What Are the Differences in Types of Wood to Make Floating Shelves?

Do me a favor really quickly, would you? Open Google and search for “wood floating shelves.”

How many results came up?

I got over 38 million 😳

What in the world?! How are you ever supposed to pick out kitchen shelves from 38 million choices?

Well, let’s start by narrowing it down a little. Some of those 38 million floating shelf options are made of pine wood. Other shelves may be solid walnut. Even still, other shelving is… well… not real wood 🙃

Where To Start with Types of Wood For Floating Shelves

Certain types of wood will work well for open shelving in your specific space, for your style and design goals, and of course, within your timeline and budget. As you walk through each of these categories, you’ll be able to hone in on the right shelf for your project.

What you’ll find in this article:

Floating Shelf Wood Types and Price Points

What Types of Wood Work By Style

Floating Shelf Grain and Stain Swatches by Wood Type

How Long It Takes to Handcraft Wood Shelves for Each Wood Type

Summary Comparison of Wood Types for Floating Shelves

Reviews for J Thomas Home Shelving


Floating Shelf Wood Types and Price Points

While we can get our hands on most any type of wood you’d need, if you were to visit our showroom, you’d see several samples of natural, unstained shelves on display, including: pine, poplar, alder, oak, cherry, maple, hickory, and walnut. We regularly make floating shelves out of most all of them.

Here is a quick description about each wood type. For more information, click on the links for each wood type below.


While pine (or “knotty pine”) is durable enough for floors, it is a softer wood and naturally nearly-white or pale yellow in color. Pine shelves may have some knots in the wood and  distinctive “lines” or grain patterns. The open grain accepts stain well.         

A grid of ten swatches of stain on Pine wood, made by J Thomas Home


Poplar (said “pop-lar,” not "pop-U-lar") is also a fairly-white wood, but may have natural green or black streaks. Poplar accepts stain smoothly, and is your wood of choice if you are looking for inexpensive painted wooden shelves.

A grid of ten swatches of stain on Poplar wood, made by J Thomas Home


Alder floating shelves are naturally slightly pink or light tan. Alder grain is very smooth and creamy, and accepts stain beautifully.

We use two different types of Alder wood at our shop: Rustic (“Knotty”) Alder and Superior Alder.

Rustic Alder floating shelves are full of character like knots and knot holes, with a little more farmhouse-feel.

A Superior Alder shelf may still have a few knots, but they’ll be much smaller, and little to no holes. With more squared edges on both Rustic and Superior (vs. rounded on rustic pine), Superior Alder can easily be used to add depth and richness to a more modern space, but is at a higher price tag.

A grid of ten swatches of stain on Alder wood, made by J Thomas Home


We use Red Oak around the shop for stove top covers (or “noodleboards”), but can make shelves out of it, as well. To its name, Red Oak has a slightly “pink” (or light tan) undertone.

We also offer White Oak shelves. Unstained white oak is a beautiful light creamy tan color, and is fairly water-resistant and durable (think plants, and kitchens or bathrooms with steam).

From a price-perspective, if you are staining oak wood and going dark, it would be difficult to tell the difference between Red Oak and White Oak, and Red Oak would be more affordable.

The grain for both Red Oak and White Oak is deep, textured and more “wild” than straight lines across the wood. White oak is very heavy.

A grid of ten swatches of stain on Red Oak wood, made by J Thomas HomeA grid of eight swatches of stain on White Oak wood, made by J Thomas Home



Cherry wood generally has a very smooth finish. It’s warm rich appearance has been known to darken over time with exposure to air and sunlight. Cherry is a go-to wood type for furniture, luxurious yacht interiors and even musical instruments.

Stain swatches coming soon!


Hard Maple shelves have closed grain that does not accept stain very evenly, resulting in pretty cool "weathered" finish. Unstained maple is a very bright, nearly-white wood tone with fairly even grain lines. Solid maple can be heavy.

A grid of eight swatches of stain on Maple wood, made by J Thomas Home


Hickory is durable, and great for high-traffic areas. Hickory is very hard (and hard to work with). It’s commonly used for baseball bats! The grain pattern on Hickory tends to be less uniform, and can vary greatly. It's a pretty hefty wood type, too.     

Stain swatches coming soon!


Very rarely do we stain our American Black Walnut wood because of its gorgeous, natural rich wood tone. It gets a Danish oil finish over the raw, sanded wood and is absolutely beautiful. Our shelves have both heartwood and sapwood. While we try to use majority heartwood (darker tone), the sapwood, a lighter blond color, and may be included on your Walnut shelving, too.


Wood Shelves By Budget

The price for each type of wood is based on its level of durability, as well as availability.

Let’s say you’ve had a few unexpected expenses pop-up during your remodel, so you’d prefer more affordable shelving options.

