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.

  • old wood

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

  • 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.

    • ejmeier

      Probably some type of cedar. Possibly Incense Cedar or Eastern Red Cedar.

    • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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)

      • ejmeier

        Do you have any pictures?

  • 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.

  • 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!

    • ejmeier

      More than likely the smell is due to the wood still being wet (aka “green”). If this is the case, there’s not too much you could do to get rid of the smell in such a short time; the odor slowly slowly diminishes as the wood dries out. Anything faster than it’s natural drying (which will take a lot longer than 2 weeks for 1.5″ slabs) is asking for dramatic end checks and drying damage to the wood.

      However, if the pieces aren’t too big, one drying trick that I’ve used is to immerse smaller blocks of wood in alcohol (denatured alcohol or isopropyl/rubbing alcohol work fine) and then take them out the day following to air dry as usually. The alcohol penetrates deep into the wood and helps drive out the water and speeds up the evaporation and drying process without causing too much damage.

      • 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

        • ejmeier

          Rule of thumb is one year of drying time per inch of wood thickness. If you want it dried properly in a very short amount of time, you’d more than likely have to pay to have it kiln dried. You might want to look into contacting a local sawmill for rates. If you’re not concerned with end checks and cracks and overall quality than you could do the alcohol route and put it in front of a fan or something — it will be very “rustic” looking.

  • 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?

  • Judy Lantz

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

  • 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?

  • 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!

  • 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?

    • ejmeier

      That sounds strange, I guess it would depend on whether the smell was coming from the wood itself, or from something possibly lodged with the pores of the wood. You could try wiping it down with some denatured or rubbing alcohol as sort of a disinfectant.

    • 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.

  • 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.

  • ejmeier

    To be honest, I think the polyurethane is really working against you at this point. I know of very few woods that smell that bad when fully dried, but a whole lot of them will smell bad when they are still wet and freshly cut.

    It’s my guess that by sealing them with polyurethane, you have essentially sealed in the moisture (thus the stinky part) and greatly slowed the time it will take for the wood to dry out. It’s my guess that the wood odor will eventually subside on its own . . . eventually. Though I would venture to guess that it would be much sooner if you’d left them unfinished.

    What you could try at this point is to leave them in direct sunlight (sitting upright on their rounded bark side so that both the top and bottom surfaces are exposed and dry evenly), though be very cautious because this rapid drying could easily cause them to crack or check, sometimes severely. But I supposed it’s better than having them stink!

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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?

    • ejmeier

      They’re not related at all. Cardamom is a monocot, so that’s just about as far up on the family tree as you can get from magnolia, which is a dicot.

  • 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 not dry wall it’s just a board and the top has a popcorn ceiling. Smell in this house I was there may be 3 minutes and it was too overwhelming I had to leave. She’s had the concrete floors bleached primed and she has courted every Room in the house with kills and repainted she’s had her vents cleaned and she had the pipes move from under the house to through the ceiling . My thought is it is in the actual wood that they used to build the structure do you have any thoughts of wood that were put off this kind of smell or maybe a chemical they would treat the wood with in order to use it for building.

    • 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.

  • 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.