’t necessarily need a tablecloth.
One thing to keep in mind before using cherry wood for your dining room tables is that it is considered a softer type than some of the others we have on my list. It rates at 950 on the Janka scale.
Maple is the type of wood I recommend for an affordable dining room space. If you don’t want to spend hundreds to thousands, then choose maple. They are pretty durable and can absorb stains well. Over time, the stains can even complement the look of your dining room table.
Should you go for soft or hard maple? Soft maple, also referred to as brown maple, tends to be less durable. But hard maple is really worth the money. It is one of the hardest woods experts use for home furniture such as solid wood table tops with a Janka rating of 1400 to 1500!
For those with light-colored decor who are aiming for a touch of rustic wood, I’d personally recommend the light grain known as “rock maple”. It’s earned that nickname because of its incredible hardness.
We also have walnut wood, which is suitable for both contemporary and modern fixtures. Walnut has dark tones that are revered by many interior decorators and great natural wood to use at home, especially if the client prefers an outdoorsy and rustic ambiance.
Walnut wood is impressively durable. While it might not match the toughness of maple, which boasts a Janka hardness rating of 1010, it certainly holds its own against impact and scratches. What I personally appreciate about walnut is its color variance. Whether you’re looking at a dark or slightly lighter shade, the grain always stands out beautifully. That’s one reason I often lean towards walnut for contemporary furniture pieces.
One other thing to keep in mind if you are considering walnut for a wood table top is the price. Walnut trees aren’t as large as the other best woods for table tops on the list, which is why you can expect to pay a higher cost.
White oak is a highly favored wood option for various applications, including home dining tables and restaurant tables. One of the reasons for its popularity is the semi-open grain, which allows for excellent stain absorption, resulting in beautiful finishes. Additionally, oak is renowned for its exceptional hardness, ranking between 1200 to 1300 on the Janka Hardness Scale. We will delve into further details about this scale shortly.
If you’re not fond of the light to medium grain, you can choose red oak, which brings an orangey-red color to formal dining room furniture. For those who want a traditional farmhouse style table, then oak is the best wood for table tops.
So, what exactly is a farmhouse style table, you might wonder? Well, in my line of work, it’s essentially a straightforward design for a dining table, often characterized by the use of trestles as its base. Interestingly, many of the families I collaborate with tend to favor this style due to its inherent simplicity.
I start off this section by saying pine is one of the softest wood choices you can pick for your dining table. The Janka rating for pine is only 300 to 400, but the durability (or lack thereof) does not take away from its beauty. It is very moderately priced compared to the likes of walnut, for example, and while it’s very easy to dent this type of wood, it’s also a type that many people choose for farmhouse-style tables.
Pine is creamy white to a little yellow. One other characteristic that I love about pine is it is easy to paint. You can feel free to customize your wood tabletop and paint it any color to become the focal point of your dining space, or you can paint your outdoor wooden tabletop to match the exterior of your house. Read my explanation if you’re not sure whether pine is a softwood or a hardwood.
Lastly, there’s hickory, a wood that exudes a remarkably rustic charm. When it comes to a choice that’s virtually impervious to impact, I would personally vouch for hickory as the best wood for table tops. And the reason is simple: it boasts an astonishing Janka rating of 1820!
No dents, no scratches, and barely any signs of wear, hickory defeats walnut, red oak, rustic cherry, and all the other types we have on the list for a hardwood table top. Be aware that however hard hickory is, it is a type of wood that is susceptible to moisture, which makes some reconsider it as a wood for a dining table in the kitchen.
However, hickory is still a great option for formal dining room sets located in the eating room. Hickory has a reddish brown and creamy shade to it that is unique and justifies the higher cost.
Important Factors to Consider
How do you find the right wood for table tops to complement your home? There are a variety of factors to consider below.
Hardness and Density
The hardness and density correlate to the durability of the material. Don’t get us wrong you can still create a beautiful table from a softer type, but it will most likely look different from when you first got it.
Each wood type is rated on the Janka Scale, which assigns a number or a range to the wood. The higher the number, the harder the wood. Hickory has a hardness rating of 1820 on the Janka Hardness rating scale, which is the best if you want a rustic look with clean lines.
In general, whether it’s dining tables or a large restaurant table, the hardness and type of wood you choose will impact the durability.
For those who like to have lines, a few scratches, dents and stains that end up making the table top look unique and loved, then pick a softer wood. For the readers who would like the table to look the same after years of use, then pick a hardwood. Hardwoods such as poplar wood has greater compressive and bending strength and density than other woods, which makes it a usual pick for furniture making.
Color and Finish
Appearance is one of the most important factors for many consumers. The color of the table top and the wood grain, or wood fibers, will really impact how the custom table looks in your home.
I say to ask yourself a few questions. Do you want to appreciate the natural beauty of the wood, finish and all, or do you want an option you can color yourself and finish off with beeswax or a coat of wood veneer?
Many people who want to opt for the natural look of the wood want to find a unique grain pattern such as a variegated grain. You can also go for a straight grain for a more streamlined look and a beautiful texture.
The color you want will also influence your choice of wood. If you want a dark golden brown, then maple is a great choice, while pine is excellent for a lighter and brighter look. It all depends on the wood surface you prefer. The right wood for you may be different for someone else, so go with the aesthetic you want.
Softwood vs Hardwood
If you’re making your own table, softwood is the way to go if you’re working with high speed cutters. Harder woods such as oak may cause some resistance and burns, which is not a residue you want to leave on your table top.
As the name implies, softwood tends to exhibit wear more readily, whereas hardwood is generally more resilient in this regard. From my experience, you can indeed opt for a softwood for your table top without undue concern about durability. Why? Well, you have the option to apply a polyurethane coating, which I often recommends, as it significantly bolsters the wood’s strength.
Walnut costs a lot, because the trees are smaller, so it is less available. Softer woods usually cost less as well, because of it’s softer nature and tendency to show wear and tear. In contrast, hardwoods that can stand the test of time will generally come at a higher price.
How thick should wood be for a table top?
Wood should measure anywhere between 1 inch to 1-¾ inches in thickness for a table top. You don’t want it too thin, because it won’t be able to support as much, but a tabletop that is too thick can be very difficult to work with, especially if you pick hardwood.
Is Pine good for a table top?
Pine is good for a table top if you don’t mind it showing signs of use over time. However, pine can accept paint well, which means you can customize the colors more easily and you can also opt to coat it with a protective polyurethane finish, be it satin or semi-gloss, to promote durability.
There is a variety of best woods for table tops, each suited for a different look and purpose. Consider your budget  and the rest of your interior to decide which will match the best. Do you mind wear and tear? If not, pine is an affordable option. If you want to opt for the hardest material out there, then I recommend hickory.
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.