While there are similarities between some wood species, and finishes are often used to mask lower value as higher value species, actual wood species are the primary distinction in the grain structure and color of veneers. Generally wood species are divided into hardwoods (deciduous, or leaf bearing) and softwoods (coniferous or cone bearing). The terms hardwood and softwood can be confusing since some hardwoods are less dense than some softwoods.
Decorative face veneers from softwoods are generally restricted to North American Cedar, Pine and Fir, while commercial hardwood veneer species number in the hundreds and are both domestic and imported. In North America the most popular species are Maple, Birch, Red Oak and Cherry, but many other hardwood species are commonly used in decorative applications, including Mahogany, Walnut, Beech, Anigre, White Oak, Pecan, Ash, Makore, Sapele and many others.
In addition to hardwoods and softwoods, wood species are often classified as "open grain" or "closed grain" especially by those concerned with applying finish coatings to wood. This refers to the texture of the wood's cell structure. Precise definitions of open and closed grained species don't exist, but softwoods are generally considered open grain, as is oak, ash, mahogany and walnut. Closed grain species include maple, birch, cherry and hickory.