Originally designed to close and secure window openings before the advent of modern windows, and then used to protect the glass during times of inclement weather, shutters have evolved into a decorative statement. Many shutters are made from moulded plastic and come in a couple of styles and colours and look just like what they are: cheap exterior plastic decorations. Higher end shutters are designed to be just that--real shutters--and offer an upgrade to the mass-produced shutters found on tract homes and in home improvement superstores. Made from five basic woods, shutters range in price according to the wood and the style selected. Also, active shutters, or shutters designed to be used, will cost more than shutters designed to be purely decorative.
Pressure-treated pine is typically southern yellow pine that has been treated with a wood preservative to resist rot and bugs. The preservative is applied under pressure to sink into the wood as opposed to just being applied to the surface. It is widely and cheaply available. The drawbacks to pine are the often knotty appearance of the boards and the movement pine boards can experience as they swell and contract with the humidity in the air. Shutters made from pressure-treated pine need to be primed thoroughly with a stain-blocking primer to prevent the knots from bleeding though the finish paint coat.
Fir is a straight-grained wood that is often used in window sashes and makes a good choice for shutters as well. The benefits to using fir are the fact that it is more economical and readily available than other woods, except pine, and it doesn't move as much compared to pine. The drawback to using fir in window shutters is the fact that it possesses no resistance to water or bugs and needs to be properly caulked and painted to protect it from bugs and the elements. Shutters made from fir don't need a particular primer.
Cedar is the third and final soft wood used in shutters. Cedar has natural resistance to water rot and bug infestation, meaning no exterior treatment is needed. Cedar machines well and looks good unpainted. The drawbacks to using cedar include its higher price and limited availability.
Cedar may be painted and will require a high-hiding, stain-blocking primer to prevent the tannins in the wood from bleeding through, although many people prefer to leave it natural or topcoat it with a clear varnish or polyurethane.
Mahogany is a wood that is both appealing to the eye and hearty. Primarily grown in the tropics, mahogany is a dense hardwood that is characterised by tight, straight grains. The benefit to using mahogany in shutters is its durability. It has a natural resistance to water and bugs, and it is more durable than cedar and has the most dimensional stability of naturally grown shutter materials. It also machines very well. The drawback to mahogany is the price. Due to its relative scarcity, the price for mahogany is typically triple or more than that of cedar. Mahogany may be painted, but is most often finished with a clear topcoat to allow the natural beauty of the wood to shine through.
While not a naturally grown wood, composite woods are making inroads in the wooden shutter market. Made from a combination of sawdust, resins and glues, they come in a variety of colours and grain patterns. The benefit to using composite woods is durability. They aren't affected by water, sun or bugs and they are fairly dimensionally stable. The drawbacks to composite woods include the price, as they are twice as expensive as the best pressure-treated pine, and the cheaper brands can have a definite man-made look. Composite wood comes in a range of colours that permeate the material, as opposed to sitting on the surface like paint does, although they can be painted to complement any colour scheme.