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 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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Anyone know what type of wood this is?


Hello can someone please tell me what type of wood this is I was guessing like oak or something I’m really curious.


Hello my husband purchased a bed frame of solid raw wood and I’ve been trying to identify the wood used. We’ve had it about 7 years now. Some of the boards are cracking and splintered. I’m trying to restore it. I’m currently using a mixture of bees wax, coconut oil and lemon oil.

Brian Rabalais

Any idea what type of wood this is? I got at a garage sale in Oregon a few years ago. When freshly cut is appears very orange. I’m using it to make my dad an urn but would like to know what it is. Appreciate the help.

Brian Rabalais

Here are some additional photos of different sections of the same board, sanded down. I would say is medium to hardwood. It is not super heavy but not light either. The weight feels right for the size of the piece you are holding.

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Thanks. I just couldn’t figure out why it is so orange. The dust is a deep orange color.

Last edited 2 years ago by Brian
L Sharp

Can you tell me the type of wood in this mirror frame. The actual color is a little more reddish than the photo. It is from western Washington, or possibly Pennsylvania if if it 100 years old. The mirror is not beveled, and the back has wooden slats. Thanks!
(Did the photo attach?)

L Sharp

Got it to work, pic attached now.

Tomas Valenti

i just sold an old warehouse i had for 40 years, and had been collecting all sorts of building materials, including hardwood flooring. i thought it was all oak, but opened one box and it was this dark, almost mahogany looking stuff. i am using it as a decorative border in a garage apartment, but i am running short. the closest thing i have been able to find is sappan, which is similar to the lighter of my two colors. however, when googling it, the only place i saw it for sale was alibaba, and it was discontinued. is this… Read more »

Peggy W.

I cut up some small logs from a tree in the southwest corner of north carolina. Any idea what this might be? The wood is fairly hard with a satiny sheen, but it tends to chip easily when planed. I’m finding it somewhat difficult to work with. I rubbed some boiled linseed oil on the piece to the left.

Peggy W

Thank you. I did make a lot of walnut colored sawdust while cutting them up, but I was confused by the green and bluish streaks running through them. Also, it’s very likely that they are limbs.


Good morning. What wood type is pictured as part of the title of your database?

Nicole robichaud

My antique trestle table was made from old barn boards from either Whitman MA or Machias ME. My parents knew the man who made it back in the 1970’s. I can’t figure out what wood (s)the top is made from. It is two wide boards joined. After refinishing it, the two pieces that make up the table top are different colors and grains. It is very heavy, hard wood. Can you help me identify it? The pictures have a layered combination of special walnut and classic gray stain on them.

Nicole robichaud

Shoot. I will now. I could only add two photos because of the size allowed to upload. Let me know if you need more.

Nicole robichaud

I was thinking walnut and cherry seeing the top is two diff woods. . Thank you

Jessica Gonyou

Hi! I just purchased this lovely little handmade set of drawers from an antique store. I’m trying to identify the wood used, as part of knowing more about its story. Your site has been very helpful! But I feel unable to completely narrow it down. I’d be so grateful for any help you can provide!! Thank you!!

Jessica Gonyou

Thank you so much for your response!! I’m in Michigan. I was unable to get the history on the piece when I bought it. I’m hoping the dealer will call back with more information. It’s clearly handmade and old. It was labeled as a “library card holder” but it’s definitely not a card catalogue. Thank you again! Just knowing it’s tropical hardwood is great and it’s one more piece to its story.

Last edited 2 years ago by Jessica Gonyou
Jessica Gonyou

Thank you very much! I’m not sure I will be able to get one, but if I do I will post it. I appreciate your kind help!

Jessica Gonyou

I just realized I should have provided shots of the interior.

Chad Meersman

Hi Eric, I’m trying to identify this wood beam that I have. I believe it’s a hard wood (very heavy). Thanks.

Chad Meersman

I salvaged it from an empty lot near Vancouver Canada. No history on it. At first I thought it was a beam from a pier, but after I planed it now i’m not sure.


Chad, In 2015 I received a ton of small pieces of what looked exactly like your stock unfinished. I turned them all into tealight holders and they sold like hotcakes. This is the only image I have of one of the offcuts that had a pretty intense inclusion that was reserved for an art piece. The closest I’ve come to identifying is Bolivian Rosewood.

