Simple Hardwood Identification for Turners
Wood Wizard for
Capitol Area Woodturners
Characteristics vary by Genius and species. No two pieces of wood are exactly alike.
Do you really want
to waste your time with Mystery Wood??
Do you really want to waste your time with Mystery Wood??
If you solve the mystery you can know the characteristics of your media and decide on appropriate design for the species or the appropriate species for the design
wood identification is when it is still inside a tree. Recommended
identification helps for this area is The Tree Identification Book, by
Pictures of a piece of wood are worthless as can be observed on the internet with each reader gives a positive ID of something different. A bowl turned from mystery wood and buried under multi coats of plastic goop can only be identified by slicing off the goop and making a transverse cut. For some reason the owner won’t go for this.
the source of the wood is known this may be an important clue as to its
identity. “I bought it at Woodcraft” is not a clue. “It was a tree
alongside a creek in
Glossary of terms
In the direction of the radius
Tangent to the growth rings perpendicular to the radius
Trees which grow in temperate regions with definite seasons, form one growth ring per year. The same is not true for all trees however, as some trees which come from arid or semi arid regions may form more than one growth ring, depending on the when the rains have fallen in a particular year. Trees from tropical climates which show less seasonal change, sometimes grow continuously and do not have any growth rings
Heartwood is the inner, older wood which in some large trees may be more than a meter in diameter. The tree uses the heartwood as a place to store waste products. Thus, as the tree matures, metabolites are deposited in the heartwood. These include resins, gums, oils and tannins which stop up the vessels and clog the wood. The heartwood is darker, denser, more durable and stronger than the sapwood and plays an important role in supporting the tree
Sapwood is the outer few centimeters of the wood which border the cambium. This is the xylem which transports water and dissolved nutrients (sap) from the roots to the leaves. It is often light in color and not as strong as the heartwood.
A thin layer of reproductive cells between the bark and the wood which forms both bark and wood by cell division.
Inner bark is living tissue while outer bark is dead and has a protection function.
The cross section of a hardwood vessel.
The thin walled wood cells that are involved mainly in food storage and distribution
Not in contact with pores
In contact or in association with pores
Surrounding pore with wing like extensions
Grouped to form a tangential band enclosing two or more pores
Found singly or in a sheath around pore
Complete sheath one to many cells thick surrounding pore
The soft spongy tissue that forms the central longitudinal axis of the stem, branch or twig of a tree.
The bubble like protrusions in pores formed in conjunction with heart wood formation with some hardwoods.
A hardwood with relatively large pores are concentrated in the earlywood and distinctly smaller pores are found in the late wood.
A Hardwood in which pores are of uniform size and distributed fairly evenly throughout the growth ring
A Hardwood in which pores are of diminishing size from early wood to late wood but distributed fairly evenly throughout the growth ring
Characteristics seen with a 10X hand lens
Ring porous If ring porous, depth and spacing of the earlywood zone, arrangement of the latewood pores.
Tyloses Present or absent?
Storied structure Present or absent?
Size Easy to see with the eye? Wider than the pores?
Arrangement and abundance. Apotracheal or Paratracheal or Banded?
Tools Needed for Identification
Razor sharp blade
Hand lens 10x
How to prepare a wood surface for viewing
· A sharp blade is required for good surface preparation. A razor blade is best.
· A good clean surface is one where cells have been cut cleanly rather than torn.
· Do not cut too deepl. Deep cuts will result in torn fibers and possible injury to your hands
· Only a few growth rings on the cross section are needed
· Wetting the surface with water can be helpful in getting a good, clean section.
Common hardwoods, with a brief description of their distinctive features.
Oaks Ring porous. Wide and tall rays, easily seen with the eye. Latewood vessels with a radial or dendritic arrangement; small and angular in outline in the white oaks, only visible with a hand lens and rounded in outline in the red oaks. Although there are hundreds of species of oaks, it is only possible to recognize the major groups of oaks: red, white, and evergreen; evergreen oaks usually are semi-ring porous to diffuse porous.
Beech vs. Sycamore. Diffuse porous. Tall and wide rays. The rays in beech vary more in size and the latewood zone is not as distinct as in sycamore.
Elm Family. Ring porous. Latewood vessels in wavy tangential bands. American elm earlywood with a solitary near-continous row of relatively large vessels; hackberry earlywood with multiples of rounded vessels; hard elms with a solitary discontinuous row of relatively small earlywood vessels.
Persimmon vs. Pecan. Semi-ring porous. Vessels encircled by vasicentric parenchyma. Persimmon has broken lines of apotracheal parenchyma (diffuse-in-aggregates); pecan has continuous narrow bands of apotracheal parenchyma.
Black Locust, Osage Orange Ring porous. Wood
generally dark brown. Latewood vessels in clusters,
and with paratracheal parenchyma.
Mulberry - not all earlywood vessels are filled with tyloses.
Black Locust and Osage Orange - earlywood vessels filled with tyloses.
Osage Orange latewood vessels very small, sometimes in short relatively straight lines.
Black Locust latewood vessels small, in short diagonal to oblique lines
Inexpensive Digital Microscope
or google QX5 Microscope
Pictures of wood samples
GRIN Taxonomy Database
Japanese Woods Database
Belgian Db (Tropical Woods)
Inside Wood Db
World Commercial timbers Descriptions Db
U Maine Wood ID interactive pictorial Db
Society of Wood Science and Technology
CITES Identification Endangered Tropical Woods
Extension Notes Wood Identification,
This is just a key without introductory text. It would be handy for quick id after some practice to learn anatomy. The species list is typical for an undergraduate wood technology course.
WPS 202. Wood Anatomy and Properties Hardwood Anatomy,
document outlines some features of hardwood anatomy.
The lists of features have links to images illustrating that feature
is the wood id page of
Identifying Wood will answer the question if you are willing to learn some wood anatomy. Looking at a clean cut cross section (transverse) with a 10x hand lens one should be able to identify common woods by using the keys found in this book.
Just as I remember from class, diffuse porous wood is harder to ID than ring porous wood. The book contains a key for each group of anatomical types. One appendix even covers rotted wood and charcoal. There is a limited section on some of the imported exotics that we love to spin.
With some practice and a few known samples, one can reasonably expect to identify many woods with this book. This is the best and most complete for the non-professional.
What Wood is That? A Manual of Wood Identification
1969 Viking Press
book is unique in the 40 actual veneer samples bound in the book. It is
British with emphasis on British terminology and European and African woods.
It also differs from Hoadley’s book in offering 14 different keys based on
both anatomical details and gross characteristics such as color, smell, leaf
shape, bark, and country of origin. It is not very good for North
American wood. It is not bad for major commercial species from
Two other books are used in university level wood technology courses.
Wood Structure and Identification. H.A.
Core, W.A. Cote and A.C. Day.
Textbook of Wood
Technology, 4th edition.