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What are some tips for wood identification?

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Quick Answer

Wood can be identified by examining characteristics such as the grain, texture, color, weight and hardness, and then comparing those traits to a guide or database that contains samples of various woods. Other observations, such as where the wood came from, can also help with identification.

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Full Answer

The first step is generally to verify that it is natural wood and not a manmade composite or veneer. This can usually be done by observing the end grain. Real wood is solid, not particulate.

If it is real wood, note its characteristics. Most varieties of pine, for example, are light in color, generally very soft and have a wide-spaced grain. By contrast, most oak has tighter grain and is a bit darker and very hard. These traits can be compared to wood to samples, which are easily found in online databases or in several books on the subject.

Other clues to wood's origin can be found by considering where it came from and how it was used. If it was found in California, for example, it is probably not an African wood. If it was used in construction of a table, then it is probably a hard wood.

Still stumped? Experts are available who can render an opinion. For example, the Center for Wood Anatomy Research, which is run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Products Laboratory, will identify up to five samples a year free of charge. Some online services will identify wood based on photos.

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