Identifying Wood

Secrets and Tips for Identifying Wood

If you are not trained in identifying wood, all types of wood probably look the same or similar to you. Wood is wood, right? Wrong. There are many different types of wood, and certain kinds of wood are better than others for specific projects like floors and furniture. Identifying wood is not a simple task. The best way to learn how to recognize the different types of wood is to start at the beginning with the wood basics.

Wood Basics 101
In order to distinguish between the various types of wood, you must closely examine and become familiar with the specific characteristics of the wood. Essentially, you have to get to know your piece of wood. One of the most effective ways to start getting to know the wood is by looking at the wood grain. A wood’s grain reveals a great deal and will frequently provide important clues as to what kind of wood you are working with.

First, determine if the wood grain is fine or coarse. Usually hard woods – like ash, mahogany or teak – will have a coarse grain and soft woods – like maple and pine - will have a finer grain. (This is not always the case, though, as some hard woods do have a finer grain and a few of the softer woods have a coarse grain.) Next, look at the pattern of the wood grain to see if it is defined or not. A specific pattern can help with identifying wood, because a certain pattern will only be found on that type of wood. Some wood grains are more uniform along the piece of wood, but others are not. This is where a picture guide can be extremely helpful. If you have a visual example to compare your wood to, it will be easier the spot specific patterns and details in the type of wood you are working with.

Wood Type – Is It Hard of Soft
One of the most basic wood facts that should be determined is whether it is hard wood or soft wood. Hard wood is the most frequently used type of wood, because it is strong and will hold up under years of use. Hard woods include ash, beech, birch, cherry, mahogany, maple, oak, poplar, rosewood, teak and walnut. These are the kinds of wood that would typically be used to make furniture or for wood flooring. It is also used for cabinets and paneling. Some hard woods are more coarse than others, so the prices can vary. Generally, the harder and stronger the wood, the more it will cost.

Pine is the best example of a soft wood. It is light weight and not very strong, so probably not the best choice for well-used pieces of furniture and flooring. Although pine can be used for furniture or cabinets, it is most commonly used as trim and for interior doors – items that do not necessarily have to be very strong.

Solving the Mystery of Wood
When trying to identify the type of wood used in an antique piece of furniture, the best place to start is at the beginning with where the wood came from. Knowing the history of a piece of furniture can be helpful when trying to figure out what type of wood it is made of. If a certain kind of wood was plentiful in a certain area when that particular piece of furniture was made, there is a likelihood that most furniture from that time and place will be constructed with the same kind of wood.