How To Identify Wood

How can you tell if the furniture is indeed wood?

How can you tell which tree it is from?

There are many ways to identify wood that only a seasoned gardener or arborist will be able to do.

But you can also find out what kind of wood by checking the overall appearance of the material as well as some of its prominent characteristics. This guide will show you how.

Identifying wood basics

You will be able to identify wood with the following techniques based on the many characteristics of wood.

Things you will need

  • Wood you want to identify
  • Measuring tape
  • Weighing scale

Instructions

1) Be sure that you are really identifying wood

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It is necessary to confirm that the material is actually a solid piece of wood and not composite wood or even a piece of plastic or ceramic made to look like wood. Is the piece veneered? A panel that has a repeating grain pattern could be veneer. In such cases, a very thin layer of real wood is peeled from a tree which is attached to a substrate. Therefore this is still wood.

Is the material only painted or printed to look like wood? There are medium to large-sized particle boards or MDF for flat panels for furniture. This is laminated with a piece of wood-colored plastic or painted to look like wood grain.

2) Check out the grain color

Source: https://homeandtimber.com/blogs/home-timber-and-blog/hardwood-furniture-how-to-pick-the-right-wood-grain-and-color-for-your-expandable-dining-table

Is the wood color natural or stained? Is the color natural? Is it weathered or have a patina? Some woods species develop some kind of color when left outside and exposed to the elements. Even interior wood also takes a patina as it ages while some woods get darker, or redder and generally wood tends to darken with age.

3) Check the grain pattern of wood

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If the wood is unfinished you can take a look at the natural texture of the grain. Does the wood have an open, porous texture? Some softwoods have an almost perfectly smooth without any grain or even any indentations. There are common hardwoods that have an open pore structure like mahogany or oak while there are hardwoods that are smooth to touch like maple.

The curly figure is fairly common in wood like soft maple, while woods with curly grain are birch and cherry.

4) Consider weight and hardness of the wood

Source: https://www.daviestimber.co.uk/products/Hardwood/C500003

Pick the piece of wood to get a sense of its weight and compare it to other wood species. Use your fingernails to gouge the surface so you can have an idea of how hard it is. If you have a scale, measure the weight and take its dimensions length, width, and thickness of the wood.

Use these measurements to find out the density of the wood you are inspecting. Compare the results with other wood density measurements to identify your specimen.

How hard is the wood? Softwoods will be softer than hardwoods. Density and hardness are closely related, so if the wood is heavy this will also be hard. Keep in mind that if the wood is a part of a finished item that you can’t weigh then you might test the hardness by gouging it.

If this is used in a piece of furniture, such as a tabletop, the hardness can be assessed by the number and depth of the gouges in the piece considering the wood’s age and use.

5) Consider the source

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Where did the wood come from? Knowing as much as you can where your wood came from will give you a hint about what it is. If the wood came from a woodpile or a lumber mill then the potential species are immediately limited. If the wood came from a manufacturer of antique furniture, boat or other furniture pieces then these will give you a clear idea where the wood came from and possibly what your specimen is.

6) How large is the piece of wood?

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Some wood species are giants while some are very small. For instance, if you see a large panel or section of wood that’s black, there is a huge chance that it is dyed, stained or painted. It could also be ebony and other related species which are very expensive.

Conclusion

Identifying wood is a painstaking process especially if you are new to it. You need to pay special attention not just on the appearance of wood but also its size, weight, use, grain patterns, and origin. Only when you have these information will you be able to identify wooden species easily.

  • January 5, 2019
  • DIY
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