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Author Topic: Identify wood from the end grain of a board/log  (Read 57320 times)

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Offline SwampDonkey

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Identify wood from the end grain of a board/log
« on: October 30, 2006, 12:34:52 pm »
I was participating in another thread on the forum to id a piece of wood and instead of letting the information get burried, I decided to make a new thread in here to help folks id some sawn lumber or logs by looking at end grain.

Tools of the trade:

A 10 x hand lense




A sharp utility knife or carving knife.




Take your utility knife and cut a fresh surface on the end of a board. With dense, harder wood, some fine sanding paper may help clean up the surface. Use some water or saliva on the fresh cut surface to make the grain stand out.

Getting down to it


Hard maple end grain(sugar maple and black maple): Growth rings are distinct. Pores are indistinct without a hand lens, uniform in size and evenly distributed throughout the growth ring. Broader rays visible to naked eye, as wide as the largest pores, separated by several narrow (intermediary) rays, narrower rays are barely visible with hand lens.




Yellow birch end grain: Often growth rings won't be seen without hand lens. Pores appear as white dots to naked eye, largest pore wider than large ray, uniform in size. Rays are not distinct with naked eye.



Black cherry: Rays distinct with naked eye. Pores not visible without magnification.




White Ash: Earlywood pores are large, distinct to naked eye, forming band of 2-4 pores. Latewood pores small with parenchyma forming narrow sheath around the pores. Rays are barely visible to naked eye.



A better image:




Butternut: Earlywood pores visible to naked eye, fairly uniform but decreasing in size on the outer margin of the ring, diffuse to semi-diffuse porous. Rays indistinct without hand lens, uniform width.




Just to skirt some cornfusion  ;) , my use of 'vessel' <> pore. You'll also notice that on diffuse porous wood, such as maple, the early wood is wider than the latewood. On ring porous wood the darker ring is early wood because of the larger pores making it appear darker, but it is less dense.

Also, the pores go out radially between the wood rays. In other words, a ray doesn't cut through a pore. If it looks that way, like on butternut, or white oak, that is tylosis and nothing to do with a ray.

Pre-commercial thinning pays off. :)

'If she wants to play lumberjack, she's going to have to learn to handle her end of the log.'
Dirty Harry

Offline Tom

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Re: Identify wood from the end grain of a board/log
« Reply #1 on: October 30, 2006, 03:34:32 pm »
.............or a 5 inch astronomy telescope at 150 feet.  :D
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Offline Jeff

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Re: Identify wood from the end grain of a board/log
« Reply #2 on: October 30, 2006, 03:44:03 pm »
Swamp do you have a red maple or "soft" maple sample available for comparison?
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Offline SwampDonkey

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Re: Identify wood from the end grain of a board/log
« Reply #3 on: October 30, 2006, 05:18:05 pm »
Jeff, I might be able to find a sacrificial piece of red maple. Maybe a piece over at the marketing board wood yard. It's not that it's hard to get my hands on, it's that I never cut it and I'de have to kill a crop tree. ;D

Pre-commercial thinning pays off. :)

'If she wants to play lumberjack, she's going to have to learn to handle her end of the log.'
Dirty Harry

Offline SwampDonkey

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Re: Identify wood from the end grain of a board/log
« Reply #4 on: October 31, 2006, 09:56:03 am »
OK, found this red maple that the road crew turned up on the edge of my woodlot.

Red maple (soft maple) end grain: Growth rings not very distinct. Pores indistinct without a hand lens, evenly distributed in growth ring, often present in multiples of 2 to several. Rays visible to naked eye, broadest as wide as largest pore.

end grain

split surface with characteristic ray fleck of maples.


Aspen end grain: Growth rings distinct because of darker latewood, but not conspicuous, wide. Pores are numerous, small, but indistinct without hand lens (even then it's a challenge), more crowded in earlywood, decreasing gradually in size in latewood, semi-ring to diffuse-porous. Rays are very fine and hardly visible even with a hand lens.



Rays are very faint at this magnification (~ 7x)

Pre-commercial thinning pays off. :)

'If she wants to play lumberjack, she's going to have to learn to handle her end of the log.'
Dirty Harry

Offline WDH

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Re: Identify wood from the end grain of a board/log
« Reply #5 on: November 01, 2006, 01:07:04 pm »
Isn't it true that hard maple typically has two types of rays?  One type is wider and easy to see by eye.  The other is very narrow and may not be visible without a hand-lens?  Soft maple, on the other hand, has rays of more uniform width without there being two very distinctly diiferent ray widths?  I was just wondering how hard-and-fast a rule is this?
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Offline SwampDonkey

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Re: Identify wood from the end grain of a board/log
« Reply #6 on: November 01, 2006, 05:13:05 pm »
WDH, from what I've studied and researched on it, your bang on. I think I've described that hard maple have those smaller 'intermediary rays' that are hard to see.

cheers.  :)

Pre-commercial thinning pays off. :)

'If she wants to play lumberjack, she's going to have to learn to handle her end of the log.'
Dirty Harry

