Although scent is mostly a subjective characteristic, it is nonetheless helpful in identifying wood. And while odor should not be relied upon as the sole means of identification, in many cases, it can serve to confirm or deny a possible identification.
Because scents are so difficult to describe in written terms, descriptions are necessarily vague—an exception would be if the odor is reminiscent of another well-known scent. (A clear example of this would be rosewood in the Dalbergia genus, from which the wood gets its namesake.)
Many wood species don’t have a characteristic odor, or the odor greatly subsides once dry. (In most cases, any odor of wood in its green state will not be noted, and only the scent of dried wood will be considered.)
Over time, the potency of scented woods will subside, and there may be little to no detectable odor in fully seasoned wood. In order to bring out any scent, it may be necessary to sand, plane, or otherwise machine the sample. Moistening the wood sample may also serve to bring out its scent.
Notably Odorous Woods:
Eastern Red Cedar: Sometimes called Aromatic Red Cedar. A strong lingering scent. Used in birdhouses, closet liners, chests, shoe trees, and a variety of household goods. Reputed to repel moths.
Spanish Cedar: A distinct lingering scent. Used in cigar humidors.
Incense Cedar: Most people are unknowingly familiar with the scent of incense cedar because it is one of the primary woods in making wooden pencils.
Camphor: A strong lingering scent that has decongestant and medical properties. To the western world, the scent of this wood is synonymous with medicated chest rubs—which contain camphor extract.
Brazilian Rosewood: This is the prototypical rosewood. Most rosewoods have a rose-like scent while being worked, though it fades shortly thereafter.
Cocobolo: Technically a true member of the rosewood genus (Dalergia), Cocobolo also has a pleasing spicy scent that has been used in perfume.
Sandalwood: Reported to retain its scent for decades, essential oils from the wood are also extracted and used in perfumes.
Get the hard copy
If 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.