Mystery Wood - Trying to identify

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Project by 76winger posted 10-14-2010 05:27 AM 3363 views 0 times favorited 21 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I’ve made two turnings from this wood that was salvaged from a friends, neighbors, firewood pile. He had collected many blocks of similar size from a local central Indiana lumber mill, although I don’t know which one.

Also in the pile were many blocks of red and white Oak. These are lighter in wieght, finer grained, and similar in color to white oak. I first thought poplar, spruce or willow, although I’ve not had my hands on the later two that I know of.

It’s similar in texture to, and a little softer than maple or Cherry. Maybe slightly more open grain than those, but not nearly as much as Oak or even walnut.

The one distinctive aspect of this wood that might help to identify it is its smell when sawing or turning: To me, it reminds me of the smell of a dog coming in out of rain. That wet-dog smell… for lack of a better way to describe it.

I’ve posted picturs of the end grain and two sides, plus some with the unfinished block next to a couple finished turnings from other blocks.

I’d love to be able to put a name to this wood. Does anyone have any ideas what it might be?

-- Dave, See some of my creations at:

21 comments so far

View Joedcatman's profile


172 posts in 4606 days

#1 posted 10-14-2010 06:04 AM

I know this sounds way to obvious but have you considered it might be dogwood? I recall that “wet dog” smell anytime we cut down a dogwood tree for firewood when I was a kid in Colorado. Take a look at the pictures at Great source to find odd wood but it sure takes a lot of time looking through all the pics.

-- JoeR Nothing that I could make will ever be perfect but I'll use it anyway.

View childress's profile


841 posts in 5033 days

#2 posted 10-14-2010 06:40 AM

hard to tell cause i’m browsing with my phone, but the color looks like some madrone i worked with before.

The first thing to do is determine weather it’s a softwood or hardwood. If it has open pores in the end grain then you know it’s not a softwood…although sometimes it’s hard to tell with the naked eye

-- Childress Woodworks

View a1Jim's profile


118333 posts in 5069 days

#3 posted 10-14-2010 07:33 AM

View Speednork's profile


65 posts in 4885 days

#4 posted 10-14-2010 07:37 AM

I am going out on a limb here (sorry about that) and say it might be beech. It looks like it from the pics and I know when I cut my firewood beech has a smell kind of how you described. Do you have any with the bark on it left?

-- In the time it takes some people to plan a project they could have built the project. Work from within not from paper.

View Ken90712's profile


18123 posts in 4680 days

#5 posted 10-14-2010 11:31 AM

I was thinking Beech as well. But I’m still trying to get all the wod types down. I’m thinking though, that might never happen. LOL In this life time. I’m just hoping when I come back it will be a a woodworker :>)

-- Ken, "Everyday above ground is a good day!"

View Patrick May's profile

Patrick May

24 posts in 4301 days

#6 posted 10-14-2010 12:51 PM

I do not think beech, I do not see any of the classic flakes of beech. What about birch?does the smell remind you of the taste of popcicle sticks you chewed on when you were a kid?

View PGreene's profile


114 posts in 4921 days

#7 posted 10-14-2010 12:52 PM

I think it may be cottonwood. Cottonwood does put off a strong odor when milling or turning. It can finish to look like maple with some swirls, but is significantly less dense. Cottonwood also tends to fuzz when turning or milling. If it did that at all I would say you have cottonwood.

-- Patrick

View miles125's profile


2180 posts in 5497 days

#8 posted 10-14-2010 01:19 PM

I vote Beech. The tiny dark lines in the grain are the giveaway.

-- "The way to make a small fortune in woodworking- start with a large one"

View Howie's profile


2656 posts in 4414 days

#9 posted 10-14-2010 01:47 PM

Beech I think
Find out what trees are insidious to your locality(local library)

-- Life is good.

View StevenAntonucci's profile


355 posts in 5430 days

#10 posted 10-14-2010 03:39 PM

I don’t see enough cottonwood here in NJ to say it is or isn’t, but I do recall that it smells real funky from the bits that I have turned. If it wasn’t cottonwood, I would have said basswood as a second guess. I don’t think it’s beech, as I see a lot of beech here, and it usually has a pronounced brown fleck in the grain (although it does have that big check in the end- they say beech starts cracking when you start your chainsaw…)

-- Steven

View taidsturning's profile


233 posts in 4886 days

#11 posted 10-14-2010 04:14 PM

I vote for Dogwood, also. Have turned a couple of small boxes in the past from Dogwood from the yard, and the subtle tight grain looks very similar to your wood. Don’t remember the smell.

-- Bill Roberts -- Steal one idea it's called plagerism. Steal a bunch - it's called research

View JVallario's profile


76 posts in 4642 days

#12 posted 10-14-2010 04:24 PM

I’m with a1Jim and thinking soft maple – it looks just like the stuff I made my last jewerly box from. That was some free scrap a friend gave me. I noticed it was more gummy when sanding – ie it stuck more to the sandpaper than other woods.

-- John

View CaptainAhab's profile


214 posts in 4289 days

#13 posted 10-14-2010 04:50 PM

Most willows and poplars have a “swamp rat” smell. And look similar. I’m guessing Cottonwood or Aspen.

-- Dave

View 76winger's profile


151 posts in 4609 days

#14 posted 10-14-2010 11:35 PM

Thanks for all the thoughts and possibilities everyone, I’m starting to lean towards Cottonwood myself based on the pictures listed here: and all the descriptions everyone’s given. The end-grain picture is almost identical to what I see after sanding the end down through 400 grit to get a good picture for comparison. The big difference on my specimen is some darker capillaries in the rings, but maybe that’s because the blocks set outside for some time before they came into my possession???

I cut Cottonwood for firewood once, and this does have the same color and weight of that past experience, but it was almost 25 years ago when I did that and I don’t recall the smell so I didn’t relate this wood to that experience. The informational mentioned Cottonwood as more or less being a poplar, so your suggestions toward that makes sense as well, my own experience with poplar was with some of a slightly different color so I was thrown off by that as well.

The Chestnut definitely looks much coarser grained that what I’ve got.
Cypress is light enough, but the grain is sharper in definition that this, plus it doesn’t grow in Indiana that I know of.
Maple was one of my early thoughts, but this is slightly more tan in color and softer than the maple I’ve seen.
Some of the pictures of Western Dogwood were close, but my pieces don’t have any evidence of ray flakes like the dogwood shows. The other dogwood samples were darker than what I have.
I also thought about spruce and sycamore but see their grain is much dffierent.

So, unless another good alternative is site, it’s looking like I might have some Cottonwood!

I appreciate everyone’s suggestions.

-- Dave, See some of my creations at:

View CaptainAhab's profile


214 posts in 4289 days

#15 posted 10-14-2010 11:45 PM

Cottonwood – Populus deltoides
Bigtooth Aspen – Populus grandentata
Quaking Aspen – Populus tremuloids

All Poplars but sold under the name Aspen. The wood sold as Poplar is not related, it is the southern Tulip Poplar.

-- Dave

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