Common US Hardwoods

by Eric Meier

In the process of identifying wood, things can get a bit overwhelming when faced with the hundreds and hundreds of possible species. Yet in the context of everyday woods that most people in the United States or Canada are likely to encounter, the list of possible woods is usually much shorter. This article is meant to act as sort of a “Cliffs Notes” to help address the most common (and hopefully, obvious) questions of wood identification.

Red Oak (sealed)
Red Oak (Quercus rubra)

1. Oak

Comments: This wood is everywhere! Chances are, there’s something made of this wood within a stone’s throw of where you’re sitting right now. It’s used for cabinets, furniture, flooring, trim, doors, and just about anything else that can be made of wood! It’s very frequently stained a medium reddish brown, so it may look slightly darker than the raw sample pictured to the left.

Lookalikes: Ash (lacks the prominent rays that are found in oak). Also, see the article on Distinguishing Red Oak from White Oak.

Hard Maple (Acer saccharum)
Hard Maple (Acer saccharum)

2. Maple

Comments: This light-colored wood is seen almost as frequently as oak, and is usually not stained a dark color, but is kept a natural whitish-cream or sometimes stained an amber-yellow. It’s commonplace in furniture, flooring, trim, and in places where a pale, light-colored wood is needed. Quartersawn pieces with a freckled appearance are commonly used in countertops and butcher blocks.

Lookalikes: Birch (generally has narrower rays than those found in maple). Pine (generally much lighter and softer than maple, and with more conspicuous color in the growth rings). Also, see the article on the Differences Between Hard Maple and Soft Maple.

Black Walnut (sealed)
Black Walnut (Juglans nigra)

3. Walnut

Comments: The real deal. Walnut is unique in that it is one of the only woods that is naturally rich, deep chocolate brown (though it can sometimes be slightly lighter as well). It’s almost never stained, and is very popular for use in furniture. It’s also not uncommon to see walnut used in veneered pieces as well.

Lookalikes: Mahogany (sometimes it’s stained very dark and the color can appear very similar to walnut). Butternut (sometimes called “White Walnut,” it’s related to walnut, but is paler in color and very lightweight).

Black Cherry (sealed)
Black Cherry (Prunus serotina)

4. Cherry

Comments: The subtle reddish brown appearance of cherry is usually seen on fine furniture and trim. It’s also not uncommon to see cherry used in veneered pieces as well. Along with Black Walnut  it’s one of the premier hardwoods in the United States. It’s sometimes stained just slightly darker to give it a more aged appearance.

Lookalikes: Poplar (stained poplar can be almost impossible to tell apart from cherry).

Yellow Birch (Betula alleghaniensis)
Yellow Birch (Betula alleghaniensis)

5. Birch

Comments: Most commonly seen as plywood. Birch also tends to pop up in furniture and millwork too.

Lookalikes: Maple (generally has wider rays than those found in birch). Cherry (the grain patterns are very similar, and if the birch is stained, it can be difficult to tell apart from cherry).

Yellow Poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera)
Yellow Poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera)

6. Poplar

Comments: This is an inexpensive utility hardwood that’s used in a numer of applications, such as upholstered furniture frames, veneer, and is also stained to mimic other more costly hardwoods.

Lookalikes: Cherry (if poplar has been stained, it’s almost impossible to tell apart from cherry)

Get the hard copy

wood-book-standupIf you’re interested in getting all that makes The Wood Database unique distilled into a single, real-world resource, there’s the book that’s based on the website—the Amazon.com best-seller, WOOD! Identifying and Using Hundreds of Woods Worldwide. It contains many of the most popular articles found on this website, as well as hundreds of wood profiles—laid out with the same clarity and convenience of the website—packaged in a shop-friendly hardcover book.

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First-time Homebuyer

Care to give a guess at this flooring in the 1920s Philadelphia rowhome we’re renovating? It’s all rather thin pieces (1/2″ or thinner) set in a square pattern in each room. each room has a few layers of paint, which I’ve stripped off of this loose board.

