What are the Differences in Types of Wood Your Floating Wall Shelves are Made Of?

floating wall shelves in the Kitchen

Each Custom Floating Shelf You Order from J Thomas Home is Unique

There are more than 60,000 tree species worldwide. While not all of them are suitable for home furnishings, plenty of them are.

So how are you supposed to determine the type of wood you should be using for shelving in your home?

A good way to start is by identifying a custom floating shelf company who does quality work, with positive ratings from past customers.

For you, we think that’s us: J Thomas Home. And we offer shelving made from a much smaller selection of the most beautiful American wood types that suit a range of home decor preferences.

Stick with us to learn more about the types of wood we use for our pipe shelves, farmhouse shelves, and much more.

Our Custom Floating Shelves

J Thomas Home started with Josh and Emily, the company’s founders, building farmhouse pipe shelves in their garage. From there, we’ve branched out into more styles, finishes, and wood species to help people decorate their homes with sturdy, solid pieces that will last for years.

Today, we also offer our classic floating wall shelves with invisible brackets and thick floating shelves for a rustic and organic modern vibe. Our customers choose their wood species and finish, and we custom-build every piece! You won’t find our quality products in a big box store, because what we do simply can’t translate to mass production.

Choosing Your Wood Shelves

We stock several types of wood for our shelves, including pine, poplar, alder, oak, cherry, maple, hickory, and walnut. But we can get our hands on almost any other type of wood you’d want for your home.

Let’s explore our classic premium wood we keep in stock.

  • Pine Wood Shelves
    While pine - sometimes called “knotty pine” is durable enough for floors, it’s softer than other types of woods and naturally nearly white or pale yellow in color. Pine shelves have some knots in the wood, with distinctive grain patterns or “lines.” This open grain accepts stain well, but two pieces of pine in the same stain may not look alike because of the grain variation.
  • Poplar Wood Shelves
    Poplar is popular for its nearly-white tone with green or black streaks. It accepts stain smoothly, and is the ideal wood for keeping costs low for painted shelves.
  • Alder Wood Shelves
    Natural alder has a slightly pink or light tan hue, with a smooth, creamy grain. It accepts stain beautifully. We carry two types of alder at our shop: rustic alder and superior alder. Rustic alder is full of character, like knots and knot holes, for a farmhouse feel. Superior alder has a few knots, but they’re much smaller for a smoother look.
  • Oak Wood Shelves
    Red and white oak are slightly different, in that red oak has a slightly pink undertone, while white oak is much more light and creamy tan. Oak offers some water resistance and durability, so it’s ideal for kitchen or bathroom shelves. The grain for both types of oak is deep, textured, and wild - not in straight lines across the wood.
  • Cherry Wood Shelves
    Cherry has a smooth finish with a warm, rich appearance that darkens over time with exposure to air and sunlight. It’s a go-to wood for furniture, musical instruments, and yacht interiors. If you’re looking to add elegance to your home, cherry wood is ideal.
  • Maple Wood Shelves
    Hard maple shelves have a closed grain that doesn’t accept stain very evenly, resulting in a weathered finish. Unstained maple, however, is very bright, with a nearly white tone and even grain lines.
  • Hickory Wood Shelves
    Hickory is durable, hard, and hefty! The grain pattern tends to be less uniform and can vary greatly, in shape and width, but also in color, from near white to warm brown.
  • Walnut Wood Shelves
    Very rarely do we stain our American black walnut wood because of its natural, gorgeous, rich wood tone. A Danish oil finish over raw, sanded wood is enough to make it absolutely beautiful. Heartwood - a darker tone - and sapwood - a lighter blond color - are included in our custom floating shelf offerings.

Wood Shelves by Budget

Wood prices depend on durability and availability. At J Thomas Home, we can help you select wood species for your shelves based on your budget and goal.

For example, if you’re interested in more affordable shelving options, we’ll encourage you to look at our economical shelf woods, including pine, poplar, red oak, and alder.

If your project goal is decorating your dream house exactly how you want it, or if you’ll be using our shelves as the focal point in your remodeled kitchen, you might prefer to use more premium materials to complement the rest of your home. We’d recommend maple, cherry, hickory, white oak, or walnut, in that case.

Floating Wall Shelves by Style

The type of wood you choose can also reflect the style you’re going for in your home decor. Trending styles like farmhouse or organic modern are best achieved by choosing specific wood species - and our custom shelf designs.

For example, if you’re going for rustic or farmhouse shelves, choose a wood with an interesting grain pattern and character. Wood types that work well in spaces like this are pine, poplar, alder, and hickory.

For a more modern, classic, or contemporary look, opt for shelves with clean, straight edges and a tamer grain, like superior alder, cherry, maple, white oak, or walnut.

The shelf design you choose will affect your home’s overall vibe; our farmhouse pipe shelves or thick floating shelves read as more rustic, while our custom floating shelves can easily be modernized with the right wood grain, stain, and decor you set atop them.

Amp Up the Drama with Textured Wood Grains on Your Shelving

As we noted when we discussed each type of wood species we keep in stock, the wood grain - or lines in the wood - are more noticeable on some types of wood than on others.

If you want a smooth wood grain, you’ll probably prefer woods like poplar, alder, maple, cherry, or walnut.

But if you’re looking for something dramatic with big texture, woods with deep or more visible grain patterns will be up your alley: pine, hickory, red oak, or white oak.

The stain you choose can also play up - or down - the grain pattern, so always look at our swatches online if you are wondering what stain color should I choose for my floating shelves before ordering your custom floating shelf.

The Art of Handcrafting Wood Shelves

At J Thomas Home, we don’t keep an inventory of premade shelves. When you place your order, we begin custom-making each piece just for you.

Because our shelves are made to order, expect between 5 and 10 business days for building, sanding, staining, and perfecting your new shelves, depending on the wood you selected, plus an additional couple of days for shipping via UPS Ground from our shop in the Kansas City metro.

Three weeks is a short time to wait when it comes to receiving custom-built pieces, and you’ll find our gorgeous wood shelves are worth it.

We Can Help!

Confused about which wood will look best in your home? Uncertain about stain? Or wondering what size shelf should I order? We can help! One of our experts is available to answer your questions. Just send us a quick message online before placing your order.


  • Cherrel Evans

    I need help deciding which farmhouse shelving I want to go over my large sectional couch. The wall is about 13 ft long and the sectional fills the entire width of wall. I can send pics of space and am requesting suggestions for a shelf I can decorate with farmhouse decor, like maybe pic frame, succulent, click, lantern, stems..you get the idea?
    Was reading your blog suggesting shelf not be too deep so people dont hit their heads on shelf getting up from couch. However since this is a big wall, will it make more sense to go chunky depth? Like 2"? I dont know. I’ll wait for reply before I email pics of my colors and space. Thank you! Cherrel E.

  • Emily Lorg, Owner

    Hi Theresa! I just messaged you directly! Modern and contemporary I usually lean toward Maple shelves; however, you said you wanted something dramatic so I’m thinking Walnut would be wonderful! Snap and send a photo of your space my way at emily@jthomashome.com and I’ll gladly take a look at the other elements of the room and help you pinpoint the best wood type for this gorgeous space!! Thank you!!

  • Theresa O'Brien

    We are wanting floating shelves in our kitchen right beside the pantry to display art pieces. These shelves will be visible from kitchen, dining room and living room. We are going for a modern, contemporary look. We want something dramatic. What do you suggest?

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