How to Identify Wood Species

We often get calls and customers in our showroom who think they have a certain species of wood, but in reality, it’s something else. Identifying species of wood can be tricky, unless you work with it EVERYDAY.

Wood can be painted, stained, or left all natural. Because of these various treatment options, it can be particularly difficult, if not nearly impossible, to identify certain types or species of wood.

As you probably know, no two pieces of wood are exactly the same, and this can make it even more difficult to identify species. We wanted to share a few tips to help you identify wood species as well as give you some facts on picking out common species native to North America.

Step one, make sure you examine a solid piece of wood and not something manufactured or a veneer. Being able to see the end grain and how it aligns with the planed side is very helpful. If the piece of wood you’re looking at seems to have a pattern, you’re probably not looking at real wood.

Next, try to examine a piece that is still all natural – no stain or finish. Both processes can alter the appearance of the wood and make it difficult to see distinguishing marks and colors. Many woods, like cedar and pine, tend to turn a gray-ish color when left outside. A bit of sanding goes a long way in revitalizing wood whose surface appearance has been changed.  

So, you may ask, “what are those distinguishing marks we should be looking for?” Well here’s a few:

  • Color

  • Grain (straight, knotty, interlocking, etc.)

  • Ring-porous

Now onto a few facts about common species:

Pine

Pine

  • The most common and abundant type of wood in North America

  • Relatively easy to spot because of presence of dark knots and its distinct yellow color (although this can sometimes lean more towards pale yellow or light brown, depending on the exact species)

  • Has a straight grain

  • Is ring-porous, so the growth rings in the grain appear as darker brown lines throughout

Oak

Oak

  • The most readily available oaks are red oak and white oak

  • Both species are light brown in color, although red oak usually has hints of red

  • Both have visible growth rings and straight grains

  • There are few knots in red and white oak, but a distinctive feature is visible in a certain cut of the wood, called quartersawn, where it displays strong flecks of rays (cells that run perpendicular to growth rings)

Walnut

Walnut

  • Known for its rich, dark color and straight grain

  • It ranges in color from a dark tan to a deep chocolate brown—sometimes even with streaks of purple or green

  • Its sapwood (the outer rings of the tree trunk where the wood is the youngest and still growing) can be a pale yellow, making a stark contrast between the lighter outer rings and the darker inner rings

  • Semi-ring porous, so the growth rings are slightly darker than the rest of the wood, but the difference isn’t nearly as strong as that found in pine.