Thanks in advance for the insight!

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First-time Homebuyer

here’s a better shot as the full floor is slowly being revealed

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Brandon cooke

I’m told it has an “interesting smell” and they think it came from the middle east somewhere. They say they paid 650 for it a few years ago. Any ideas?

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Nicole

Hi?
I found this side table by the dumpster and I had to take it home. It’s so beautiful. Can anyone tell me if the wood in the center is burl?
Thanks,
Nicole

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Devin

Any idea of wood type on these Scandinavian chairs? Was thinking it was newer teak or African teak. Thanks!

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Katy

Excuse the atrocious picture quality…. This is a door from Boston from the 1890s. I have just sanded off some paint and am blown away how light it is…. I am at the critical junction where I can keep removing paint or give up, repaint it and call it a day, but I am trying to figure out what type of wood it is so I can guess what it might look like after all the effort? It is very smooth but much harder than any pine I have felt. Maybe maple?

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Katy

Thank you Eric!
I am now pretty sure it is pine because even after 130 years, with enough sanding, it smells like pine!

Kirsten

Any idea what type of wood this is? I was told it was pine but it does not resemble any pine I have seen…..

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Kirsten

Yes. It smells amazing. Does eastern red cedar have a pine scent? My garage smells like Christmas after turning this bowl, lol!

Wayne Bledsoe

Need help identifying this wood veneer on an antique clock. Thanks!!

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Wayne Bledsoe

Thanks Eric. Have a place I need to patch the veneer. Think I’ll go with Mahogany, and bleach it before gluing.
Then finish after blending the repair.

Appreciate your input!

Natalie

Hi! I would love help identifying the wood we discovered under the carpet of our “new” old home. We’re in Duluth, MN and the home was built in 1901 (though I’m not positive if the wood floor is original or not). It is not in great shape with paint splatters, staining/discoloration, patches, etc. The main stained areas are quite reddish/orangish, but we did a rough sand on a small spot which reveal a much lighter blonde. I’m not seeing much wood grain and really have no idea how to determine what we’ve got, but I’m guessing it may be maple?… Read more »

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Natalie

Thank you so much for the quick and super helpful reply! After a quick walk through, I’m not noticing any very apparent birds eye figure (though it is a bit hard to tell through all the paint splatters and such). I’ll keep a close eye out to see if I can spot some, but birch definitely seems like a really reasonable possibility given its abundance up in our neck of the woods.
Thanks again!

Natalie

I actually found some birds eye! Maple it is!
Thought I would post an update/picture here in case it helps anyone else.
Thanks so much for this great tip Eric – I really appreciate it.

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Stuart Cranston

Any ideas what wood this is please? it is a large window which appears to be a hard wood but not sure.
Any help would be appreciated.

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Last edited 2 months ago by Stuart Cranston
Stuart Cranston

Thanks Eric. I am actually in the UK. I was thinking that it could be an antique pine but not sure.

Ben

Any idea what this piece is made of? Antique end table; wood is soft, very light where not stained, has a faint sweet / dried tobacco odor, though that might not be from the wood itself. I’m guessing some variety of pine, but there’s no knots.

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Matt

The grain pattern almost looks like sycamore to me?

debbie simpson

Hi, anyone know what wood this is? it is very tight grain almost like a steak. Very silky smooth and almost varnished looking surface when cut. Black, dark brown and slight red tinge. The wood in the picture hasnt any finish on it. thanks

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Dan Churchill

My friend an arborist says this is maple! I disagreed and he tells me ” one thing you don’t want to do is tell me I don’t know what I’m talking about, I know wood”…the tight grain tells me he isn’t even close. It looks closer to oak to me but I don’t know. This piece is approximately 4″ x 24″ and is very dense and heavy. Any help would be appreciated.

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Dan Churchill

This is the backside of a painted sign, all end grain is also painted. It is raw wood on the back no stain.

Neal

I bought an old table recently, and I want to refinish it. The pictures are of the top and one of the side extensions. The center sections are veneer and it is damaged in a few areas. Can anyone help to identify the veneer wood in case I need to repair a few areas? Thank you.

