I once read advice about building a workbench that said something like: Always use superior materials for building your workbench, but in the absence of superior materials, use superior construction. They then went on to outline what they meant.
This Philosophy seems to be appropriate for most work. houses, looms, anything… use big beams and simple strong joints if you have them (log cabins, post and beam barns, barn looms), use slender parts with corner braces and support ribs if you don’t (modern 2×4 house construction, modern floor looms etc)
The question frequently comes up: “what is the best wood for “x” part?”… while this can spur on valuable discussions about the qualities and merits of various woods, in reality the best wood is the wood that you have, or that you have available.
Hardwood and softwood: every material has it’s place. even concrete if you want to use it. If you don’t have a choice of materials, use the best that you can get, if it’s soft like pine or douglas fir, that’s OK, make your parts a little bigger, or add corner bracing and cross ribs, (look at a Nicholson workbench designed to use pine or fir) If you can get slabs of hard wood use those. (look up Roubo workbench)
Hardwoods are usually easier to work with, they don’t take damage as easily, plane cleanly, chisel nicely, etc. Softwoods sometimes are frustrating as all (very bad word). Dent if you look at it wrong, won’t plane nicely, chisels crush instead of cutting…
But soft woods are unusually great for stout uprights and legs (barn posts are usually pine or fir) While hardwoods usually make superior beams and horizontal members.
So when making things: Use the wood you have or can get easily, and Use appropriate joinery/construction for the material.
Joinery: While there are all sorts of clever things that can be done with our joints, let me introduce the concept of KISS
Keep It Simple S_______
Simple is strong, Simple is faster, simple requires fewer tools, Simple is best, “it’s a gift to be simple”.
Mortise and tenon with drawbore pin can make up the majority of our joints.
Half laps are ok, glue and or screw them.
Dovetails are occasional or rarely needed, they are best on drawer fronts, sometimes used elsewhere.
Practicing your joint making always pays off.
Joints should be cut so that they slide together without force, if you have to pound on them to make them go together you are doing it wrong. or they are too tight.
Glue is not as necessary as most modern woodworking books and magazines might make you think it is.
A well done drawbored M&T should hold for decades without glue, as can nailed half laps.
Chairs and spinning wheels might use round mortises and round tenons. These can be straight or tapered, tapered ones are self locking, straight ones can be wedged or cross pinned.