The Ultimate Guide to Identifying Wood Types in Furniture

Common Hardwoods Used in Furniture

Oak

Identifying Wood Types in Furniture Oak

Oak is the most widely used hardwood. The 2 most common subgenera are Red Oak and White Oak. Both have very large pored, coarse textures. 

Oak is ring-porous wood, meaning its end grain will have numerous large pores and small pores in separate groups together.

Oak is extremely hard and strong wood. It was used a lot in cabinets and flooring, although it does tend to yellow over time. 

White Oak is more scratch, stain, and dust resistant than Red Oak. Red Oak will stain if it comes into contact with water.

How to Identify Oak in Furniture

You can usually determine a wood piece as oak by running your hand across the piece. If it’s completely smooth, chances are it’s not Oak.

Oak is a very rough, porous wood. If you have sanded your wood piece down to the fresh wood grain, you should feel that texture if the wood is oak.

It will also have an interesting grain pattern. Red Oak with its swirling wavy grain, and White Oak depending on its cut, yellow rays or flecks, or even a tiger stripe grain.

More often than not, you will see small dark horizontal lines throughout the piece also known as rays. White oak’s rays are usually at least an inch long, while red oak’s rays are shorter, usually around 1/2″ long.

Quarter Sawn Oak

Quarter Sawn Oak deserves its own section as it is a very controversial subject. Many people think that this oak also known as “tiger oak” is an altogether different species of oak. But in fact, it is actually White Oak that has been Quarter Sawn. (which I discussed at the beginning of this article).

When Oak is cut Quarter Sawn it creates a certain pattern, unlike any other wood type.

They basically cut across the growth rings at 90 degrees, producing interesting specks or rays that resemble cat eyes. It is a very sought-after wood for furniture making and is definitely very valuable if you own a piece in tiger oak.

Quarter Sawn Oak Wood Identification
Example of some Quarter Sawn Oak Wood for sale by Rockler Woodworking

Maple

Identifying Wood Types in Furniture Maple

Maple is my all-time favorite wood. I’ve worked on multiple pieces made completely of maple, and it’s definitely tricky to work with. Its creamy light brown coloring has a reddish cast to it. It does accept stain, so you will sometimes find dark maples, but you can usually spot the wavy, curly grain with amazing swirling patterns. 

Some people don’t like the way Maple looks when stained, as it’s crazy, swirling, grain sometimes makes it look like you gave it a bad stain job. But if you look closely, it’s quite beautiful.

Identifying Wood Types in Furniture Maple Seat

Layered Stain on this maple seat. The grain swirls create a gorgeous look. The Child’s Rocking Chair pictured was made completely of Maple and is still available in my shop. EDIT: SOLD OUT.

How To Identify Maple in Furniture

Occasionally, you will find a piece of birch furniture stained to resemble Maple. Be sure to sand down your piece to bare wood to see its natural coloring. Birch is much lighter, and does not have the reddish cast Maple will always have.

Most Maple pieces will have a tight, straight grain to them. This is another type that I can usually determine by running my hand down a piece.

Maple has a very distinct feel to it, in my opinion. Its pores are tiny, and it’s incredibly smooth to the touch.

This is because Maple is a diffuse-porous wood. All of its pores are smaller and grouped tightly together creating a smoother surface.

It will also be on the softer side for hardwood. It is more durable than Pine but softer than Oak. Although on the softer side, it’s still a very tough wood to sand.

Mahogany

Identifying Wood Types in Furniture Mahogany

Mahogany is a tropical hardwood, that is very popular in more exotic furniture. It has a distinctive swirly grain that sometimes resembles ripples or ribbons. It has a very smooth texture with uniform pores that are very resistant to moisture, making Mahogany great outdoor furniture wood. The grain can also be found interlocked making for incredibly strong wood.

How to Identify Mahogany in Furniture

Mahogany’s main color is mostly reddish-brown, with some lighter colors also common. Although its accent colors can range from pink, white, peach, grey, and brown – making for exotic, unique-looking patterns.

When looking closely at your wood piece, look for a pinkish background color with dark lines throughout whatever color they may be. 

Mahogany is also a diffuse-porous wood, with pores close together. But Mahogany’s pores are much larger than other diffuse-porous woods like Maple. So the texture will be on the rougher side.

Weight-wise, it is a lighter wood. It has the strength of Oak but weighs nowhere near as much.

Cherry

Identifying Wood Types in Furniture Cherry

Cherry is one of the most prized hardwoods for furniture makers in America. It has a very smooth grain and coloring that begins as a light pinkish color and then darkens over time to a dark reddish hue. It’s a photosensitive wood, meaning it darkens over time with exposure to light. The true color of cherry can range greatly from tree to tree, even sometimes from board to board on the same tree.

