Can you help me identify this wood?

kerrygwFebruary 23, 2009

I'm trying to ID the wood used in the trim for my early 1900s house. Here's a piece I'm trying to work with...

(It's on our workbench, so it runs a bit into that on the right side of the picture.) Any insights would be appreciated - trying to figure how to deal with it and what might match with it would be easier if I knew what it was! Thanks!

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sierraeast

Red oak.

    Bookmark   February 23, 2009 at 8:16PM
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justnigel

Looks like oak. For what it's worth, the pores (picture a bundle of drinking straws) of red oak are open (ie, let air through), and white oak are closed. If you want any easy test, suck on the end of the board... you'll get air through red oak.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2009 at 7:05AM
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sombreuil_mongrel

I would say ash (stained) or chestnut. If you show a pic of fresh cut end grain in close-up, we will know for sure.
You can sometimes only distinguish oak from ash through what the end grain reveals. Ash does not have the "ray" structure of oak, which can be positively seen in end grain.
Ash will be white when freshly cut. Chestnut will be the color that it is in your photo.
So, to sum up, if it has rays, it's oak; if it lacks rays, it's either ash or chestnut. If it's white, it's ash.
Casey

    Bookmark   February 24, 2009 at 11:15AM
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kerrygw

So, I don't know if these pics will help - but here's trying:

Pic1:

Pic2:

It definitely doesn't look white to me-tan or very light brown sure, but not white. Thoughts?

Thanks so much!

    Bookmark   February 24, 2009 at 2:07PM
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sombreuil_mongrel

No rays there, as I thought. Too dark for ash, which leaves... Chestnut.
Casey

    Bookmark   February 24, 2009 at 3:17PM
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kerrygw

Thanks. Is chestnut lighter in weight than oak? I was surprised when I picked the piece up how light it felt - I would have thought it was heavier.

Are there any stripping methods we should be avoiding while cleaning up all of this woodwork? I just don't want to damage the wood.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2009 at 4:13PM
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lindac

Looks like oak to me!!
But chesnut looks a lot like oak....it rather depends on where in the country you live. The chesnut blight took a lot of trees during that era and in some places chesnut was a major building wood....other areas not so much so.
Linda C

    Bookmark   February 24, 2009 at 8:00PM
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Jon1270

Yes, chestnut would be at least 30% lighter than oak.

FWIW, all wood has rays, it's just a question of whether they're big enough to be obvious.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2009 at 8:03PM
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kerrygw

I'm in the NYC area - would chestnut be likely around here? From what I've read it sounds like this area was the origin of the blight, but I haven't read a lot on how prevalent the wood was around here. Linda C - does the end grain look like oak to you? Will oak and chestnut both strip and stain about the same way? I'd love to know for sure what it is, but I guess if I need to handle it the same way then it really only matters for my own curiosity/knowledge. Thanks!

    Bookmark   February 25, 2009 at 7:30AM
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Jon1270

The only difference you'll see with stripping methods relates to the density of the wood. If it's lighter then it's softer, and will be easier to gouge or abrade with whatever tools you use. Just handle it carefully - look closely at the results of your first attempts, and you'll quickly get a feel for what you can and can't get away with.

It's hard to tell for sure, since neither your saw blade nor the picture is very sharp, but that doesn't look like oak to me.

    Bookmark   February 25, 2009 at 8:28AM
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sombreuil_mongrel

Chestnut grew in every temperate forest type area in the US until 1938 when they were wiped out by the blight. They were among the most valuable of trees, for beauty, timber and food.
Casey

    Bookmark   February 25, 2009 at 10:12AM
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kerrygw

Well, I guess unless I find out (for sure from someone local to me) differently I will assume the trim is chestnut and treat it accordingly. I'm testing out some different ways of stripping it down and am hopeful that we'll be able to get good results. Thanks so much for all your help!

