Wood Identification Tips

Chemical tests don't work for most species, and identifying by eye takes practice. October 8, 2005

I have a pile of logs, and I can't be sure of the species of several of the logs. It seems like there should be some kind of chemical where one could drop a certain chemical on pieces of wood, and the chemical reaction and change in color would indicate the species. Is there any such thing? Is there any way to easily tell wood species, from a chemical approach?

Forum Responses
(Sawing and Forum)
From Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor
Indeed, some species do have chemical tests. Consult any good wood ID book for details. Most species do not have such a test.

From contributor A:
I have seen a couple of books for identifying wood, and they say the best way is to look at the end grain with a magnifying glass and compare it with the pictures in the book, among other things.

From contributor B:
Yes, I've tried that. But many of the cross-sections were too close to differentiate. My wife and I found that although some were easy to separate, others were just too close for us to determine.

From Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor
The end section under magnification is very good for most North American species. You cannot separate pin oak from black oak, etc even under higher magnification. You need a little practice, if the end grain you look at is not good enough for you. You may also need to cut the end grain more cleanly. Why not buy a box of 50 samples and practice with them?

From contributor C:
To Gene Wengert: Can you suggest a source for the sample box you mentioned?

From contributor B:
Yes that would be an excellent way of practicing. Where can such samples be obtained?

From Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor
These are old sources and may not all be valid today.
Carolina Biological Supply Company
2700 York Road
Burlington, NC 27215
International Wood Collectors Society
13249 Hwy. 84 N
Cordova, IL 61242-9708
Wisconsin Crafts
W6407 20th St.
Necedah, WI 54646
Garret Wade Company
161 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10013
Educational Lumber Co., Inc.
Box 5373
Asheville, NC 28803