How to Identify Different Types of Wood

July 27, 2015

Many varieties of a wood type may exist, but their grains will have similar characteristics. Here are ways to identify a few of the most popular types of wood.

How to Identify Different Types of Wood

Identifying common hardwoods

Hardwoods are found in quality furniture as well as floors and other surfaces that need to resist wear and damage.

Ash: Hard, strong, flexible; creamy colour with brownish or grey markings (except for black-hearted ash). Like, but rarer than, oak.

Uses: frames, curved elements.

Birch: Hard, heavy, close-grained; light colour with pale brownish markings. Easily disguised with stains.

Uses: frames, unfinished pieces, moldings, plywood.

Cherry: Hard, strong, close grained; auburn colour with soft tonal markings.

Uses: simple to elegant cabinet work, inlay, exposed furniture frames, accessories.

Hickory: Hard, very heavy wood, close-grained; blond colour with tonal markings.

Uses: chairs, stools, chests, cupboards, decorative accessories.

Mahogany: Hard, lightweight, easily carved, neither shrinks nor warps; timber types vary from blond to coppery-red colours with fine pore markings.

Uses: exposed and interior furniture frames, inlay, veneer, chairs, chests, tables.

Maple: Very hard, strong; pale cream or biscuit colour to yellowish brown with fine, tonal markings still light in colour.

Uses: bird's eye variety popular for veneers; chests, beds, tables; often teamed with darker woods.

Oak: Hard, heavy, strong; more than 300 varieties, yellow to golden-brown with prominent flecks, rings and pores.

Uses: frame work, cabinets, chairs, chests, tables, beds, veneers; often disguised as other, more costly, timbers.

Walnut: Hard, strong, fine-grained, easily carved; dark golden brown with prominent tonal markings.

Uses: exposed furniture frames, interior frames, inlay, veneer, chairs, chests, tables, beds, decorative accessories.

Identifying common softwoods

Softwoods are usually used for building applications like windows and doors, but can also be used in furniture with a rustic or handmade look.

Beech: Soft, fine grain; blonde colour with silver flecking to light reddish-brown markings. Easily disguised with stains.

Uses: lacquered, gilded, unfinished pieces.

Pine:Very soft, medium-weight, with and without knots; white to light yellow, with wide dark markings.

Uses: Chests, beds, tables, chairs, plywood; usually for informal pieces, but knotless type can be stained to look more formal.

Much of a wood's beauty lies in its natural colour and distinctive grain pattern. While the colour of wood can be altered with stains to disguise it as another wood, the grain of the wood will always enable you to identify the truth.

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