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I have the problem of selecting wood for making casings and baseboards and other architectural trim. In my situation cost is not an objective.

The millworkers I currently use prefer sapele. The problem with sapele is that it is dark, oily and has a relatively deep grain, so that makes it difficult to paint (most of my trim is painted white). So, what happens is that the primer tends to soak into the sapele, then it has to be re-sanded and primed again, repeat over and over. Also, a lot of coats are necessary to cover the naturally dark shade of the wood.

One obvious improvement would be genuine mahogany which is lighter in color, less porous and less oily. The main drawback is that it is more difficult to obtain genuine mahogany and so lead times might be longer.

Naively, I have suggested maple which is light in color, hard, has a tight, easily painted grain. However, the millworkers say it is unusable for casings because it tends to twist. If this is true, one creative workaround might be to use a maple butcher block which will not twist, but how well butcher block mills, I don't know.

I am interested in other suggestions.

Update:

One wood I am looking at is sweet birch. It is pretty hard stuff and looks close grained from the photo. How is it for stability? Does it tend to twist like maple does?

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  • Do you mean Sapele wood? I don't see any Suppele wood on line. You should definitely not be priming and painting Sapele for trim. It's a beautiful wood often showcased in guitar making. It would be glorious as a trim wood if stained and finished to show its beauty instead of slathering paint over it. But I'm not here to advise you on what would look best in your home. For what you describe, Poplar seems to be the best go-to wood. Poplar is used all day long, everyday, for just the needs you describe. Read @Freemans answer below. He really does have it right and is giving you the best answer. – Jim Oct 15 '20 at 11:17
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Poplar seems to be the preferred wood for painting. It's got a nice, tight grain that sands nicely, takes paint well and leaves a smooth surface.

It has the additional advantage of being cheap. While you may be willing to spend more, there's no point in doing so for a "fancy" wood if you're going to slop apply paint over it. Nobody will ever know if there's "plain" poplar or "snazzy" genuine mahogany underneath a coat of white paint. Take the difference in cost of the wood and apply it to a higher quality of paint if you feel the need to burn some cash.

If you're going to stain, then by all means get something nice and leave the poplar behind. Poplar's got some weird coloration in it (at least the poplar I've seen) that probably wouldn't look nice under stain.

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  • Poplar is too soft for casings and baseboard. It should be a hardwood. – Treow Wyrhta Oct 14 '20 at 16:00
  • Aaaand there we go FreeMan. +1, but you wasted your time.... – Graphus Oct 15 '20 at 4:16
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    I used S4S poplar 2x2 for balusters about 25 years ago. The railing they support fences off the landing/play area that my kids used. They seem to have held up pretty well. YMMV. – FreeMan Oct 15 '20 at 10:57
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    @Treow Wyrtha I'm confused. Why is Poplar too soft for baseboards and casings? Poplar seems to be the go to wood for bb and casings in my area, and it does paint up nicely. The OP didn't mention any need for a "super hard" wood that might be needed to avoid some specific limitation of a "softer" wood. My understanding is that the main concern was in prepping a wood for painting and then laying down a quality paint top-coat. Things poplar seems to do quite well. Did I miss something about a need for a wood with a hardness similar to QS white oak or rock maple or similar, for this application? – Jim Oct 15 '20 at 11:00
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    "I am interested in other suggestions." just not this one, it seems... It's OK, my feeling are not hurt, and even if they were, that's totally irrelevant. – FreeMan Oct 15 '20 at 12:29
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The best material for painted trim is not wood at all. You should be using MDF, or, if you're worried about denting, PVC.

These man made materials surpass wood for this application in almost every way other than not having open grain if that look is desired. But since you're mentioning using maple and that you don't want the deep grain of sapele this should be perfect.

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  • A good quality composite does make for good trim, even for outdoor applications if you don't mind refinishing semi-reguarly and buy the right stuff. – jdv Oct 15 '20 at 22:26
  • @jdv what kind of finishing or refinishing does composite need? Maybe I'm conflating "composite" with the "PVC" that I used about 2 years ago and is still as bright, shining white as the day I bought it... – FreeMan Oct 16 '20 at 13:51
  • @FreeMan I mean composite as in various types of MDF or other engineered wood-like products. They take paint and whatnot very well. – jdv Oct 16 '20 at 14:55
  • @jdv Gotcha - that makes much more sense! It seems the coffee hadn't kicked in quite yet.. – FreeMan Oct 16 '20 at 16:26
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Oak. Usually so-called white oak. But red oak will also do.

This is the traditional wood used for this purpose. Even the sapwood is hard enough in most cases.

Like most hardwood, it can be rather expensive, but you can get lower graded lengths if you shop around. It cuts well, works well, sands well, seals well, takes paint well, and is very stable. It is very hard for its mass.

And since you are priming and painting, you can choose very durable modern paints that, when applied with care, offer a lot of scuff and dent protection.

Maple, in my opinion, would be overkill. It would also be really expensive, and it's harder to find cheaper grades for this sort of use.

Also, look around online and see if someone is disposing of old baseboards or other boards you can repurpose. Heck, you could look around for some partially engineering product, where they take cheaper pieces of softer hardwood and combine them into nominal sizes for this exact sort of application.

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  • When I read late 19th century trade books and magazines the preference for high quality interior trim seems to be: (1) mahogany, (2) cherry, (3) birch, (4) oak in that order. In the early 20th century cypress and gum start to become popular. Note however that the style in those days was to varnish the wood, so the natural grain was important. I like oak, but it is very grainy, so there would be a lot of filling. – Treow Wyrhta Oct 15 '20 at 21:21
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    Mahogany has been a non-starter for a long time. What is sold as mahogany now isn't at all what they used back then, and would be no better than poplar. Cherry and birch were never that plentiful, and using either for trimwork would be either a waste of decent carpentry grade wood, or a waste of decent firewood (in the case of birch). This has left us with oak for the last several decades, at least in North America. In the SE US longleaf pine would also have been used, but those are long gone, at least for trimwork quality. – jdv Oct 15 '20 at 22:17
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    The takeaway is that builders chose wood for trim based on how cheaply they could get reasonably straight and clear pieces that would wear reasonably well. The choices before you are completely different these days, but the finishes you have access to are so much better than they could have imagined. – jdv Oct 15 '20 at 22:31

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