How To Identify Cherry in Furniture

One characteristic of cherry wood that is different from most others, is the “gum pockets” or “pitch pockets” that show up as black flecks in the wood. These are naturally occurring mineral deposits that form in the empty pockets, where sap used to be found. They are random but add character to cherry wood pieces. 

Many pieces made to look like cherry wood, are uniform in color, with no black specks and no grain.

True cherry wood will have a simple, close grain, but a noticeable one as well. You’ll never find a “uniform” piece of cherry, so beware of fakes.

Walnut

Identifying Wood Types in Furniture Walnut

Walnut is a strong, yet lightweight wood. It has a gorgeous chocolate brown coloring, with a usual straight grain. It’s also known for its burl wood pieces, with distinctive figured grain and dark streaks. Wood closer to the roots has more of a wavy grain than the straight-grained trunk.

How to Identify Walnut in Furniture

It’s tough to judge walnut on its grain pattern as it really can be all over the place. Normally it has a straight fine grain, but furniture makers love to seek out the super figured, patterned burls and knotted walnut pieces. 

You can most likely identify it best by the chocolate brown coloring. All-natural walnut can range from a dark tan to chocolate brown, sometimes with streaks of green or purple in spots.

Similar to pine, Walnut’s growth rings and knots have a pretty distinct contrast from its heartwood and sapwood.

The contrast isn’t quite as strong as in Pine, but it’s definitely something that stands out when trying to identify Walnut.

Poplar

Identifying Wood Types in Furniture Poplar

For the longest time, I thought Poplar belonged in the softwood category, but it is in fact a hardwood. It is the softest of hardwoods, as well as one of the most inexpensive. It seems to be kept in the category with Pine; used on less expensive furniture, or under veneer pieces.

 It may not be as rugged as other hardwoods, but I’m a big fan of Poplar! I’ve restored multiple veneer pieces by removing the veneer and staining the gorgeous Poplar underneath.

Removing Wood Veneer

I discovered the top, and drawer fronts of this gorgeous sideboard were Poplar after stripping its veneer. You will want to be careful if you plan to attempt removing the veneer from Poplar. It is extremely soft and easy to dent and scratch.

Make sure you loosen the veneer as well as you can before you attempt pulling it from the wood beneath. If you fail to do this you will end up pulling up chunks of poplar with the veneer and glue. Trust me, I’ve done it.

But, I figured out the best way to remove wood veneer to help with that problem. If you’re interested in never regretting your choice to work on a veneer piece again, give it a read. (Plus there are a few more examples of Poplar for you to compare your piece to.)

How To Identify Poplar in Furniture

Poplar has a light cream to yellowish-brown heartwood, but green, grey, and even purple streaks are quite common when looking at a piece. That’s usually the safest bet when identifying poplar, but it’s not definite that you’ll see those colors in your particular piece.

Another easy way to determine if your piece is poplar is by feeling the wooly grain.

It actually has a wooly type grain that you will notice either by running your hand over the piece or, some people say they can even notice the somewhat hazy look of the wood from the wool. 

This can also affect your outcome while staining your piece, so be sure to use finer sandpaper to finish and remove the wooliness.

Rubberwood

Identifying Wood Types in Furniture Rubberwood

I decided to add Rubberwood to this list recently due to the number of Rubberwood furniture pieces I’ve seen lately. It’s definitely more commonly found in furniture made after the 1980s.

Rubberwood is usually found in Asian imported furniture carried by big-box retailers and home furnishing stores like IKEA. Yes, it’s cheaper, but I personally think it’s a nice wood for refinishing.

Rubberwood furniture sold by home furnishing retailers is most often either painted or stained to resemble other wood types. The unfinished, natural wood color is usually a light tan to pale peach color. It almost resembles a soft
maple, but with much larger pores and coarser grain.

How To Identify Rubberwood in Furniture

There is usually one very distinguishing feature of Rubberwood furniture. Tabletops, benches, or other larger surfaces are usually not made of a single, solid piece of wood.

For numerous reasons, Rubberwood surfaces tend to be multiple smaller pieces of Rubberwood finger-jointed or butt-jointed together. (See Below Image)

Rubberwood Coffee Table Amazon

Basically, each piece has notches carved out and then they are glued together like a puzzle. The exact reason for this is unknown, but it’s most likely due to the size of the Rubberwood trees, as well as the stability of the end product.

This isn’t very common with other wood types, at least in furniture construction. So if your piece looks something like the above swing coffee table from Amazon — no matter the color– it’s most likely Rubberwood.

As for finishing Rubberwood, one tip I can give you is to make sure you double-check and resand the joints of these larger surfaces before staining. As these joints are glued together at the factory, extra glue may still be on the wood in those spots that you won’t see until it’s too late.

If there is leftover glue residue on the wood, those areas will not absorb wood stain, and you’ll end up with a bunch of uneven areas on your piece.


