The term ‘timber’ is used to refer to wood in general, which may include a large variety of commercial wood that is grown, processed and imported & exported all over the world. All commercial woods can be categorised into hardwoods and softwoods. However, there are hundreds of species available which makes it difficult to differentiate between hardwoods and softwoods and they can be really difficult to identify unless you’re an expert with a deep understanding of every type of timber. Thankfully, there is an easier process to identify timber with a higher chance of accuracy. Here it is.
Why You May Need to Identify Timber?
As I mentioned, there are hundreds of species of commercial timber being sold and used out there, and it is NOT EASY to identify one from the other. This is because many species of timber look almost alike. Even the ones with different colours, looks & properties can only be told apart by someone who has good knowledge of the various properties of different wood types.
You may need to identify timber when buying wood for your project. Because each timber has its specific properties, you can find the right timber for your project only when you know how to recognise one wood species from the other.
To make it easy for anyone to identify wood types, we are sharing this detailed guide to timber identification.
Timber Identification in 6 Easy Ways
While it’s not easy to identify timber, it’s possible to tell the difference by considering the different properties of wood, such as appearance, colour, grain, hardness, weight, origin, uses, etc. Here you go.
1. Timber Identification by Colour & Appearance
No two pieces of different wood species will ever be exactly alike. In fact, no two lumber species are ever alike. This is a good way to identify timber, but it’s not an easy one.
In order to identify timber by colour, it is important that the wood has not been stained or painted, which will make it nearly impossible to identify by colour. You can identify timber by colour only in its natural/raw state. Based on the colour and hue of the wood that you’re trying to identify, you can come up with the nearest possible guess.
For instance, a light-coloured wood will likely be a softwood (but not always). Then, you can identify a particular softwood based on grain pattern, hardness and other unique properties. Hardwoods are mostly dark-coloured. However, you must know that some woods tend to become darker with age, so if the timber you’re inspecting is very old, the best way to find out its original colour is by sanding a corner of the piece.
2. Timber Identification Based on How Solid It Is
Real wood, i.e. the one obtained from a real tree is often called solid wood, because real lumber is generally stronger and more solid than manufactured wood (also called engineered wood). So, first of all, you need to find out whether it is solid wood or not. It can be determined by considering factors such as its hardness, end grain, growth rings, etc.
The end grain of real, solid timber would be much different from the end grain of manufactured timber, which may not even have an eng grain at all. Freshly sawn surfaces of solid timber will have growth rings visible and clear. If a piece of timber has been veneered, its surface will likely have repeating grain patterns, which is a common way to identify veneer.
Once you are assured that it is indeed solid wood, you can try to determine its hardness based on the Janka hardness test.
3. Timber Identification Based on Hardness
As you can imagine, solid wood is harder and weighs more than manufactured wood. But, not all woods are equally hard or have equal weights, which is how you can tell them apart. We use the factor called Jana rating or Janka to determine the hardness of timber wood. Each species has a Janka rating, which indicates its hardness levels.
The harder the lumber, the more density and weight it will have. Solid hardwoods are generally the hardest, densest and have the highest wood. You can also simply weigh a piece of wood to determine its average dried weight, which is a common way to rate wood. Another way to get an idea of the wood’s hardness, try to cut a corner of it with your fingernail. It’s called the fingernail test. Softwoods are easier to penetrate by the pressure of a fingernail and will easily catch dents.
4. How to Identify Timber Wood by Grain Pattern
Just like fingerprints in humans, the grain pattern in each timber wood is different. If you are an expert and have good experience with different woods, you can possibly identify wood by its grain pattern, at least some popular wood types with distinct grain patterns.
The texture of hardwoods is generally rough or porous with cross grain, but softwoods will almost always have a plain, smooth texture with straight grain. Different woods are cut differently according to their grain pattern; quarter sawn and plain sawn, for example. Grain patterns in some woods are very distinct and easily identifiable. Hard Maple, for instance, has a variety of grain patterns, including pommel, birdseye, quilted, curly, and more.
5. You Can Identify Timber by Its Origin
Finding out the estimated age of a piece of timber and where it came from is another way to identify the wood type. For instance, how you came into possession of a wood item will lead to how and where it was manufactured, which can help you identify its origin and where it was imported or obtained locally. There is a lot of history in old wood pieces and it can be really fun to explore. However, this way of timber identification can be time-consuming. The older the wood, the more difficult it would be to identify, especially if it is no longer commercially available or grown.
6. Some Other Ways to Identify Timber Species
Each timber species has its unique properties, colour, odour, appearance, and uses. If you look and consider carefully, no two wood species are ever the same. Similarly, different lumber have different applications. Hardwoods are more suitable for tough applications and outdoor uses because of their durability. Softwoods are preferred for interior and light-duty applications.
Some woods such as red oak are considered perfect for hardwood flooring, while others including pine, oak, teak, walnut, etc. are preferred for furniture, doors, etc. You can also identify some timber by their unique scent, which can be felt when cutting, sawing or working with it.
If you are still not able to identify the type of lumber or need professional help identifying the right wood for your project, we are just one call away. White Knight Consulting UK is a premier woodworking company, manufacturer, supplier, exporter and timber consulting firm ready to help you with all your woodworking queries and provide you with the best quality, premium, commercial-grade hardwood & softwood timer at the lowest price with doorstep delivery all over the UK.