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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Ben

Hello, I found this wooden tray in my shed. Would you be able to identify the species? From France. Thank you

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Claudia

Hello! Trying to find the type of wood used in this antique wood carving. I’m assuming it is a hardwood. Any ideas? Thanks in advance!

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Claudia

Thank you so much Eric!

Dale Zabriskie

I’m refinishing a chair with a “Made in Malaysia” sticker on it. I’ve sanded off the previous stain. It’s similar to poplar and birch. Any ideas?

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Dale Zabriskie

Thank you, Eric! I believe you’re correct. Appreciate your time.

Brett Westby

I am in the process of having our hardwood floors refinished. Also adding 750 square feet of new hardwood to match old. This hardwood sample I pulled up I planed down the stained top and cut both end and side for a clean look. I cannot tell if it is maple or birch. Hope you can help.

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Brett Westby

Hello Eric, I really appreciate your input. I have attached a few more pics of my floor. I do not see any birdseye in the hardwood. The hardwood floor appears to me to possibly be birch and I am not certain of its quality. There are many indentations in the floor indicating a softer hardwood. Again I appreciate your advice. Take care -Brett

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Kent Yocom

Picked up from a scrap bin at a local store. Not sure what it is. It is very hard and very heavy this piece is 8 pounds, and is 2 inches thick

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Augie

Hello,

I was hoping that someone might be able to identify the wood that this bread cutting board is made from. Any ideas would be appreciated.

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Connie Grosch

 I have been working on refinishing a table for several months, and through my own research, have been trying (unsuccessfully) to identify the type of wood I am working on. I have owned the table for 40 years—I was told when I purchased it that it was mid 1800’s early American worktable. I have been using it as such and recently decided it deserved more respect! So I started on stripping and refinishing. As I begin to think about stain, I need to know the wood in order to determine how the stain will actually look—I see photos of a… Read more »

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Gina

My husband is clearing out some trees from someone’s yard and this is off one of the trees. No leaves to help identify. The wood is yellow, but not Osage orange. Hard and dense. I’ve purchased an inexpensive 25x lens and tried to use the free apps, but still haven’t found a good match. Also included the bark.
Location is northeast Texas and the wood is still green (cut in last week or so)

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JEFF REID

Trying to identify the notched darker piece of wood. Suspect it may be pine but not sure if is or if it’s pressure treated.

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Casey

I’m trying to identify this wood. This must have been an area unfinished under a wall.

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Emmy

Hello,

I am trying to identify the wood here on these chairs so I can repair/ replace the damaged veneer. Please help.
Thank you so much
Emmy

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Cherie

Not sure what kind of wood this Table is made of.

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Sarah

Desperately trying to identify the type of wood used in my home! Thanks in advance!!

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Sarah

Oh my goodness, thank you SO much!!! It’s been driving me crazy trying to figure it out. We’ve been leaning towards it being a pine as well, it just doesn’t have the same smoothness as most pine. To be fair, wood is as old as our home, so well over 100 years old. Even after sanding, you can feel how raised the grain is. The dark parts are raised and solid–nothing happens when we do the fingernail test–but the light areas are lower and much softer–fingernail definitely leaves an impression. That’s had me extra confused since I truly know nothing… Read more »

James

I am trying to determine what wood this is
works good tight grain hard and slick
thanks

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Jacqueline

I’m curious as to what type of wood this is. I’m using it for a project and it’s beautiful, but I’m not 100% sure what wood to call it. Thank you.

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Jacqueline

Thank you for your reply. It’s not a commercial piece. People (landowners) cut down trees and brought them to my grandfather who was a woodworker. He’s passed and we still have so many different pieces of wood. But it definitely could be black walnut. Thank you!!!

Gleny

Trying to identify this wood type from an old “hoosier” cabinet. This is a drawer sanded down. The grain resembles oak, but not sure it is … seems very smooth. Thanks for your help.

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Gleny

Thanks. I haven’t uncovered any knots so far. The person who is stripping it for me thinks it is oak, but as I said, I am not convinced. Thanks again.

Donnita Lazers

Hi, I am trying to identify what type of hard wood floor this is. Thinking it is either hickory or some type of maple. Can anyone help please? Thanks!

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Greg

Hickory 100%

Axelle

Price seems great ! But what is that wood ? Shop doesn’t know ..

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Heidi

I’m trying to identify this wood for a friend. Any help would be greatly appreciated!

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Jeremy Hamilton

Trying to identify this wood from old dresser

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Greg

Softwood. Probably Pine

karenza

Any help in identifying this wood.Originally probably from a deck. Wood is very heavy.

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Jeremy

Looks like red oak straight from the mill. Could you plane or sand a bit of the oxidized layer off to reveal the rays?

Greg

My front door…sanded it and realized it was stained….looking to figure out what the wood is…thanks

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Jeremy

Once again I’d have to guess red oak. The rays seem quite pronounced so that’s what I’m making my guess off of. I’ve seen many old oak doors. Being stained though, I could never be certain.

Jez

That’s mahogany. It was commonly used for trim and doors in the ’70s.

Kim

I found these under a breezeway from the prior owner. Any idea what kind of wood they are? Thank you in advance. -kim

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Kevin John

Hello, this is a very interesting site I did not know there was such a thing except taking in a piece of wood physically and in Miami that’s not the easiest thing to find. I was trying to identify this piece of wood I don’t have any idea where to start with this. It was given to me by my girlfriend who says her parents has had it as long as she can remember she’s my age so that’s 53 and really not sure what it is,if it’s natural, if it’s manufactured. I know they like collecting interesting pieces of… Read more »

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Jeremy

That looks to be a stunning piece of petrified drift wood maybe. It’d be really hard to tell the type but I think a good place to start would be a museum. Have a density test done. I read awhile back that a collage would be happy to do the necessary test. I hope you figure it out

Chris

I’m trying to figure out what type of wood this is. It was used inside a covered greenhouse at a HS in NY and has been there for a long time.The weight is between cedar and pine. The color is dark brown all the way through(no stain). No obvious scent.Thank you for any guidance.