Lake Art for Janet Christmas 2017.jpg
Sean Brock

Trying to match flooring in Florida house built in 2007, any thoughts on what type of wood flooring this could be?

Vance DeWitt

I was hoping someone may be able to help me identify this beautiful orangish wood species.

Paddy King

Hi. Any idea what type of wood this is? It is very heavy and was expensive.

Paddy King

Thanks Eric. It was bought in the Middle East and I understand it was made in Thailand.

Seth Powers

I uncovered this in my 1920 craftsman-type home. Most of the original wood was removed in the 60s to make the house look more mid-century. Just a few of these remain in the hallways. I’d like to know what kind of wood it is in order to replicate the house’s original look. If you can help me, I would greatly appreciate it.
Thank you,

What wood.jpg

Im trying to figure out what type of wood this is. Thanks


Hi, I recently got an older (mid-century) dresser set and I would like to definitively know what type of wood is used for one of the dresser’s drawers. Interestingly, the other dresser (same brand) clearly uses oak for its drawers, but this one dresser uses something different. Is it poplar perhaps? It’s not soft, doesn’t leave a fingernail imprint when pressed firmly. Would love to know exactly what it is. Thanks! (Both dressers are Harmony House brand, if it helps).


Hello, I recently acquired this table of supposed solid black/American walnut but part of the surface sunk in within a couple of weeks and I could now see the inside/untreated surface and based on my limited knowledge, I cannot tell if this is actually solid wood or MDF. The surface also scratches very easily, for example, moving my laptop on the table scratches it. Thanks


Thanks, this is very helpful. It is indeed a knot that fell in rather than out, there was some hollow space beneath it. The photo was just trying to show the inside of the hole as it doesn’t quite look like solid walnut (lack of grains, color, texture), but then again, doesn’t feel likely that even a poorly made MDF table would have the veneer top collapse in…… One thing to note also is that every single surface including the area around the screws underneath have been painted over

Last edited 2 years ago by James

Sorry for the confusion, the first photo shows where the knot fell/collapsed into the table, the 2nd is a close up and the 3rd shows a even closer close up showing the inside unfinished wood, and just the color and texture of the unfinished wood looks a bit strange to my untrained eye for a solid wood table. “Painted over” is probably a bad way to explain this, what I meant was finished, so every wooden surface conceivable is finished the same way the table top is finished, which include the underside of the table and all the nooks &… Read more »


Can you please identify the type of wood here. Would greatly appreciate it. Thanks


*edited to remove commercial link* “Handcarved Lombok Buffet”


Need help identifying this wood type.


Hello! I’m trying to figure out what type of oak this is. Is it white, black or red? It’s from central Pennsylvania. Thanks!

Greg Spreeman

Any idea as to what kind of wood this is? I saw it on an island top in a kitchen. Owner wasn’t available to tell me what kind of wood it is.

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Greg Spreeman

Someone mentioned Butternut or Hickory. Thoughts?

Greg Spreeman

Last shot….maybe Alder? Grain seems very similar, no?

Greg Spreeman

They are the same 3 pics from this thread. After searching forever, seems like the wood island top might be Alder or rustic Alder.


What kind of wood is this? Found few boards in my barn and wondering what it is. It is all tough cut of different kinds of wood. Found a bunch of black walnut?


Pulled this sink door from a boat today and trying to indenting what it is? It’s a veneer on plywood and has been varnished. Any ideas would be much appreciated!!

Meredith Clark

Thanks for this! Like the others, could you help identify this wood? Found from a downed tree outside of Boston, MA. The leaves in the forest looked like oak, elm, and pine.

Tanya Campbell

Hello, I recently received some very rough cut wood and was told it was all hardwoods. I planned then down and came out with a board I did not recognize, could anyone help me out please.


I’ll try to get more images soon. However, based on what you see, any idea on whether or not this is even real wood? Anyway, I know this frame came out of California in 1972 but that’s all that I know. I’d like to recreate it, but want to use whatever they used….


Can anyone tell me what kind of wood our cabinets are? I was thinking maple from the above post? Located in Southern California.

