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.

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

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!

End grains 1-2-3.jpeg
top views 1-2-3.jpeg
Daniel Oen

Thanks for looking at them!

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.

A20200926_170348 (002).jpg

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?

IMG_2957 2.jpg
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.