Free Printable Wood Type Identification Cheat Sheet

Want a more visual explanation of each of the 12 wood types I mentioned? Download a free cheat sheet with images and a brief summary of each type so you can make your comparisons.

Click to get your free download or head to my DIY Resources page for that, and much more!


And there we have it! PHEW! If after reading you STILL have no clue what type of wood your piece is, definitely check out my new eBook, “Grain.”

I go more in-depth into each of these wood types plus 27 other wood types commonly found in furniture! 27!

PLUS finishing tips and specific help on each and every one of the 39 total wood types included.

Sign-up to receive your free cheat sheet and keep an eye on your inbox for a chance at a FREE SNEAK PEEK of my newest eBook below.

.

Grain – Investigating Your Furniture’s Wood Identity Interactive eBook

I’m very excited about my newest resource Grain, which will truly help you identify your own personal wood furniture piece step-by-step using image comparisons of the piece’s color, grain, texture, figure, weight, and more!

Available Now

Grain Investigating Your Furniture Wood Identity
The Only Resource You’ll Ever Need For Identifying Your Furniture’s Wood Type
Identifying Furniture Wood Types Pin
Pin it!

Thanks much for reading!

Until Next Time,

KRay

Pages: 1 2 3

18 replies on “The Ultimate Guide to Identifying Wood Types in Furniture

  • Zachary Tomlinson

    I never knew that different wood species can transform the appearance of a furniture piece. My aunt asked me for tips on how to do her home appeal upgrade and I want to help her out. Perhaps investing in new furniture can help her achieve this in the future.

    Reply
  • Jan Putnam

    I enjoyed your article. But I am still struggling to identify the wood used in a bedroom dresser made by John Widdicomb company in Grand Rapids, MI in the early 60’s. I would like to send you photos in hopes you can identify.

    Reply
  • Agata

    Good article. I have a mission to identify wood my stairs are made of. House was build in circa 1980, terraced so it couldn’t be expensive. It is very reddish especially when oiled, but got lighter parts too. It doesn’t have any knots and it is very uniform.

    Reply
  • Anne Ditch

    i am trying to identify a wood that is part of a frame I am working on. The wood, has tiny flecks in it all over. The flecks look more like part of the wood species than worm/insect holes. These are not holes.

    Reply
  • Stephany

    Hi there, i read your blog from time to time and
    i own a similar one and i was just curious if you get a lot
    of spam responses? If so how do you reduce it,
    any plugin or anything you can suggest? I get so much lately it’s driving me crazy so any help is very
    much appreciated.

    Reply
  • Janet

    Hi,
    I have received some wood to craft
    I believe it’s door & window frame.
    I have cut and sanded and the grain has a most beautiful sheen as if it has gold/copper in it…
    I would be most interested if you could identify it .
    Thank you 🌳

    Reply
  • Alice Carroll

    I really like how walnut has a straight fine grain that can give it a very distinct look. I might opt for that kind of material for the custom wood railings of my deck. That would surely give a very earthy vibe to the exterior of my house when working with such colors.

    Reply
  • KIMBERLY B

    Thanks for article. Unfortunately, I’m still struggling to figure out the wood we have on our stair railings. We decided that refinishing our stairs would be a great DIY project. We pulled up all the carpet, pulled out hundreds of nails and staples and spackled the nail holes on the white risers. Then we started to sand the oak stairs (60 yr old home) and railing. That’s when we started having problems. The curved sections of the spindles and newel post wasn’t easily sanded, even with many tries at it. Therefore, we did a little research and decided on a chemical stripper – only on the curved sections. The first stripper didn’t seem to have much impact so we tried a second stripper. That’s when we really ran into trouble. We followed the directions but this stripper actually permanently stained the wood where we applied it. We cleaned it, we even tried using bleach on one spindle to see if it would correct the darkened section. We’ve waited over 3 wks to see if it would lighten with time. No luck. We’ve now decided our best option is to just paint the spindles white. However, we don’t want our newel post white so we have to replace it. Here is where I’m hoping someone can help. We’re fairly sure that the railings, newel post and spindles are a different type of wood than the oak floor. We’re not planning to replace the railings – just the newel post – so we need to figure out what type of wood this is. Even with the great article above, we’re still not sure. I have photos of the railing. Is there a way for me to post the pics and get input on the type of wood that was used for the railing so we can match the wood for our newel post?
    Any help would be greatly appreciated.

    Reply
    • KRay

      My goodness, that sounds like a serious pain in the butt! So sorry my article wasn’t enough to help! I don’t think you can comment with an image on my page unfortunately. If you have it uploaded somewhere with a URL you can send me, I’d love to take a look. Or feel free to email me at kray@kraycustomrefinish.com. Look forward to hearing from you!

      Reply
Average
5 Based On 13

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

15 − 3 =