Your most economical shelving wood types include:

  • Pine
  • Poplar
  • Red Oak
  • Alder

But maybe you are building your dream home and these shelves will be the focal point of your nearly-completed kitchen, and you’d prefer to use higher-end materials that match the rest of the house.

Premium types of wood shelves are made out of:

  • Maple
  • Cherry
  • Hickory
  • White Oak
  • Walnut

What Types of Wood Work By Style

It may be helpful to pick your shelving out by the style or vibe you wish to create in the room. Let’s take a look at best types of wood for a couple of trending styles right now: farmhouse and modern.

Best Types of Wood for Farmhouse Rustic Floating Shelves

Rustic designs pair nicely with shelves that have interesting grain patterns, character, and are unique. Wood types that work well in farmhouse spaces include: pine, poplar, and alder, and hickory.

Best Types of Wood for More Modern, Contemporary Open Shelving

Contemporary designs look great with clean, straight edges, and tame grain. Modern style shelving includes superior alder, cherry, maple, white oak, and walnut woods.

Floating Shelf Grain and Stain Swatches by Wood Type

If you’ve ever looked at furniture or shelves made out of real wood, you may have noticed “lines” across the pieces. Those lines are the grain pattern of the wood. Each wood type has its own unique “signature,” which helps make each and every shelf one-of-a-kind.

It’s important to know that the grain pattern impacts how well a shelf may (or may not) accept stain.

For example, pine wood generally soaks stain right up with just one coat and reflects a rich, deep color.

Maple isn’t as cooperative. It’s a fairly tight- or closed-grained wood, which won’t allow stain to seep in much, resulting in a lighter, almost weathered appearance.

But even two pieces of pine stained the same color can look very different, as well, if one has a tight grain pattern (thin lines, very close to each other) vs. a wide grain pattern (wide lines, spread farther apart from each other).The tight grain may look very dark, while the wider grain looks much lighter in color.

Grain Patterns for Floating Shelves

The lines in wood are more noticeable on some types of wood than others.

Dramatic or Textured Wood Grains

If you like a little more interest and character in your shelving, woods that have deep or more visibly-noticeable grain patterns include: pine, hickory, red oak and white oak.

Smoother Grain Patterns

If you prefer woods with less-noticeable grain lines include: poplar, alder, maple, cherry, walnut.

Stain Swatches by Wood Type

Click here to check out our Finish Comparison images and see how the same stain colors can look on different types of wood.

How Long It Takes to Handcraft Wood Shelves by Wood Type

You’ve done your research. You’ve picked out your wood type, size, and stain color, and placed your order.

Now what?

Worth The Wait

To be good stewards of these natural resources, we do not pre-cut and stain any wooden floating shelves, hoping someone purchases that combination. We wait and process each shelving order upon order, cutting them specifically to the wood type, size, and color requested, so you know your shelves are made just for you.

Most of our pine shelves take us between five and 10 business days to create, along with the brackets for install.

Any other wood types take us 10-15 business days to create the open shelving and brackets.

Once boxed for shipment, we send your shelves out from here in Kansas City via UPS Ground.

The total estimated time from order to delivery for pine projects is three weeks, and four weeks for premium wooden floating shelves, like white oak, walnut, maple, and alder.


Reviews for J Thomas Home Shelving

With over 38 million shelving options available online, we understand you may feel a little confused, or overwhelmed as you try to narrow down your decision.

We want you to be confident in your purchase, and LOVE your experience with J Thomas Home.

Please feel free to contact us with any questions you may be wondering about. With years of experience under our belts, you’ll receive a friendly, timely, and thorough response to your inquiry.

We’ve created and shipped over 1 million shelves! And at least one to every state in America (and beyond). So we’re familiar with the woods and stains and can walk you through the selection for your space.

J Thomas Home is a proud recipient of awards for not only for our outstanding products, but also for our top-notch customer service, and shipping statistics. You can see more about our Star Seller badge and the requirements, here, including response time, shipping orders out on time, and five-star customer reviews.

Don’t take our word for it, though. We’re grateful for the kind words of over 6,000 customer reviews across Etsy, Amazon Handmade, Google, and our own J Thomas Home site. Click the links to read more.


About J Thomas Home

What started in our garage as a side-hustle in 2016 quickly required every morning, evening, and weekend to keep up with order requests (and that of our friends and families, too!) .

Now, with two facilities in operation in Olathe, KS (right outside of Kansas City), we and a small but strong team of woodworkers cut and sand, stain, then ship shelves each day across the U.S.

We have an Etsy Shop, and listings on Amazon Handmade, too, but hope you visit our J Thomas Home website – especially local KC folks! We love to partner together for larger residential or commercial projects, like dining tables, desks, and customized-cabinetry.

Let’s Talk! Schedule an appointment in the showroom today.

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