Dave Mather Scent And Wood Identification

     Many of you remember Andy who ran our shop for 10 years. When he had problems identifying wood, he would pick the piece up and sniff it. Sometimes this provided the final clue. I have never had his gifted sniffer, but odor can certainly play a role in wood identification.
     Some wood odor is caused by the action of fungi, bacteria, and molds. Most of this micro-organism activity occurs in the sapwood because of the large starch deposits there. However, these odors are of no use in wood identification. Dr. Hoadley does point out, however, that the scent of resins is helpful in identifying pines and most of this resin occurs in the sapwood.
     The odor of "infiltration products" in the heartwood is what is generally used in the identification of a species of wood. Scientifically speaking, odor is due to "the emission of free molecules into the air". Consequently, odor quickly dissipates and so it is helpful to take fresh cuts or scrapings from the heartwood. Moistening it and even warming it by breath can help intensify the odor. Woods seasoned in high heat lose odor and woods tightly packed together can pick up each other's odor.
     Sassafras, Port Orford Cedar and the Juniper family have agreeable scents. Dark oily samples of Bald Cypress on the other hand can smell rancid and Catalpa smells like kerosene. True firs and spruce are so "neutral" that they are a good choice for food containers and will not affect even easily tainted butter. The scent of Eastern Red Cedar and the camphor tree in the orient are used in chests and closets to inhibit insect activity. Many believe that Spanish Cedar enhances the aroma of tobacco, and burning sandalwood as incense has been used for centuries in the orient.


© 2002 by David Mather. All rights reserved. No parts of this publication may be reproduced in any form or by any means without the written permission of the author.