When designing your custom wood door, it’s important to understand your options, including which type of wood best fits your needs. The decision does not always boil down to looks alone, but rather functionality and durability as well.

At Vintage Millwork & Restoration, we believe in educating our customers throughout the building process so they can make the best decisions for their custom doors. This includes exploring which type of wood is best for a door’s intended use.

Here, we’ll discuss six wood types we recommend as the top choices for custom exterior doors. Each wood species has its own unique characteristics and can be made into the door style of your choice.

  • Sapele Mahogany
  • Spanish Cedar
  • Western Red Cedar
  • White Oak
  • Reclaimed White Oak
  • Poplar

Sapele Mahogany

Originating in Western Africa, this beautiful reddish-brown hardwood has become one of the most popular wood types for exterior doors. Sapele mahogany’s medium texture, moderate luster, and decay resistance make it an ideal choice for homeowners looking for a durable custom door with a natural look. 

Although this wood type is often referred to as “sapele mahogany,” and sapele is in the mahogany family, sapele is a distinct type of wood on its own. Sapele looks similar to mahogany, but is a denser wood with a slightly darker color. It also differs in its workability, though this isn’t usually a factor for homeowners. We use quartersawn sapele, which provides greater stability and a more prominent grain.

When it comes to finishing, sapele mahogany can be painted. However, it tends to look better stained, which shows off that impressive natural grain. The grain will not be obscured by anything other than the darkest finishes, providing more flexibility to suit a home’s appearance.

Spanish Cedar

Native to Central and South America, Spanish cedar is an attractive hardwood with a moderate texture and a vibrant color ranging from brown to light pink. This wood type is traditionally used in humidors and is a prime choice for an exterior door due to its beauty and natural rot resistance. 

Many homeowners find Spanish cedar to be especially attractive because of its shallowly interlocking grain and elegant natural appearance. Spanish cedar is loved by woodworking professionals, too, thanks to its standout workability and the fact that it weathers well.

In terms of finishing options, Spanish cedar can be painted, However, staining allows its natural beauty to shine.

Western Red Cedar

Grown in the Pacific Northwest, western red cedar is a beautiful wood type with a reddish-brown color and straight grain with a coarse texture. It’s the perfect wood species for homeowners looking for a time-tested classic that offers an impressive aesthetic and lasting value.

Western red cedar is a particularly durable wood and does well in terms of rot resistance. It’s also popular because of its subtle yet stunning appearance. The added character it gives a home can hardly be overstated.

And just as with Spanish cedar, western red can be painted or stained, but staining is the better option to show off its natural beauty. Painting hinders the features that make western red cedar a truly special wood type.

White Oak

Grown in the eastern half of the United States and Canada, white oak is a durable, attractive hardwood that complements virtually any architectural style. It has a fairly straight grain and a light brown color.

White oak shares similarities with western red oak, but their differences give white oak the edge. Both stand out as considerably dense hardwoods, but white oak grains tend to be longer than red, and white oak is the darker of the two. White oak has a smoother grain, isn’t quite as soft, and is better with lighter stains than western red oak.

Reclaimed White Oak

One of the most unique choices for exterior doors, reclaimed oak, has become an increasingly popular choice among both homeowners and designers.

Salvaged from antique barns and homes, this wood type brings an impressive backstory that adds substance and character to its beautiful aesthetic. This salvaging also makes reclaimed oak an environmentally friendly choice. When working with this wood type, no trees are logged, and no new demand for virgin wood is created.

In terms of finishing, reclaimed wood should be stained to both showcase and protect its vintage aesthetic.


Grown in the eastern half of the US and Canada, poplar is an ideal wood type for homeowners who want high quality without a high price tag. It’s often used to make furniture and cabinets, but it’s also a great choice for custom exterior doors.

The color of poplar can differ slightly from board to board, but it will usually have a white or yellowish hue. Its grain is straight and uniform, containing minimal knots. When it comes to finishing, poplar is better off painted, as its natural color can vary just enough to make stain look uneven. Painting gives this wood type a better appearance and allows homeowners to get creative with customization. 

Ready to Build Your Custom Door?

If you’re ready to build a custom exterior door of your own, look no further than the experienced craftsmen at Vintage Millwork & Restoration. Our combination of old-word craftsmanship and modern technology sets us apart as a millwork shop able to produce some of finest custom doors in the United States. Contact us today to learn more about our capabilities and to get started on your custom project.