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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Jessica Stover
Jessica Stover

I was gifted this carved wooden bird. Can you give me an idea of what it’s made of?

Jessica Stover
Jessica Stover

A wing pic

Andrew
Andrew

Adding one more pic of the back, it shows edges of the wood.

Andrew
Andrew

Hi, this is probanly really tough because I only have poor images, but there is some detail thay may be revealing. Any possibility of identifying the (probable) wood on this clock?

Joshua
Joshua

Walnut?

Susannah
Susannah

Same questions about this table with closer look.

Susannah
Susannah

I am trying to identify the type of wood in order to cover the chemical burn mark on the table and select the right colored varnish. Any ideas?

Ryan
Ryan

Here’s another look at the leg of the end table

Ryan
Ryan

What type of wood is this? It came off a 10-15year old end table. Trying to repurpose this wood but need to know what I’m working with to buy more material. Thanks!

Lydia
Lydia

Please help me identify this wood from a mid-century modern table. Thank you!

Kathy Duncan
Kathy Duncan

Table top of table that has been in my family 40 plus years. I’m thinking hardwood maple?

Ted McGuire
Ted McGuire

Here is another photo regarding my question about the hickory wood.

Ted McGuire
Ted McGuire

Eric,

I purchased what was supposed to be all hickory. Is this wood all hickory or is some of it quarter-sawn? Or possibly two different species of wood? It is all super hard but takes stain differently. Thank you for any help.

Jackie
Jackie

I’m stripping paint from this 1800s farmhouse floor. Any guess on what kind of wood I’m dealing with here? East Central Indiana if that helps narrow species. The house was either built in 1850 or 1886, we have conflicting records.

Kevin
Kevin

Can anyone help narrow down the type of wood this might be?

It’s hardwood used for a dresser / hutch. This is one piece of a bedroom set consisting of headboard, footboard frame, nightstand and large dresser.

Suzette Dryer
Suzette Dryer

Wondering if anyone can help me identify the type wood this butcher block table is?

Donna M Fisher
Donna M Fisher

Can someone please identify the wood for me, it is a large bookcase and heavy, thanks!

Jason Volentine
Jason Volentine

Can anybody help me ID this wood? Much obliged.

Jason Volentine
Jason Volentine

Can anybody help me ID this piece of wood?

Laura Cavern
Laura Cavern

Looks like acacia wood to me.

Mary Ann Childs
Mary Ann Childs

Would like to identify the wood veneer on this antique dresser. Thanks for your help!

Lenora
Lenora

What would be the best wood to use for beams in a home?

Louis
Louis

Generally homes, at least in the US are made from douglas fir, which is not a hardwood, and therefore not on this list, primarily because it is abundant, lightweight and most importantly, cheap.

Chris
Chris

This is the epoxy side

Chris
Chris

Does anyone have a clue what kind of wood this is?

Karon Cook
Karon Cook

Can anyone help me identify this wood. It’s the leg of a chair that appears to be Scandinavian or mid-century modern

William Dixon
William Dixon

Can someone help me identify this Wood? It’s from a late 1800 to early 1900’s barn. I just bought the property and it has a fallen barn. I tho k it may be worth salvaging but I don’t know. Any help would be appreciated.

William Dixon
William Dixon

Another picture of the barn beam.

Don carpenter
Don carpenter

The looks to be Douglas fir, that’s a nice quarter sawn piece! Let me know if you need a hand disposing of any of that, it makes fine acoustic guitar braces.

James McCay
James McCay

Looking for wood identification on this piece, it’s 3.5″x11″x39.5″ and weighs out to 67.5 lbs/ c.f. I have another piece that’s 11′ long and can’t pick it up and I know it’s not wet cause it’s been in my heated garage for 2 years. I live in Valdez Alaska and I think this type of wood was used on the shipping docks at the oil terminal for the aleyeska pipeline…

Garth
Garth

Do you think this came off the dock face? I’ve worked on some of the docks there inValdez. Marine designers often used hard durable woods that could take the pounding when landing a large ship. Now we use plastic as its more consistent, more durable and less expensive. Definitely not as pretty. Depending upon which dock and when it was originally built it could be one of the high density Brazilian woods (I am not an expert on identifying wood). We have used iron wood, ipe and other beautiful woods That seem tough toget now.

Sharon B.
Sharon B.

