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Identifying Wood in the Wild

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Forum topic by ramair02 posted 02-16-2020 07:15 PM 674 views 0 times favorited 11 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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ramair02

41 posts in 536 days


02-16-2020 07:15 PM

Perhaps I’ve been watching too much Woodright’s Shop on PBS and Rex Krueger on YouTube…

This might be a dumb question, but how can I identify wood species in the wild? For instance, if I’m in the woods and find some old fallen tree, is there an easy way to know if it’s worth hewing and turning into something? I live in the Northeast, so there is a lot of Maple, Oak, etc. and I like the idea of giving new life to what would otherwise decompose in the forest.

I’m not sure if I’m asking about identifying Wood species by bark and other exterior qualifiers or rather Identifying the species by end grain…

I’m sure there are good resources, but when I’ve searched on Google, I’ve mostly found articles about identifying Wood in furniture.


11 replies so far

View CaptainKlutz's profile

CaptainKlutz

4674 posts in 2654 days


#1 posted 02-17-2020 01:44 AM

IMHO – Determining tree types in wild requires a combination of skills?

1) Identify standing timber, or ‘Tree Identification’ using location, bark, leaves, twigs, and fruit.
Example reference: https://www.arborday.org/trees/whattree/
Using all the trees parts to determine type is much easier than using fallen log alone. There are many more reference books, and some specialized for local regions.

and

2) ‘Lumber identification’ by examining the grain structure, color, shape, and bark.
my common references are:
https://www.wood-database.com/wood-finder/
http://www.hobbithouseinc.com/personal/woodpics/
The 2nd link is huge collection of images for various species that shows same species can have slightly different look based on geography or growing conditions.

Have been around trees most my life. Scouting taught me standing tree identification. After enough experience, you can see leaves, and bark walking through woods and guess correct 95% of time. Worked wood for over 40 yrs now, including time on sawmill as teenager. Identification of domestic tree logs is pretty easy due limited number of possibilities, although differentiating between oak/elm species can be challenge without a leaf or two.

Urban tree identification is harder as many foreign exotics can be used for landscaping, especially n warmest climates as very few domestic trees thrive in places like AZ/FL/NV. Need even more edumacation to quickly determine ALL the species that might grow in a manicured yard in USA.

For the beginner at identification of trees in forest, a pocket guide like ’What Tree Is That’ from arbor day foundation is a good start. Often down trees have branches nearby, that give the necessary clues to make identification easy. I am not aware of any field guide for downed lumber? A beginner would need to be carrying both an arborist guide and a good wood book?

Best Luck!

-- If it wasn't for bad luck, I wouldn't have no luck at all, Doom, despair, agony on me… - Albert King - Born Under a Bad Sign released 1967

View ramair02's profile

ramair02

41 posts in 536 days


#2 posted 02-17-2020 01:53 AM



IMHO – Determining tree types in wild requires a combination of skills?

1) Identify standing timber, or Tree Identification using location, bark, leaves, twigs, and fruit.
Example reference: https://www.arborday.org/trees/whattree/
Using all the trees parts to determine type is much easier than using fallen log alone. There are many more reference books, and some specialized for local regions.

and

2) Lumber identification by examining the grain structure, color, shape, and bark.
my common references are:
https://www.wood-database.com/wood-finder/
http://www.hobbithouseinc.com/personal/woodpics/
The 2nd link is huge collection of images for various species that shows same species can have slightly different look based on geography or growing conditions.

Have been around trees most my life. Scouting taught me standing tree identification. After enough experience, you can see leaves, and bark walking through woods and guess correct 95% of time. Worked wood for over 40 yrs now, including time on sawmill as teenager. Identification of domestic tree logs is pretty easy due limited number of possibilities, although differentiating between oak/elm species can be challenge without a leaf or two.

Urban tree identification is harder as many foreign exotics can be used for landscaping, especially n warmest climates as very few domestic trees thrive in places like AZ/FL/NV. Need even more edumacation to quickly determine ALL the species that might grow in a manicured yard in USA.

For the beginner at identification of trees in forest, a pocket guide like What Tree Is That from arbor day foundation is a good start. Often down trees have branches nearby, that give the necessary clues to make identification easy. I am not aware of any field guide for downed lumber? A beginner would need to be carrying both an arborist guide and a good wood book?

Best Luck!

- CaptainKlutz

Oh man, this is an excellent reply. Really appreciate all the information. That Arbor Day site with the decision tree is great. I’ll pick up their Field guide as well as the WOOD! book. I wasn’t aware of either of these resources, so thank you for sharing.

Will I also be able to learn about identifying how dry / wet any wood I find may be? Or is there a trick to figuring out if the wood is still green or not, so I can adjust my approach accordingly?

