Wood ID: Examination vs guessing
Response To:
What is this wood *PIC* ()

John K Jordan

Except in special cases it can be very difficult to correctly identify wood from photos of the side of a board. Even the lighting can throw off the color for distinctively colored woods. Unless the color/grain/ring structure wood is unusually distinctive you might get a variety of guesses - remember that ALL of them will be wrong except for one, if you are lucky.

For some idea of the wide variation within any species look at some of the pictures on these pages:

This article on the Wood Database tells how to examine wood and get started on identification. The most important thing and the thing to do first is to look at the end grain, section 7:

I use a good stereo low-power microscope but a small hand lens will do the job. This lighted loupe is inexpensive and very good:
They used to be $13, the last few I bought were $16, now I see they are $20. Think fast.

Some things:
- END GRAIN STRUCTURE The Wood Database article tells how to prepare the end grain of a small sample for visual examination. This is the most useful tool for general wood ID. Use a 10x magnifier to examine pore distribution, parenchyma, ray size, ring visibility/distribution, etc. First thing with hardwoods is to try to put it into one of these three categories: diffuse porous, ring porous, or semi-ring/semi-diffuse porous. The Wood Database has a good photo of the end grain for each wood listed. Note that some, especially some exotics, can be very difficult to differentiate from similar species.
- DENSITY Measure, weigh, and calculate density. Look up the density of candidate species in the Wood Database, consider moisture weight. This can eliminate a lot of candidates. Remember that density can vary so you won't have and exact number but close can help.
- ODOR Some species have very distinctive smells. Until you have experience with them it helps to get a local experienced person to help.
- FLUORESCENCE Some species have a distinctive fluorescence under UV light. I use a good 365nm UV light but they can be expensive. This one is inexpensive and not bad:

Once you have some candidate guesses, look up each in the Wood Database and see if any are a good fit. The Hobbithouseinc web site is also a powerful resource.

The bottom of the Wood Database ID page under "Still Stumped?" tells how to send off a small sample for a free analysis.

For anyone interested in identifying wood this book is the best way I know to get started: Identifying Wood by R. Bruce Hoadley:
I've used mine so much half of the pages are falling out. I just ordered a spare. I've been meaning to do that for a long time.

BTW, I got interested in wood ID long ago at a turning club meeting when someone passed around a Show-and-Tell piece marked Cherry on the bottom. It was clearly ring porous! If marking a piece with a guess at least pick one that's believable based on pore size and distribution.


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