Like so many before me, I have come to the mecca of all things wood for help identifying the wood used in this antique settee. I sanded several (hopefully) unobtrusive spots underneath. In particular, I sanded the bottom of the legs, each of which has a hole drilled for a caster (I presume). I had trouble removing all the stain on the leg bottoms, so I hope that’s not an impediment to identification. I did get down to bare wood on a facing plank, and found a couple places where the stain was missing–one is where there is a crack… Read more »

Christopher Beardsley
Christopher Beardsley

Interested in your collective expertise. This came from the floor boards of a barn near Syracuse, NY, judging from the barn, maybe early 20th century.comment image https://uploads.disquscdn.com/imagescomment image /df13a4cec66db1e6a5357ec6e0705b69aa6820541bde52a53afc3be434dd9abe.jpg
comment image

Toni Darden
Toni Darden

https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/ffef289b66eb221d56d9167577839acomment image 76d825b0e905178a75904cbabdd5b6a8e3.jpgcomment image Would anyone possibly be able to help identify the type of wood these floors located in south Louisiana are made of? Possibly pine or cypress?

Nick Spirov
Nick Spirov

Am I the only one looking for No.6 in this list?

Ryan Maguire
Ryan Maguire

What kind of wood do you guys thinkcomment image this is?

sillygirl
sillygirl

What about chestnut? Lot of old doors made of it. Aside from bug marks, I’d love to see the distinguishing characteristics.

jason
jason

Found this under layers of vinyl flooring . . . probably put in when the house was built in the 1920s in Southern California area. Any ideas? I’m trying to decide if it is worth refinishing. Thanks for any help!

SrikanthNaidu
SrikanthNaidu

Hi, I bought a low back windsor / barrel back on craigslist that is marked made in yugoslavia and 77-7. I would like id the wood and find out if it is ok to refinish them. Thank you for your help!

George Everet Thompson
George Everet Thompson

I work with branches and twigs in making artwork. Since I get these from tree trimmers and others I have no idea what the original tree looked like. Is there any guide that identifies wood by the outer bark and periderm?

Szigeti Eduard
Szigeti Eduard

Hello, I’ve just bought this table. Could anyone help me identify this wood? The table is pretty heavy

Huang Zhenyuan
Huang Zhenyuan

i want to make wooden chicken coop,but i don’t know what kind of wood is most economical and anti-blue.

Cheri Klotzsche
Cheri Klotzsche

Hi. I bought this table and chair at a yard sale a few weeks ago. They both look like Duncan Phyfe (or “in the style of”). The top of the table was already sanded. I want to refinish that and possibly the chair. Any idea what type of wood this is?

Alysha K
Alysha K

Hi guys. We are trying to identify our wood floors. We suspect a common grade American Cherry because they dent very easily, and look like the right color/grain. However, upon removing some existing cabinets in our kitchen, the floors under the cabinets were almost exactly the same color as the rest of the floor (we guessed they would be lighter since American cherry is photo-sensitive – Can be seen in last photo attached). I’ve attached a few photos below (pardon the dog, it happens that all the “floor” photos on my phone also have my dog in them…). We would… Read more »

ol guy
ol guy

Maybe someone (everyone?? :) ) can help me id this wood. No real identifiable smell, ‘stringy’, and heavy – it may still be wet. It’s supposed to be a “hardwood” but that’s also in question. My guesses are elm, hickory, or maybe a poplar / cottonwood -but I haven’t seen face grain like that in poplar.
Thanks.

Angela Miller
Angela Miller

I NEED HELP!! I LOVE THIS CHEST BUT SHE WANTS $75.00. I WANT TO MAKE SURE ITS GOOD SOLID WOOD. *ALSO, WEBLIVE IN GALVESTON TX. HUMIDITY IS EXTREME. THANK YOY-ANGELA

Angela Miller
Angela Miller

I’m hoping its cedar?? Please let me know your opinion. I have to buy it today. God bless!

DeCa Johnson
DeCa Johnson

Does anyone know what type of wood this furniture is? I am thinking about purchasing and refinishing, but don’t know if it is worth the buy.

chromelassie
chromelassie

Can anyone identify this wood? It is a ladderback chair made in NC in mid 1800’s. Thank you

kdp
kdp

Does anyone know what kind of tree this is from?

Marcus2012
Marcus2012

Looks like pine

suzie q
suzie q

I have 1948 kitchen cabinets, painted. I have sanded a section of one and am considering doing the entire kitchen in natural wood, but I would like to know what kind of wood it is before I commit to such a big job.

brant
brant

Hickory should be added to the list perhaps?