View CaptainKlutz's profile

CaptainKlutz

4674 posts in 2654 days


#3 posted 02-17-2020 02:40 AM


Will I also be able to learn about identifying how dry / wet any wood I find may be? Or is there a trick to figuring out if the wood is still green or not, so I can adjust my approach accordingly?

- ramair02


LOL – Wood moisture.

Just noticed you joined 7 days ago.
Welcome to LJ!
Search the site, read, and you will be amazed at knowledge that already exists. :-)

Moisture level is measured with various types of instruments. Simple is scale, and oven to measure before and after. Complex is one of several types of ‘wood moisture meter’ available commercially. Look them up on LJ and WWW.

Will take a chance and anticipate the next question: Drying lumber?

Drying lumber is huge science. Best reference I know of is one supplied by USDA forestry dept. There are all kinds of WWW references on this topic as well.

As always, YMMV and
Best Luck!

-- If it wasn't for bad luck, I wouldn't have no luck at all, Doom, despair, agony on me… - Albert King - Born Under a Bad Sign released 1967

View HokieKen's profile

HokieKen

18424 posts in 2298 days


#4 posted 02-17-2020 01:05 PM

There is no such thing as “watching too much” of Roy ;-)

Clutz gives good, thorough information as he always does. I’ll just add that I have this app from Virginia Tech on my phone that you can use “on the spot” that works quite well.

-- I collect hobbies. There is no sense in limiting yourself (Don W) - - - - - - - - Kenny in SW VA

View bondogaposis's profile

bondogaposis

6000 posts in 3511 days


#5 posted 02-17-2020 01:32 PM

Start out with a good tree ID book keep it with you when you are out in the woods. Leaves are the easiest way to learn. The difference between oak and beech and maple will be obvious by the leaves, but don’t stop there look at the bark, the overall shape. Soon enough you will begin to ID trees in the winter. You can look on the ground for clues too, most of the trees leaves will fall to the base of that tree, pick one up and that will help narrow down your choices.

-- Bondo Gaposis

View Phil32's profile

Phil32

1496 posts in 1063 days


#6 posted 02-17-2020 08:05 PM

Identifying the tree may be a good start, but you will still need to judge the quality of wood you find in the wild. All wood varies depending of age, moisture content, bug invasion, etc. etc.

-- Phil Allin - There are woodworkers and people who collect woodworking tools. The woodworkers have a chair to sit on that they made.

View Snipes's profile

Snipes

459 posts in 3404 days


#7 posted 02-18-2020 03:19 AM

Bring Danny with you..

-- if it is to be it is up to me

View Woodknack's profile

Woodknack

13564 posts in 3540 days


#8 posted 02-18-2020 05:04 AM

I’ve been using iNaturalist. I tried a different app previously and it wasn’t good but so far this one gets it done.
https://www.inaturalist.org/

-- Rick M, http://thewoodknack.blogspot.com/

View ramair02's profile

ramair02

41 posts in 536 days


#9 posted 02-18-2020 12:29 PM



There is no such thing as “watching too much” of Roy ;-)

Clutz gives good, thorough information as he always does. I ll just add that I have this app from Virginia Tech on my phone that you can use “on the spot” that works quite well.

- HokieKen


I ve been using iNaturalist. I tried a different app previously and it wasn t good but so far this one gets it done.
https://www.inaturalist.org/

- Woodknack

Installed both apps! Looks very useful. Thanks.

View ramair02's profile

ramair02

41 posts in 536 days


#10 posted 02-18-2020 12:33 PM


Will I also be able to learn about identifying how dry / wet any wood I find may be? Or is there a trick to figuring out if the wood is still green or not, so I can adjust my approach accordingly?

- ramair02

LOL – Wood moisture.

Just noticed you joined 7 days ago.
Welcome to LJ!
Search the site, read, and you will be amazed at knowledge that already exists. :-)

Moisture level is measured with various types of instruments. Simple is scale, and oven to measure before and after. Complex is one of several types of wood moisture meter available commercially. Look them up on LJ and WWW.

Will take a chance and anticipate the next question: Drying lumber?

Drying lumber is huge science. Best reference I know of is one supplied by USDA forestry dept. There are all kinds of WWW references on this topic as well.

As always, YMMV and
Best Luck!

- CaptainKlutz

Thanks for the welcome. Yes, I’m new here and fairly new to woodworking, but learning as much as I can!

I’ll search about wood moisture and drying. Thanks again.

View Phil32's profile

Phil32

1496 posts in 1063 days


#11 posted 02-20-2020 05:13 PM

Fallen logs on private land are not free for the taking. Even public lands like national forests have rules on gathering wood. In general, it is not legal to cut down trees without a permit. Check with the local authorities.

-- Phil Allin - There are woodworkers and people who collect woodworking tools. The woodworkers have a chair to sit on that they made.

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