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Neal

Thank you! After reading your response, I looked it up and it’s a perfect match! As it turns out, the first repair came out wonderfully, so I am hoping to avoid any veneer replacements, but it is great to know the wood in either case. Thank you again. Have a wonderful evening.

Kevin

Anyone know what this table is?

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Susan

This is from an older ( 1940-1950s) drop leaf dining table.
Can you identify it??

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susan

Thank you. When I compared it to samples online, it said black walnut also. I appreciate your prompt answer!

Gary

Can someone please tell me what type of wood this is getting ready to repost my floors want to make sure it’s worth it

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Robert

Anyone know what kind of wood this is? It came from a tree in eastern Kentucky.

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David rivas

Looks like spalted sycamore

Tiffany Maynard

Does anyone know what kind of wood this is?

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Luke

Does anyone know what type of wood this is? It is kind of heavy and I’m no expert, so please help me out!
?

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Lisa

I just bought this dresser and I am stumped as to the type of wood. Can you help? I sent a pic of the dresser itself as I don’t know it’s era either. All markings have been removed before my purchase.

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IMatt

Looks like tiger oak, but pretty sure it is a type of oak.

Kevin

Hi,
I just ordered redwood for a patio. One of the posts doesn’t look like the other two. The end grain is not as tight, and it’s dry (therefore much lighter than the two fresh pieces). Is my third post redwood or something else?
-Kevin

Karla

Am restoring this old cabinet and wondering what kind of wood this may be?

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Karla

Thank you!

Betsy Owings

Do you happen to know what type of wood this is? I purchased it to refinish. This was under 2 layers of paint. I have no idea the history of where it came from.

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Greg

Was wondering if anyone could identify this wood? It’s not oak was thinking maybe pecan?

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John Burke

Hi
This is an unfinished covering on the main beam in out house. We want to finish it but have no idea what kind of wood it is? Any ideas?
Thanks

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Chris Elkin

Yo can someone help me identify this branch I collected it and sanded it down and washed it and baked it to put in my snake tank but I’m afraid it’s pine

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Chris

Hello, would anyone be able to identify what this table is made from? Can’t give any info about it, came from my late Grandad. Would love to know more about it, but I know absolutely nothing about wood. Tia

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Kristina Hebb

I stripped off the varnish from this old mantle piece with a gel stripper. I cleaned it with denatured alcohol. I did not sand anything. I am very curious to know what wood or woods it is made of.I believe it was used for a fireplace due to the varnish appearance and several marks underneath the shelf part. I think it’s cherry, but any thoughts are appreciated! The last picture is before I stripped it.

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Kristina Hebb

Hi, Eric. Thank you for your quick reply! I sanded the endgrain. I hope enough for you to be able to determine the wood. I also am including other images that hopefully help. I appreciate your help!
Kristina

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Kristina Hebb

Thank you so much!

James Obryan

I think this is maple. I didn’t use any stain, just a little bit of odies universal. The second picture I I’m not sure at all.

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Riley Pfeifer

This unfinished wood was in our house when we moved in. We believe it was at one point covered with carpet and previous owners removed the carpet. The house is about 100 years old. I’m considering finishing! Any input on identification would be so helpful.

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Drazen

It may be hard to see the true color but any thoughts on what wood? Just curious, but I’m thinking Oak?

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Kendra

Any ideas of what this could be?

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Jordan

I can’t figure out what this strange grain is! Is this yucca or palm?

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Bob

Hi! Could someone try and identify this please. Many thanks

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Bob

Oh I didn’t realize it was a US hardwood specific. No I’m in Ireland. Ive since been informed that it came in a box with some teak, oak, red pine and mahogany. So I’m guessing oak or teak? I can give it a sand later. Thanks for the reply!

Nate

Can anyone tell me what kind of woo this is. It’s definitely a hard wood but I’m lost on the specific name

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David Millette

please identify
it is marked vietnam

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Dinh Tran

Maybe rubber…