How to find a timber selection or finish that is right for you.

Information verified correct on December 8th, 2016

Select the right timber for your renovation project to achieve the best possible result.

timber selection

The key to success in any renovation project is making the right decisions. From fixtures and fittings to materials and the overall layout of the space, the choices you make before work even begins are critical to how your project turns out.

So when it comes to choosing a type of timber for your DIY project, you need to have a good understanding of the benefits, drawbacks and maintenance considerations of each option.

Main types of timber

Timber veneer

Offering a simple and stylish alternative to solid wood, timber veneer is a thin layer of timber that is uniformly thick. Selected logs are sliced or peeled to create veneer, then a variety of techniques are used to create a wide range of wood grain patterns which makes veneer suitable for use in a variety of projects.

Veneer typically comes as a thin layer attached to a base, or as a thin sheet that can be attached to a timber surface. From floating floors to DIY cabinetry, timber veneers are a cost-effective option for any DIY project and add natural warmth to your furniture.

It’s also an environmentally sustainable timber option – according to the Timber Veneer Association of Australia, one cubic metre of log generates an astonishing 1,000 square metres of veneer. To top it off, veneer attracts a much cheaper price tag than solid timber.

One downside, however, is that veneer can be more prone to damage. Water can cause swelling or other damage to your project, while scratches and dents are another potential risk.

Maintenance

With this in mind, there are a few simple maintenance tasks you can perform to prevent damage. Remove any water spillages or other moisture from the surface as soon as possible, while a soft cloth wiped in the direction of the grain will take care of general cleaning duties.

Harsh cleaners should never be used on timber veneers. Instead, you should consider a specially designed furniture cleaner, or a good-quality polish that is suitable for use on veneers.

How much does it cost?

Prices vary according to the type of veneer used, starting from around $6 for a 155cm x 12cm section and going up from there.

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Plywood

Versatile and stylish, plywood is a popular timber selection for many DIY projects. It’s cheaper than solid timber and is also flexible enough to be used in a wide range of situations.Plywood timber

Manufactured from timber veneers bonded together using heat and pressure, plywood is known for its strength. This strength is created by the direction of the grain on each layer of veneer – one layer has the grain running vertically, the next has the grain running horizontally, and so on. An uneven number of layers is used so that the outer layers both have the grain running in the same direction.

There are several types of plywood available and the right type for you will depend on your project. Plywood for interior projects can be made from both hardwood and softwood and can be used in ceilings, wall lining, furniture and more. However, there are more moisture-resistant types of plywood available for exterior use, as well as plywood designed for maximum strength and structural use.

Maintenance

Durable, lightweight, flexible and cost-effective, plywood is also relatively easy to maintain – but it does have a few downsides. Its multi-layered design means water damage is a risk if it’s exposed to a leak for an extended period, while the edges of plywood are often not all that pretty to look at and are therefore not suitable for some situations.

Washing interior plywood surfaces regularly to remove dirt and grime is recommended. If mould develops, a mould killer designed for use on timber should be used.

How much does it cost?

Plywood prices vary depending on the thickness of the panel and the purpose for which it has been designed. For example, a 2,400 x 1,200mm 7mm panel of structural CD plywood from Bunnings costs $31, while a 17mm panel costs $65.

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Reconstituted wood products

Next on the list of timber options for your home renovation project are reconstituted wood products. This category includes wood boards and sheets made from reconstituted wood fibres such as wood chips, sawdust or off-cuts.

Products available for use in this segment include chipboard, medium and high-density fibreboard (MDF), oriented strand board, Masonite and more. The wide array of products available in this category means that reconstituted wood products have a wide range of uses and also have their own unique pros and cons.All wood room

For example, MDF is manufactured from wood fibres and is best for internal use in doors and panelling. While it’s inexpensive and can easily be painted or stained to look just like the real thing, it does have poor moisture resistance. Oriented strand board, on the other hand, is manufactured from thin wood strands and is used for structural purposes.

Before you choose any type of reconstituted wood product for your DIY project, do some research to find out whether it’s right for your renovation.

Maintenance
The maintenance needs of reconstituted wood products will vary depending on the type of product used. For example, MDF should be stored in a dry area out of the sun and wind, and should never be made too wet when cleaning. The manufacturer can recommend the best products to use when cleaning, but an all-purpose cleaner will often do the trick. Meanwhile, chipboard can be lightly sanded to
remove any stains.

How much does it cost?

The pricing of reconstituted wood products varies depending on the product you choose. For example, a 1,200 x 900 x 3mm standard MDF panel from Bunnings costs $4.96, while an 915 x 610 x 4.8mm standard masonite panel costs $9.

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Solid timber

Its warmth, earthiness and versatility are hard to beat, and the huge array of timber available means you’ll find solid timber to suit just about any project.

Timber is split into two main groups: softwood and hardwood. Softwood is strong and lightweight, making it easy to transport and easy to work with on site. Native softwood species include hoop pine and white cypress, while non-native species such as radiata pine and slash pine are also grown on Australian plantations.

From structural frames and beams to kitchen benchtops, panelling and flooring softwood has a huge range of applications. However, it may not provide the unique look or the durability for your project that hardwood can.

From blackbox and spotted gum to ironbark, jarrah and blackwood, Australia is home to a large number of hardwood species. Hardwood is strong and durable, making it ideal for structural uses (bearers, roof beams etc.), stairs and internal or external flooring.

The long life of hardwood also makes it highly recyclable, but the main downside of using this type of timber is its weight, as it can be difficult to transport.

timber finishesMaintenance

The care and maintenance required depends on what your solid timber is used for. For example, hardwood floors are best treated with a cleaner that has a Ph neutral balance, while a specialist timber furniture cleaner should be used on items of furniture. Products like Cabot’s Deck Clean are great for preparing decking and other exterior timber for coating, while there’s a wide choice of oils and stains available to offer protection and create the perfect look.

How much does it cost?

The cost of solid timber depends on the variety of wood you choose and what you want to use it for. To give you an idea of pricing, 85 x 19mm blackbutt flooring from Bunnings costs $9 per linear metre, while the same-sized grey ironbark flooring costs $11.10 per linear metre. A 185 x 65mm standard hardwood beam, meanwhile, costs $60.89 per lineal metre.

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Different types of finishes

Selecting the right timber is only half the decision; the finish you apply to the timber is crucial to the overall look and feel of your project. Finishing refers to protecting and improving the appearance of timber, but the type of finish you use will vary depending on the type of timber you select and where and how it will be used.

Before any finish can be applied, the timber will need to be sanded or planed and any imperfections filled. After that, the choice of finish is up to you.

Oil is durable, easy to apply and enhances the natural colour and grain of the wood, but it doesn’t offer a high level of protection. Polyurethane varnish offers high protection and durability, but it’s more difficult to apply.

Another popular finish is waxing, which is suitable for indoor furniture pieces. However, waxed surfaces may require ongoing maintenance every six months. A stained or coloured finish is generally used to promote the natural colour and grain of the timber, and there are plenty of options available from your local hardware store.

The finish you use on your verandah decking could be very different from the finish applied to a kitchen benchtop or cupboard door, so make sure you know the features and benefits of each type of finish before choosing just one.

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Belinda Punshon

Belinda is a journalist here at finder.com.au. Specialising in the home loans and property sections, she is passionate about helping Australians improve their financial wellbeing.

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