    Bookmark   February 25, 2009 at 9:45PM
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diytrying

My in-laws in northern New Jersey have an older house and it has beautiful wide chestnut trim.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2009 at 11:51AM
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kerrygw

Hopefully this one will clean up nicely as well! One more question - for the rooms that don't have the chestnut trim (there was an addition done in the 50s, plus the area we are adding on now) - I am assuming oak would be the closest match? Red oak or white, or does it not really matter if it's being stained? I'll check into pricing reclaimed chestnut, but what I've seen would probably blow the budget clear out of the water.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2009 at 1:28PM
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sombreuil_mongrel

Ash, stained, could be a better match than oak. IMO.
Casey

    Bookmark   February 27, 2009 at 2:27PM
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Jon1270

Absolutely, ash would be the better choice. Cheap, too.

    Bookmark   February 28, 2009 at 6:22AM
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glennsfc

Definitely Chestnut. Most older hjomes on Staten Island had beautiful Chestnut trim. I occasionally see it in my work travels.

I've faked Chestnut with white oak to replicate missing trim when I couldn't find a quantity of Chestnut (tip: you have to be real careful to select boards of the right graining and color).

You can still get Chestnut. Try Ebay...also there is a Chestnut supplier in Jersey somewhere.

    Bookmark   February 28, 2009 at 7:03PM
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kerrygw

Thanks everyone - sounds like it's time to start just playing around with boards and stains - I appreciate the help!

    Bookmark   March 1, 2009 at 4:41PM
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kerrygw

If anyone is still following this... silly newbie question for you. A friend in the same neighborhood with a similarly aged house was told (by whom, I'm not sure) that her trim (which when stained looks similar to mine) was douglas fir. How can I tell the difference between douglas fir and chestnut? I looked online at different examples, but to someone who doesn't really have a clue (that would be me), a lot of the examples look similar and don't have a lot of explanation. Help is appreciated!

    Bookmark   March 7, 2009 at 1:02PM
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sombreuil_mongrel

See how the grain areas of your chestnut have little pores in them? Well, softwoods, fir included, do not have these pores.
Casey

    Bookmark   March 7, 2009 at 4:28PM
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Jon1270

Identifying wood can be tricky, so don't feel bad. We can usually make decent guesses, because only a handful of the hundreds of species of domestic trees are commonly used for lumber, but some woods can be almost impossible to ID without a microscope. In any case, low-res online pictures are not very useful for such comparisons. If you put doug. fir next to chestnut, the difference would be immediately obvious.

What we know for sure is that you've got a ring-porous hardwood, with fairly large pores and no visible rays. That really cuts down the possibilities.

Might also be worth mentioning that the trim piece you photographed is flatsawn, which means that the surface of the board is tangential to the annual rings of the tree. A quartersawn (face of the board perpendicular to the rings) slice of the very same tree would look dramatically different. Also, the environment where the trees grow has an impact; if the tree grows slowly in a mature forest then the annual rings are thinner and the graphic pattens on the boards can be busier. If the tree grows quickly in a young, recently logged area then annual rings are fatter and the patterns on the board are simplified. Species isn't everything, so don't beat yourself up trying to find a perfect match.

    Bookmark   March 7, 2009 at 4:53PM
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kerrygw

Thank you both very much - great info, and I'm feeling a little less clueless!! (We'll see how long that lasts...) :)

    Bookmark   March 7, 2009 at 8:57PM
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tom_nwnj

Loads of good comments on this post. Some references here to houses in northern NJ.

That lumber could be oak, and I have little experience with chestnut, but it could be that, chestnut.

Years ago, I lived in NE NJ. The town of Ridgewood has a collection of "Peterson-built" houses, located in a few of the most desirable locations. When I was a teen, a friend of mine lived in a "Peterson" house. All the trim was said to be chestnut. All 1920's stuff, and all very upscale.

Your sample pic looks like the trim in his house.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2009 at 7:11PM
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lily1960

Red Oak

    Bookmark   June 29, 2009 at 3:24PM
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big_deck

Found this for you at DIY:

"The best site IÂve found for quickly identifying wood types is unexpectedly found at www.antiqueclockspriceguide.com. They have two different pages for picking out your wood type based on description and appearance. They have common wood types and exotic wood types. They donÂt have every kind of wood (that would probably be next to impossible to categorize), but they have everything youÂll ever need to identify the wood types of older pieces of furniture."

    Bookmark   July 21, 2009 at 9:27AM
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