How do you know your woods???

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Forum topic by mhein68 posted 02-20-2010 04:26 AM 1433 views 0 times favorited 12 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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62 posts in 3044 days

02-20-2010 04:26 AM

Hi all, I know that sounds like a stupid question.. But I am kinda clueless to identifing different woods.. I got the walnuts and pines, but oaks and such escape me.. Where I work we have alot of pallets come through and I would love to use free wood if I know what they were made of!? How do you learn your wood types? I am starting to collect samples as I find them. I have seen sample kits online but they seem expensive. am looking for cheap sources. Any reccomended Books/DVD’s or sources? Thanks for the help..

-- Mike, Southern IL

12 replies so far

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165 posts in 3045 days

#1 posted 02-20-2010 04:29 AM

Go to woodcrafts or rocklers and look at the woods they have in stock. They will be labled and you can see the colors and grain patterns of most common wood.

-- Let's do it in the wood pile!

View Jonathan's profile


2608 posts in 3074 days

#2 posted 02-20-2010 05:25 AM

You could also visit local lumber suppliers.

And supplement it with pictures and information online. Although this won’t give you the “hands-on” experience, or the real 3-D visuals, it’s a decent place to start.

Here’s one that I found with a vast array of species: Not the best images, but lots of info.

If there are certain woods you find on there, just do a quick google search, such as “Red Oak Pictures” or “Red Oak Images”, or whatever species you want to see.

-- Jonathan, Denver, CO "Constructive criticism is welcome and valued as it gives me new perspectives and helps me to advance as a woodworker."

View rcs47's profile


190 posts in 3153 days

#3 posted 02-20-2010 05:32 AM

Here is another website for pictures of different lumber types.

-- Doug - As my Dad taught me, you're not a cabinet maker until you can hide your mistakes.

View Beetroot's profile


8 posts in 3044 days

#4 posted 02-20-2010 09:08 AM

A lumber place near me has labeled samples in their shop. I found that very helpful. Maybe visit some shops and see what they have on hand?

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18286 posts in 3700 days

#5 posted 02-20-2010 10:16 AM

Just grab them if they are hardwood and halfway decent. They make good practice if they don’t turn out looking great.

-- Bob in WW ~ "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

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4541 posts in 3098 days

#6 posted 02-20-2010 03:32 PM

The primary way to tell woods apart is based on what they look like. However, you can also get clues based on how heavy they are and sometimes based on smell. For me, mahogany and ipe look a lot alike but I can tell the difference as soon as I pick up a piece – ipe is heavier.

-- Rich, Cedar Rapids, IA - I'm a woodworker. I don't create beauty, I reveal it.

View Andrew's profile


709 posts in 3222 days

#7 posted 02-20-2010 03:53 PM

do not forget the power of smell. scratch and sniff works really well when you go to lumberyard and get a general idea of what they look and smell like. Lots of woods look king of similar but smell different too.

-- Even a broken clock is right twice a day, unless, it moves at half speed like ....-As the Saw Turns

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405 posts in 3045 days

#8 posted 02-20-2010 04:27 PM

I’m with Topamax. If it’s hardwood, take it regardless of what it is. There are hazards with recycled wood though that you need to be careful of. There can be lots of hidden metal waiting to destroy your power tool blades. Depending on what the pallets were used for, they can also have lots of grit in the wood. You might want to invest in an inexpensive metal detector if you’re going to be using a lot of this. I also save a warn set of planer blades to give recycled lumber a first pass through the planer rather than nicking up lots of good blades. If the lumber has really been exposed, it can be a good idea to cut an inch or so off the ends since end grain will suck up more of the grit and contaminants.

One clue to identifying pallet wood is the point of origin if you know it. People tend to make pallets from lumber that is readily available in the local market. As a result, pallets from overseas can hold some surprising treasures.

-- Greg, Severn MD

View Moffett77's profile


32 posts in 3051 days

#9 posted 02-21-2010 09:16 PM

The Woodbook is a great way to get to know your woods, it offers descriptions and pictures of virtually every species on earth and shows finished and unfinished shots of each, as well as how each species looks from different cuts, quarter sawn, endgrain etc.

-- Moffett, Sacramento CA

View Mark's profile


1807 posts in 3298 days

#10 posted 02-22-2010 12:03 AM

theres a site for you with wood samples…

this here is the oak grain which is VERY similar to ash only it has the tiny brown lines in it which is the difference. this pic is very upclose


and this is the ash grain


-- M.K.

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51457 posts in 3504 days

#11 posted 02-22-2010 12:11 AM

I think you can get a good start by studying some samples and books, or going to a lumberyard and looking through the stacks of wood. Although over time as you work with different woods you will get better at identifying it.

-- Wayne - Plymouth MN

View Jonathan's profile


2608 posts in 3074 days

#12 posted 02-24-2010 12:04 AM


Thanks for the info. on how you handle pallet wood. Good stuff.

Although I’ve thought about the metal detector, I didn’t really think about all the grit damaging your better blades.

I’m going to be getting a few pallets from my dad and will probably end up turning them into planter boxes of some sort. I’ll make sure to use your tips once I start the project.

-- Jonathan, Denver, CO "Constructive criticism is welcome and valued as it gives me new perspectives and helps me to advance as a woodworker."

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