How do you identify wood?

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sometimewoodworker

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I'm not talking about a specific piece of timber. In general how do you go about identifying wood?
In general the absolute best and only sure way is to identify the standing tree, once felled without the trace from the original tree some species (a relatively small number given the absolute number of different species) can be identified from the board, this is easier because of the very limited species (only a few hundred out of over 60,000) that are in use today and of those there are probably less than 100 in common use
 

Woodbee2

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I'm not talking about a specific piece of timber. In general how do you go about identifying wood?
Firstly, whatever it is it’s always TREEWOOD....as long as it’s not metal or plastic.
Seriously..... look at the general colour, and the grain pattern. Is it very pale/darker. If it’s very pale...pine, ash, holly. Yellowish, Brown, shades of red, very dark, i.e ebony, even greenish, teak? Is it light or heavy? And if it’s freshly cut, it’s smell, and texture. For example teak has a very distinct smell and an oily texture, but it can be pale brown. greenish, pale yellow specially when cut, and often darkens when open to the air.
And so it goes on....a question of possibilities....and a process of elimination.
And the big one of course......experience!
The biggest conundrum is some timbers are known by different names.....!
For instance ‘mahogany’ is a generic term for several look-alikes. Spanish, sapele, Cuban (very dark and heavy) etc.
At the end of the day, I don’t think anyone can know anywhere near all of them. except those in common use.
If you REALLY want to know...the ONLY way is to have it identified scientifically under a microscope!
Best of luck....
If my ‘gov’ner’ didn’t know if asked...he always answered “some sort of fruitwood”! Hope this helps a bit.
 

Henniep

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I think you are already well on your way to identifying wood. There are plenty of books and brochures on the subject and each piece of wood you handle will be added to your knowledge base. No need to cram knowledge - take your time and enjoy the trip. We were all newbees when we started with this crazy hobby.
 

KimG

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To be able to look at a timber and say what it is without referring to another resource is really down to time and experience more than anything else, you handle enough different timbers, especially native ones where you might have experience not only of the timber but the tree and bark etc, you soon learn the various ways these timbers can vary yet remain identifiable. Family characteristics can play a role too, Oaks look similar (Holm, Turkey etc) as do Legumes, Laburnum, False Acacia , Gorse, Iroko, all have very similar end grains. Over time you learn and remember, like anything else really.
 

WoodchipWilbur

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In a way, your question is similar to asking, "how do you identify your different friends?" That's something with which I also can have a problem.
It's experience. It is being introduced by someone who knows. It is remembering names. (My particular problem.) It is learning about small details. (Think: distinguishing twins). It is looking at family albums.
But mainly it is experience.

(Just4Fun: My biology teacher, on a field trip, confidently identified an egg shell as "Mallard".
Till we found the BS date stamp on the other side...)
 

recipio

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An old book now but Herbert L Edlin's 'What wood is that ' is well worth buying. It has 40 actual wood samples neatly stored in the inner leaf. The text is an expert discussion of the 40 most commonly used woods in furniture making. Lastly I remember visiting Kew Gardens ( a long time ago ) and they have a terrific collection of samples.
 

WillM

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I used a chap in Italy to do a microscopic identification of sleeper wood. Kew Gardens also have this service. (It’s pricey, so it depends how interested you are). That reminds me, the guy in Italy wrote a book about how to do it, last year. https://www.waterstones.com/book/at...avio-ruffinatto/alan-crivellaro/9783030235680

However, microscopic wood identification is nearly useless for eucalyptus, other than the main families, as the wood is often similar in structure and variable in colour. For that a genetic test is required (or a tree).
 

Allen Quay

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Sideways

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I'm sure it helps if you have an eclectic taste in furniture There are likely to be more samples to refer to in the house :)
World Woods In Colour for me too. And there's an A2 ish sized poster that either came in a book or was included in one of the monthly magazines many years ago. I had one and have seen it in other people's sheds too.
The online resources are invaluable for identifying something difficult and include lots of detail.
Knew I'd seen it somewhere ...
20191014_160153 world woods in colour.jpg
 
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