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.

Lignum Vitae: This tree, along with its Argentinian variant, are harvested in the production of oil of guaiac, an ingredient in perfumes.

Sandalwood: Reported to retain its scent for decades, essential oils from the wood are also extracted and used in perfumes.

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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Heather

I just drilled into our cabinets and it smells a lot like cedar. What type of wood is this? It has a white wash finish right now.

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Seth Myers

We have a tree that smells like fish when its cut. Far too large to be a pear tree we think but I can’t think of any other possible explanation.

Jan

Possibly an Apple tree?

Kathryn Christopher

have a tree we cut its got a red / pink middle and smells like horses or horse manure. What kind of tree is this

Nathan Lauterwasser

Found an old stump under my yard, when I chop it the wood is wet and has an almost motor oil smell

Jonathan Hooks

Same here. Wondering if I’ve perhaps run across an old utility pole …

Robert Newton

I have some reddish wood, very hard, when cut smells like cinnamon, what is it?

Jeff Sindiong

Working on a log to make a fireplace mantle. Started scraping the bark off and it has a strong marischino cherry smell. The tree itself was probably about 40’ tall before it fell. Any idea what kind of tree has that besides an almond?

Jeff Sindiong

Once I got into the log, realized it is cherry. I’ve never peeled the bark off cherry before. The almond extract odor was only present when peeling the bark away from the sapwood and has since dissipated.

Chris H

Just been sawing logs from an old cherry tree, and the almond-cherry smell is lovely! Still very fragrant, even though the tree was felled at least a year ago.

David M

Fresh black cherry sometimes smells like marischino to me.

Michelle F.

Everytime I smell wood burning outside it smells heavily of olives to me! Anyone know what type of wood it could be?

Aaron A

Me too! I want to know so bad, I love that smell. I always smell it in winter. I think it could just be oak? But I have no idea.

Dustin Garceau

What wood smells like Ginger snaps when cut into

mike hoxlong

what wood smells like disinfectant

Robert Newton

yellowheart

Joyce Logan

I have a friend who lives in Georgia in senior citizen housing. There are cedar trees and she said some days she smells the cedar and some days there is no odor. We are wondering why this is.

Cedric Cedar

Humidity I’d assume

Cecilia Collins

I bought a pack of wood ladle (three different sizes). They look very light brown or light cream color, very light. These are made in Chine. I already washed it so many times used it but the smell still there. I don’t know what kind of wood. Is anyone can tell me what kind of wood please. Thank you.

S.Poettcker

We purchased an acacia wood cutting board cheese board. It has a very strong smoke smell. Is that characteristic ? Should I return it. Is it safe to use for food? Was manufactured in Thailand.

Nur

Hello, anyone know what type of wood that can be used for spa? That has a pleasant smell that can be used as a flood or maybe for ceiling? Thanks.

Lesley Lane

I am working on developing children activities in a afromontane forest in South Africa. Most wood does not seem to maintain its smell. If I acquired 5 logs of different woods, and got the kids to scratch them with a sharp object, would they have distinctive smells. Is this activity worth pursuing, as the logs would need to have a distinctive smell for a few years? If it may work could you recommend 4 species that would work well. The fifth would need to be from the specific forest.

Lynne

Does anyone know what kind of wood literally smells like a dirty diaper? My husband bought me a small wooden bowl from Amazon and I should have returned it. I used paint stripper to remove the lacquer finish, soaked it in vinegar, baking soda (twice each) and left it in the sun for days. It still stinks. Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

David Lopez

Many years ago the company I work for had some helicopters shipped back from Brazil. The crates were made of mahogany and smelled like dog poo! It was fresh cut and untreated and we couldn’t get it out of the building fast enough. The woodworkers in the crowd were glad to take it.

Andrea

That is the textbook written smell of E. Coli. Bacteria

Victoria

Anyone know what wood produces a scent of cloves when burned. I’m in Mane

Rebecca Eppley

Have you found out what wood smells like clove when you burn it? Every once in awhile I get a hold of something that smells like clove I love it but I don’t know what kind of wood it is.

Odessa Mabry

An old wood church, I visited recently, built of hand-hewn lumber in the late 1800’s definitely had a strong smell. Was this not the old wood? If it was, what kind of wood was it?

Lina

They cut the cypress trees down next door and the smell is sooo strong! How long before it goes away? It’s minty, I guess piney.. definitely cools in the inside of the nose and throat.. but it’s driving me nuts!

Nona

Hi, I just purchased what I was told was a teak cutting board. In the store there was no fragrance to it, but once I got it home and began cutting on it, I noticed the smell of cow manure! It’s almost as if the knife cuts released this smell from the wood. Does the teak smell like manure? What can I do to make it go away? It sure doesn’t mix with food!

Frank

Does anyone know where the scent comes from regarding the mexicsn/spanish sycamore?

Leaves, bark or the seed pods?

Trevor

Does anyone know what kind of wood this is? My searches tell me it’s probably teak but I need an expert.

quiet

Hi,
Does anyone know if the scent of palo santo lasts over time such as the scent of sandalwood?

Thanks.

