Identifying Wood Species?

This question comes from Andrew who asks:

“Love your videos, they have given me some great ideas. My question is, what resource is available to learn about different wood species? I see on various shows someone will look at a piece of wood, and instantly identify the species. I would like to learn how do that.”

And this was my response:

woodidHey Andrew, there are a number of books out that that will help you. Wood Identification and Use by Terry Porter is a great place to start. Also, check out this amazing exotic wood directory.

Now seeing wood in books and on a website is helpful, but its not as good as seeing the wood in person. So trips to your local hardwood dealer or you local Rockler or Woodcraft are great for that kind of thing. You can just walk the aisles and match all the different woods with their name tags. Of course, one step better than seeing a wood species in person is actually building something with it. So over time, your wood identification skills will develop naturally as you go from project to project. And once you’ve worked with a particular wood, frankly, its hard to get its characteristics out of your head. Wenge anyone? :)

Category: Techniques


  1. Matthew Hills April 13, 2009

    The exotic wood species page is simultaneously amazing and overwhelming. There is so much variation there (this was one of his points) — some of it from misrepresentation of species, and some from photos, and some from natural sample-to-sample variations.

    This past weekend was chatting with a neighbor as he was milling up face frames for his parent’s bathroom. The wood he was using was pretty neutral looking, and I couldn’t quite place it (grain similar to alder, but without the knots and color was lighter). Turned out to be Liquid Amber. I would have expected the wood to be similar to poplar (both are water-loving, fast-growing trees), but it’s surprisingly hard. He said that the sugar content is high and it tended to burn pretty easily.

    Oh well, one more step in the journey.

  2. You could also go to this website

  3. Jason Buchta April 13, 2009

    Lie Nielsen sells a sampler pack of most major North American wood species. Just FYI. Keep up the good work Marc

  4. Paul-Marcel ST-ONGE April 13, 2009

    Woodcraft also sells a packet of 40 quarter-sheets of veneer for identification purposes. It’s not a bad mix, but a bit pricey. Based on the price, I might not recommend it unless you get some 20% off coupon.

    Also at Woodcraft is a small bin of dimensioned exotics; if you’re looking at the woodbins, you’ll walk right past it. Mine has around 30 different types.

  5. Dan April 13, 2009

    While not a wood identification book per se, I would also recommend the old classic, “Know your woods” by Albert Constantine. It can be found for very little money (ten bucks new, five bucks used from Amazon), and is a useful reference book that not only discusses a large number of both common and rare varieties, but comments on the physical characteristics of each type of wood, what various names it goes by, what it is most often used for, and how easy or difficult it is to work. Well written and fun to browse through. Should be in any woodworker’s library.

  6. And of course once you’ve worked with a number of different species, you can start identifying wood simply by smell. They can’t teach you that in a book!

  7. Mike Smith January 9, 2010

    The above link to the Exotic Wood Directory is, I think, one of the best sites for getting information on identifying wood. As a hobby woodworker, I like to use different woods and sometimes the only way to tell what the wood is, is by looking at the end grain. The above link is the best I have seen for giving information on Domestic and Exotic wood types. Thanks

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