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.

Subscribe
Notify of
guest
272 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
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.

20210716_175619.jpg
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.

20210708_184851.jpg
20210710_125713.jpg
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?

AB9D3EDF-DF93-45A3-B9DD-D7B2E0AF37CE.jpeg
EE50D254-BB9F-40C5-B844-55FB8E296E75.jpeg
Susan

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

9675F486-DFCB-4676-BE1A-C8F15F8E7B40.jpeg
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

16240721871435896243255667353421.jpg
Robert

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

94BDAB64-C875-40EE-A211-87893CC03DA5.jpeg
David rivas

Looks like spalted sycamore

Tiffany Maynard

Does anyone know what kind of wood this is?

image.jpg
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!
?

1EC555CC-474F-4EF1-B682-19B01EAA3A9F.png
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.

image.jpg
image.jpg
image.jpg
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?

168062389_1873909292770080_5907534553890445079_n.jpg
169562097_1182713668825500_1721102600424812368_n.jpg
169968337_457633852012115_2498421025570774223_n.jpg
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.

woodendrawers.jpg
Greg

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

McQuillan Mystery Wood.jpg
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

16171307152878319324549252183588.jpg
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

E342D1EA-BF28-4569-9F44-5871B4B5249F.jpeg
00034533-32CD-4F95-92AB-812898CCD01F.jpeg
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

20210322_193501.jpg
20210322_193431.jpg
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.

20210319_161003.jpg
20210319_161045.jpg
20210102_195056.jpg
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

20210323_171525.jpg
20210323_171456.jpg
20210323_171357.jpg
20210323_171238.jpg
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.

20210317_091532.jpg
20210301_134127.jpg
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.

1E6B5AEE-F6B0-4317-9224-8675087B57F5.jpeg
02EEFA8C-7929-44ED-B0CE-B34370D08170.jpeg
Drazen

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

100D3512-75B0-4ED9-A011-C599633B86D9.jpeg
Kendra

Any ideas of what this could be?

C2A79B11-9F03-4010-8441-218121CC8D52.jpeg
Jordan

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

B113425A-D420-492D-B196-F71627D5AA94.jpeg
2E342415-7E63-486C-94BC-338696252057.jpeg
Bob

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

16145984640825205219707004373399.jpg
16145985233721878057419007464622.jpg
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

D51308E4-ABE3-4D15-91AB-2C577C424974.jpeg
David Millette

please identify
it is marked vietnam

vietnam149738828_10225660253199624_8550337469845109212_o.jpg
Dinh Tran

Maybe rubber…