Carol Jordie

I am so excited to find this site. Several decades ago, I bought a wooden rosary for my mother. She kept it in its plastic case for years. When she passed, I took the rosary out of the box and it has been several years now that it has been out in the open and it still smells STRONGLY of roses. What type of wood could this possibly be? Rosewood? Something soaked in rose essential oils? I’d love to get more. Thank you so much in advance.

Carol Jordie

Thanks so much, Eric. Based on the amount of time the wood has been exposed to the air, I’ll bet it was soaked in something!

Thomas Jordan

The rosary is a prayer said by the faithful Roman Catholics with a devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary Mother of Jesus asking for her intercession while at the same time asking to view the drama of her role as Theotokos. There are 2 flowers closely associated with her role the first is a Lilly and the second is roses. From the fifth century of the history, roses, miracles and apparitions are interwoven in Church history and tradition. For this reason, the wooden beads were probably infused with rose oil to ignite an olfactory response for the prayer warrior who… Read more »

L. E. Smith

Is the rosary RED? Santa Maria degli Angeli in Italy produces rosaries with red beads that look like carved wood but are actually pulverized and pressed Rose Petals made from the petals of the roses there that, as legend states : St. Francis of Assisi tried to cure his impure thoughts by throwing himself naked onto the rose bushes, hoping the thorns would cause him pain. They miraculously turned into Thornless Rose Bushes at that moment and have been grown that way there ever since.

What type of wood leaves black chunks when burned that almost look like lava rock

What type of wood leaves black chunks when burned that almost look like lava rock

EEyin

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EEyin

Ive found some small blocks wood that very heavy and Ive cut some slices off the make key fobs. Looks like teak very close grain and the freshly cut edge looks smooth and polished without any further work being done. Only thing is they smell like dog poo. Gong to oil them see if that helps. What wood smells dog poo when cut?

Carla Kelly

Not sure about the exact smell, but zebrawood really stinks.

Hank

Pick up some very hard dark molding from a cut stock mill, and wouldered what it was. Took a piece back and ask. The attendant ask me to wait in office while he cut it. Said they get very little of it in , but they call it stunk wood. Smells like rotting socks. Beautiful dark mahogany color, and very hard. Bet it is zebra wood, thanks.

Michael Ayers

Hi. I am curious whether you distingush between “Odor” and “Characteristic Odor” when listing data in this section? In other words, does the odor need to be helpful in identifying the wood in order to be included? I was recently working with some Tanoak, and I found it to have a noticable odor, though perhaps not as strong as some other species and fairly similar to other hardwoods (in my limited experience). However, it is listed in the database as “no characteristic odor.”

P.S. This site is one of the best on the Web at this point in time! :-)

Benjamin Dawbin

Hi Michael, I believe a characteristic odor refers to a distinct smell whereas just saying odor refers to a general scent. For example some people find sassafras to have a strong scent of spice whereas others think it has a smell of cow manure.
I hope this was helpful Michael

Diesel

Hey mikey, I think odour means what it smells like. No need to thank me

Victoria

HI, does anyone know what this wood is and if it is safe for a baby to chew on while teething? It has quite a strong smell, not unpleasant necessarily but the fact that it has an odour worries me- suggests that some oils could leech out and be swallowed.Thanks!!

Gebi

Looks a lot like beech. If it is then I wouldn’t be concerned.

Isaac

I have a small box I use to keep jewels/jewelry in, and it has a very distinct sweet smell. I’ve had it over two years and it still smells like that. The wood is slightly reddish. What kind of wood is this? (It came from Saint Martin, if that helps any bit)

Lieutenant BaconWaffles

I was annoyed by the smell of powdered cheese for days. Tracked it down to some red oak. I made everyone else sniff it to prove I wasn’t going insane.

Laura Stambaugh Ketron

My friend has a home she purchased in the Winter and the heat was not on and when the Spring came around and she warm the place up the whole house has this chemical odor I smell a lot like you would smell in the senior building a very old old senior building The walls do not have any thickness to them if I hung a picture in one Room you would see the nail on the other side in the next Room so the board they put this house up with is unlike anything I have ever seen it’s… Read more »

Ro4st

Why would you think of the wood first? I would guess that it comes from the heater itself, since it gets a lot hotter than just room temperature. Also, they use special paint for heaters. This paint can withstand higher temperatures, but it smells a lot worse and a lot stronger than normal varnish. Normally you would let it “burn in”, but if it wasn’t done properly that might explain why the smell is releasing now.

Laura Stambaugh Ketron

I love the idea of being something as simple as the heater. Except for the fact that iT Is just as strong if not worse over the summer. I thought of the wood 1st because it feels like it’s high in the air and the houses so thin, not typical construction that it wad the first notably variant in the construction. I know there’s not even any insulation in it and I know the only thing that could have a chemical is wood because it’s dipped in formaldehyde. This is a modular home.

Tamarack

We cut off a magnolia branch and the wood smelled distinctly like cardamom. It was a strong, lovely scent. I can’t tell if the plants are related. Do you know?