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Lucy

Hi – I’m trying to identify what type of wood these “carriage style” garage doors are made of. This is from a house in eastern Pennsylvania, built in 1928. I’m posting a picture of a freshly cut side of the door. They are quite heavy. I’m thinking maybe oak but would love an expert opinion. Thanks!

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Jeremy

Oak is always my first guess when it comes to old doors but I’m not seeing the rays. I agree with eric, more detail could be seen if you plane or sand a bit of it. The gold at the bottom near the knot makes me lean towards pine.

Mike Rose

Hello, I am repairing an old stair railing and would appreciate help identifying the type of wood. This is a new england home built in 1850. Most of the railing is in tact but one section has been butchered. The assembly is all done with mortise and tenons with wooden pins (hand rails to newel posts). I need to rebuild some tenons that have been cut away and would like to use the same wood. The wood is a medium brown color is not very heavy. I am attaching pictures of one of the remaining tenons (side and end grain)… Read more »

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Michelle Green

I would appreciate any help identifying what this wood might be. It is part of an old wall in my house that was built in 1712. I have uncovered a wood wall that I want to carefully uncover.

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Michelle Green

was that a commonly used wood to build with in New England in the early 1700’s? Here are some more pictures of the wall I am slowly uncovering.

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Ben

Could anyone make a suggestion? I have a bubinga grand piano. It’s on the reddish side. I would post a picture but it’s out being serviced. While we do that we are having built in cabinet and shelves put in. We are looking for some wood for the counter between the two. I would like a suggestion on what wood would be most ideal for this project. I would love to do it in bubinga as well but sourcing it would take too long and the cost would probably be as much as the entire project. I like the grain… Read more »

Rich H

What wood is this from Portugal

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Greg

Looks like Douglas Fir

Ben

Looking for some help to identify this timber. It came from a stack of bed slats but with a mix of some really different timbers, amongst of which included some Panga Panga and some figured timber, so I think they were offcuts of the maker who reused them for bed slats. This is quite a dense and heavy stick measuring 90mm wide x 15mm thick

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Dave

Found this at old house in NH. Was painted I sanded it down. Pictures are from the same pc but two different sections. Can you tell ne what it might be? Thank you Dave

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Todd

I believe it is Southern Yellow Pine

Mariana

Would you be so kind as to help me w this slab?

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Mariana

They are the same slab but it sanded and stained top but not the bottom. Got this in N CA and it’s heavy and very dense. I thought he said at the time it was shipped from East

Stephen Wollentin

Here is the other board, with same dimensions as the other: 10? wide, 1? thickness (after planing), and 8? long, and also found in the basement, used as shelves. This one is distinctly yellow, as you can hopefully see from the photos. Both of them seem to be hardwoods, from my best estimation.

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Stephen Wollentin

Thank you Eric, I can’t tell you how excited I am to have a better idea of what I’m working with! I was really stumped by the golden color, but this narrows it down.

Stephen Wollentin

Hi Eric, I’ve enjoyed your articles and have learned a great deal from them! I was wondering if you could help me identify two boards; the first one is shown below. Both boards were found in my basement, rough cut, when I bought the house, and used as rudimentary workshop shelves. The house was built in the 60’s and we bought it 8 years ago. The boards are both 10″ wide, 1″ thickness (after planing), and 8′ long. The photos shown are after I planed them up. Thank you in advance for your help!

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Tom C

Found this wood in my basement. It was being used on a set of pylons to hold other material. The boards on the left came from a single piece that was 16 feet long, 11 inches wide and 1.5 inches thick. I cut it into four pieces. The boards on the right came from a piece that was 8 feet x 4 1/4 x 1 1/8. Here is a picture of the wood that shows the end grain. It was not stained. The wood had to have been there over 50 years (it was very likely put there by my… Read more »

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Tom C

Ok. Thank you.

Gene

Hello!
Could you please help me identify this wood? Thanks in advance!

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Sheena gibson

Pls help me identify this wood.

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Andy N

Looks like cedar

James

Can anyone tell me what kind of wood is used on this ceiling? Thanks so much for your help

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bianca

Hi, can anybody help identify this wood? Thank you

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Darryl

Looks to be European ash. It’s like a yellowish, semi-hardwood. If you could see the bark, it’s very coarse and gray. I’ve made electric guitars out of the European ash I’d felled; not a bad sounding tonewood, but somewhat stubborn to work.
Attached is a Tele style I’ve yet to make a new k for. European ash, common “problem tree”, US, and a small, stained vase.

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Darryl

… While we’re on the ash thing:
I thought I’d throw in this interesting cache of stock. This, as it turns out, is black ash from a neighbor’s cut-down tree. Quite a bit harder and far prettier than the European ash.
Attch: knife handle for f-hole carving knife and a piece of milled stock

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Sam

I bought a new house and not sure about the flooring. Is there any way you guys can help me understand the flooring type so that I can maintain it accordingly.
Thanks.

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Sean Gorman

this is a french work stool top from France; they made this model from the 30’s through the 50’s. I know it’s a plywood from that era, 13/16″ thick. A small section is missing ,and I want to replace it but not sure what hardwood is the “A” face. wood is has very straight and “raised” grain pattern

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