Resources to learn to identify furniture-quality woods.
May 25, 2008 12:23 AM   Subscribe

My daughter is beginning to learn to build furniture and has a particular interest in learning how to identify exotic and really any furniture-quality woods. She is a visual learner so pictures rather than wordy descriptions work best for her.

She also wants to learn to mix woods in furniture pieces and loves to match wood grains, colors and textures. She already has a facility for this so needs something to help her build on her natural ability. Videos, books, websites would all be welcome.

To give context, she is in her twenties, creative, is ADD, and can totally immerse herself in something that really interests her. She hopes to make an avocation, or if possible a vocation of designing and creating furniture. She has a pretty good woodworking shop in our garage and other than working with a skilled mentor when they can get together (he's out of state), she is teaching herself. She's been at it for about 9 months.
posted by mumstheword to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (9 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Sounds as if The Woodbook might be helpful.
posted by dansdata at 12:43 AM on May 25, 2008

Best answer: Identifying woods that aren't among the handful of domestic species commonly used for cabinetry and architectural millwork can be a tricky business. Even on professional woodworking forums, you can find posts asking for help identifying something that someone needs to match, and there's always a chorus of conflicting guesses. It's often necessary to put a slice of wood under a microscope and examine its cellular structure to be sure.

Maybe you mean that she wants to develop a general familiarity with a lot of different woods, so she can decide what to use in her projects? You might get her a set of veneer samples from some large supplier. She should also have a sharp block plane to bring with her on trips to the lumberyard, so she can clean up a bit of the surface of roughsawn boards and see what they really look like.

For inspiration, she might want to read some of James Krenov's stuff; his work often incorporates combinations of different, unusual woods. The Impractical Cabinetmaker is the book that got me started.
posted by jon1270 at 3:35 AM on May 25, 2008

Best answer: Oh, and a trip to an exotic wood dealer could be a real treat. They're easiest to find near the more affluent east- and west-coast cities, but there are smaller dealers in inland states. There's a great one in Ontario, west of Toronto.
posted by jon1270 at 3:40 AM on May 25, 2008

Best answer: The New Yankee Workshop

Episodes also available on YT
posted by SuperSquirrel at 5:28 AM on May 25, 2008

Best answer: My father is a wood worker, and has a deep familiarity with just such exotic woods. I asked him where he got it, and he said quite emphatically in wood shops. There is pretty much no other way to learn about wood. Pictures don't include how the wood feels and smells, which varies depending on how the wood was cut or treated, and how recently it was cut. Plus, going to wood shops and talking to the people there will give her a circle of colleagues, people who will know her taste and will put aside interesting things that come in, so that she can see or buy them.

As far as learning design, galleries and stores are still better than books because they're three-dimensional. Books are still very valuable for this, though, for obvious reasons. There are spectacular books on wood furniture design, and any large chain or art-focused bookstore will have a decent selection.

Another area for her to consider is re-using wood. I know an artist in England who does this. He takes wood used for one thing and uses it to make bowls, furniture, etc. The most amazing pieces of wood are those that were exposed to something for a long time, like submerged pillars holding up a dock, or floor boards in a kitchen. The wood is affected by its environment and comes out with unique changes that no other wood has. Spectacular stuff, and better environmentally than virgin wood. This will require scouring demolition sites, and making connections with people in that business, or just driving around the country side or the city and looking for old wood that looks abandoned. Plane off the outer layers, and amazing beauty might be revealed inside.
posted by Capri at 7:00 AM on May 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Today's fun magical search term for you: xylothek

(plus some coverage from the blue)
posted by -harlequin- at 8:30 AM on May 25, 2008

Best answer: The Woodbook (on my wish list: illustrated wood!).

The USDA Encyclopedia of Wood (also on my wishlist: the Bible of North American wood!)

What Wood is That? (formerly on my wishlist; now on my coffee table: real pieces of real wood included!)

Second jon1270's advice to learn more about Krenov.

Also George Nakashima.

And Sam Maloof.

David Marks (of DIY's "Wood Works") has lots of stuff (advice, episodes of his show, etc) available online.
posted by notyou at 9:16 AM on May 25, 2008

Best answer: I have The Woodbook and What Wood Is That? and they're both good. But I'd really love to have the Lie-Nielsen Wood Sampler. There are 46 samples, each 6" by 3" by 1/2". Only North American woods are included, so she'll have to augment the set herself later on.
posted by wryly at 11:10 AM on May 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: What diverse and wonderful advice! Thanks...and keep it coming if you have any more thoughts. I wanted to favorite...but I'd have had to highlight the whole page.
posted by mumstheword at 5:56 PM on May 25, 2008

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