Offline WDH

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Re: Identify wood from the end grain of a board/log
« Reply #7 on: November 01, 2006, 06:50:49 pm »
I love identifying wood.  Decades ago when I was in Forestry School, I competed in the Forestry Conclave in the Wood ID competition.  My daughter is now attending Forestry School (shows how old I am!) and recently competed in the Wood ID competition.  It brought back a lot of old memories as I helped her prepare samples and study for the competition.  I really appreciate all the photos and wood ID tips that you are posting.  A person has to keep learning.  Thank you!
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Offline Phorester

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Re: Identify wood from the end grain of a board/log
« Reply #8 on: November 05, 2006, 10:16:23 am »
A good point on identifying sawn wood, SWAMPDONKEY.  Looking at the end grain is the surest way to id boards.  I have been frustrated on this Board (no insults intended on anybody!!) and other Boards, and in 'real life' when somebody wants a species id of a board without a good clear picture or sample of the end grain.   Most times it just can't be done without this.

A good thread, glad you brought this up. 
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Offline mdvaden

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Re: Identify wood from the end grain of a board/log
« Reply #9 on: November 16, 2006, 10:00:20 pm »
Can you ID the wood fairly easy with a chainsaw cut end? Or does the wood grain end need to be sanded or smoothed with a knife blade?

Offline Phorester

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Re: Identify wood from the end grain of a board/log
« Reply #10 on: November 16, 2006, 10:29:42 pm »

Knife blade.  You have to have a clean, sharply cut cross section of the growth rings.  You only need a few rings, so you can just cut into the edge of the wood piece.  Sanding might fill the pores with sawdust and obscure identifying details. 

Wetting the cut edge might bring out the growth rings more. Spit or water.
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Re: Identify wood from the end grain of a board/log
« Reply #11 on: November 22, 2006, 08:44:02 pm »
Hoadley covered this, and I always wondered where, if one existed, I could get a fairly exhaustive thumbnail reference book for North American woods? He referenced quite a few himslef but of course there are dozens and dozens that are here even in my little ol neck of the woods. Anyone know of such a reference?
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Re: Identify wood from the end grain of a board/log
« Reply #12 on: November 22, 2006, 11:30:33 pm »
Is there a certain area of cross-grain needed to make the ID, typically?

Would a 2" x 2" piece suffice for most species, or can someone use the end of a 1" board and find enough?

Offline SwampDonkey

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Re: Identify wood from the end grain of a board/log
« Reply #13 on: November 23, 2006, 05:46:19 am »
Hoadley covered this, and I always wondered where, if one existed, I could get a fairly exhaustive thumbnail reference book for North American woods? He referenced quite a few himslef but of course there are dozens and dozens that are here even in my little ol neck of the woods. Anyone know of such a reference?

Textbook of Wood Technology

Try to find the 4th Edition, 1980 publication. If you live near a University that teaches forestry, you may be able to pick one up at their bookstore. I'm sure there would be a copy in their forestry/science library. The pictures are black and white.

Pre-commercial thinning pays off. :)

'If she wants to play lumberjack, she's going to have to learn to handle her end of the log.'
Dirty Harry

Offline SwampDonkey

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Re: Identify wood from the end grain of a board/log
« Reply #14 on: November 23, 2006, 05:51:22 am »
Is there a certain area of cross-grain needed to make the ID, typically?

Would a 2" x 2" piece suffice for most species, or can someone use the end of a 1" board and find enough?

Any sized piece would do, but it's good to get a piece showing 4 or more growth rings to see the general transition between early and late wood.

Pre-commercial thinning pays off. :)

'If she wants to play lumberjack, she's going to have to learn to handle her end of the log.'
Dirty Harry

Offline Gary_C

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Re: Identify wood from the end grain of a board/log
« Reply #15 on: December 10, 2006, 12:03:37 am »
I have one of those 10X magnifiers, but I can never seem to get it in focus from the seat in the forwarder when I have to separate the red and sugar maple from the ash, red oak, basswood and aspen. What I see does not look at all like your pictures. And especially not when it starts to turn a little dark from the laying in the sun.  ;D

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Offline SwampDonkey

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Re: Identify wood from the end grain of a board/log
« Reply #16 on: December 10, 2006, 06:45:28 am »
If your cutting pulp it really doesn't matter except some mills want popple and birch separated and that's not hard to tell from the bark. If it's sawlogs and veneer, then someone eventually will be leaving the seat with scale stick and peavy in hand. ;)  ;D Only then will the hand lens be handy. ;)

Pre-commercial thinning pays off. :)

'If she wants to play lumberjack, she's going to have to learn to handle her end of the log.'
Dirty Harry

Offline Raphael

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Re: Identify wood from the end grain of a board/log
« Reply #17 on: December 17, 2006, 12:59:44 pm »
I don't think you'll need a 10x lens and knife to ID these rays.



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Offline SwampDonkey

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Re: Identify wood from the end grain of a board/log
« Reply #18 on: December 17, 2006, 01:55:53 pm »
Nope  :D ;D

Pre-commercial thinning pays off. :)

'If she wants to play lumberjack, she's going to have to learn to handle her end of the log.'
Dirty Harry

Offline WDH

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Re: Identify wood from the end grain of a board/log
« Reply #19 on: December 17, 2006, 11:38:25 pm »
Looks like white oak.
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