Bill H

Hi there. I lucked into several different hardwoods that have been sitting in someone’s garage for decades. That’s all I know about them. I would love to know more. I took pictures of the end grain that I sanded to 220. Any info would be great. Thanks for being such a great resource.

Daniel Oen

I was given several pieces of lumber. They’ve been milled and planed on all sides. Trying to determine the wood variety. I’m pretty sure there are two different ones. These have been in the rafters of the garage for probably 20+ years and are hard and dense. My thumbnail won’t even make a scratch or dent going with or across the grain. One has a red/purple cast not unlike Purpleheart but more red. The second one is like also rock-hard but more of a mahogany color- at first I thought it was Mahogany, but it’s harder than Maple. Coloration on… Read more »

Daniel Oen

Here are more photos. There may actually be three types…
Thank you for all your help!

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top views 1-2-3.jpeg
Daniel Oen

Thanks for looking at them!


The top one does look like purple heart to me. The middle looks like padauk. Image is known samples of purple heart and padauk.

Randy Lloyd

Teak is possible. The reality hard one could be ebony. Natural ebony is not black, but it is usually a little darker than that sample.

Eric Waddle

I love in ohio, I got this from a restaurant here.


Can anyone tell me what wood this is ?

Mike Dunn

First, thank you for an awesome website.

I have this rough milled lumber (milled with a chain saw type rig) that has been sitting in a field for 10+ years. Hoping you can help identify the species and therefore value. I have 14 pieces that are approx. 13.5″ x 3″ x 22′. I also have one 15″ x 15″ x 22′. located in northwestern NJ. Thanks for any insight you can provide.


Floor – built in 1913 Freeport, TX. Can’t dent with fingernail, but is not too hard. It is dense, but that may be just cause it’s old growth… 2 1/4 inch strips, most in excess of 18′ long. Greatly appreciated.

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I took this mantle out of my childhood home, it’s over 50 years old. Any idea what kind of wood it is. It’s extremely heavy and 9 1/2’ long.


Hey there! Curious if anyone can tell me what wood(s) this chair is made of?

Brittany Hoyng

We just moved in to a 1900 home in Midwest Ohio. This wood is under all the carpets, no one knows what type this is. Can you help us? It does appear to be stained/painted.


Hi – i am stripping paint from the woodwork around my fireplace (1923, Southern California) and all of the wood so far is Douglas fir like most of the homes around here but then I got to the mantel and it’s much lighter and possible a different grain? Anyone recognize what it is? I’m assuming it was replaced at some point because all of the other wood I’ve stripped down to has a dark stain.


Thanks for the info! One more question. I took off some more paint from the top and there are a few boat patches. Would that suggest that this is some sort of plywood?

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PrimeRibAnd ADew

Looks like pine possibly white pine. Is is possibly plywood?


Just moved into this house and can’t figure out what my kitchen cabinets are

PrimeRibAnd ADew

Looks like birch, possibly paper birch.

Dawn Thibodeau

Hi! Can someone help me identify the type of wood and color for my wood floors? My home is a 1950’s Cape Cod. Thanks!

Dawn Thibodeau

Thank you!


Hi there!
Any chance you can help me identify this wood from my SoCal 1914 Craftsman windows?


Can someone please help me identify this wood? It’s a bookshelf from a local tree here in the mountains of W NC.



Could that be a type of Koa? Not sure. but it looks familiar.


Help….what wood is this. 1972 solid wood tables.

James Pickering

Could anyone tell me what this timber could be? My father suggested silky oak. It has a very rough texture after being plained.


Can anyone help me identify the type of wood this custom built bookshelf is made out of?


@ali, it certainly looks like poplar to me.

imo, poplar should only be stained if it’s generally unseen.

poplar is *excellent* for interior painted woodwork but stained poplar…Never.


Cut this out of a wet log that was laying around a day ago, not sure what it is though.



David Hauser

Hi Eric,

I found a block of wood that has been discolored by the sun over years. Cutting it open, it was very light colored inside; also very light-weight. Could it be Balsa?



Is it Holly? There are lot of bright color wood, and it might not from NA local


This is a second picture


Please help me identify these wood floors. They are original to my house 70yrs old and I will need to replace a portion for a nessary repair ?


I think I have that wood I’m recycling from my old barn it’s a very beautiful wood I’m still trying to find out what type it is.