Darla Mellring

I came across a tree that has bark that smells like citronella and wintergreen. It has clumps of redish orange berries about the size of bluberries, but look simular to crab apple or rose hips. Smell doesn’t come from berries or leaves only the bark/wood

Laura Stambaugh Ketron

There is a bug called a citronella aunt and it smells like citronella it could be in your tree They eat micro organisms

Lady

I think it may be a black walnut.

Lady

Or a sweet (sugar) birch.

John Valk

can i store poplar wood in a cedar closet

Lex -

Depending on where that cedar closet is, the answer is yes. That poplar should already be seasoned (dried out), debarked and cleaned up so there isn’t any organic debris that will rot or attract insects besides moths.

Akiva S.

My dog found this tree while on a walk and when she chews it it makes a really strong waffle scent, was wondering if there’s any known tree to have such a great smell..

Lex -

Waffles? Are you sure you’re not talking about the syrup you put on the waffles? Maple syrup maybe?

If it has that scent, it would more than likely be a sugar maple or a sugar birch (sometimes listed as a brown birch).

There are numerous shrubs that look like mini trees that give off this scent, too. Some are deadly to pets and their humans, some are quite beneficial.

Kittysboo

I purchased an acacia wood bowl and cutting board from Dillards about six months ago and just began using it, however, when it gets wet, it has a very stinky, awful smell. Is this normal? Will it subside eventually? Is there anything I can do to make the smell disappear for good?

Lex -

It’s doubtful the Acacia wood cutting board is what is causing the horrendous smell, it’s what on it. Acacia is also known as false cinnamon, also seen as Chinese or Saigon Cinnamon. Acacia is of the legume (bean) family.

Whereas the real / true cinnamon (Ceylon Cinnamon) is from the laurel family which is a type of evergreen.

Caitlin Hill

Just bought me a Chinese chest at a thrift shop. I can’t tell what kind of wood it is. History says they used camphor but I feel it is a newer box and it might be cedar. I just can’t go by smell, it smells like both! Is there a characteristic in the wood? Color knots etc.? Wish I could post a photo here. Thank you!

Caitlin Hill

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Caitlin Hill

Thank you for your time ejmeier, I hope the lighting is good. It’s really stormy here. It looks like there are two woods used?

Caitlin Hill

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Caitlin Hill

Thank you! ?

Caitlin Hill

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Sam

Hello, today I was splitting wood with my brother. We came across a type of wood that smells to use like peaches as we were cutting it. It’s a very heavy wood that’s red in colour. And we could not figure out what it was. When we got the logs they were at least 16 inches in diameter and at least 8 feet long. does anybody know what this could be?

Judy Lantz

My wine rack smells stronger than any west coast cedar. It was made in China, btw. Very light, knotty wood.

Bob Elliott

I am a bowyer and have built a bow with a very dark, beautifully grained, heavy wood that smells like pipe tobacco when I drilled it. Any ideas on what kind of wood it might be?

Mo Jo

The wood used in Cigar Humidors themselves is called Spanish Cedar, but really is Brazillian Mahagony. Can’t tell you what woods actually smell like pipe tobacco though! That would probably be creosote: https://www.hearth.com/talk/threads/tobacco-like-smell-in-stove-room.107337/

Michelle

Hello! I am in a bit of trouble and was hoping you can help. I had my father split 1.5 inch slabs to be used as part of a centerpiece. . . the problem is they stink! He is pretty certain the wood was cut from a Poplar tree. I only have two weeks and the weather in New England has been pretty unpredictable. Does anybody have any suggestions for getting out the smell ASAP!

Erin Kelly

I have the same issue except my wedding is in 1&1/2 months… can you estimate how long it will take for the slabs to dry and stop smelling? Or should I just go ahead right away and dip them in isopropyl alcohol? The slabs are 11″ diameter and 2″ thick

homasapiens

You can add Padauk to your list. The piece I just cut started off smelling like apples, and as it heated up turned to a rich, warm tobacco-leaf scent, similar to some rosewoods. Incredible! i would wear it as cologne.

Lex -

I’ve heard there are some colognes and perfumes that use an extract oil of this stuff.

Indian

I recently bought a chest that the seller claimed is more than 100 years old, when scrapped a bit, it smells very nice almost like a cookie/biscuit. Any Idea what that wood can be?

Indian

Just to add more info, its light in color (closer to grey or paper birch)

Chato77

I’m trying to put together a music project/release for my small independent record label and I’d like to include some kind of aromatic wood. Preferably in natural form: small branches with the bark still on??? Does anyone have any idea on where I could purchase something like this??? Perhaps in bundles??? I’d need about 100 small branches that are approximately 5″-7″s long and 3/4″-1″ in diameter. Thanks much.

Bob

Thank you, I have a stump that smells like pencils, and I was trying to figure out what it was. Is it also kid of difficult to work with? Mine is lightweight, but surpisingly hard to cut, sand, etc.

Indian

Just to add more info, its light in color (similar to grey or paper birch)

Max Chapman

Stumpwood of any variety, even typically soft, easy woods like cedar, will generally be more difficult to work because the grain will be much more dense and unpredictable as it transitions to the root structure.

old wood

I think I want to know buht have old wooden wood land 100 feet down I found very strange match