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Identifying hardwood floors: best methods

by Roy Akirov
May, 2020

Identifying hardwood floors is often as easy as simply looking at the finish of the materials. Species like pine, oak and fir are easily recognizable by their hardwood floor grains. To identify wood by grain, you first need to know the differences between each species. For example:

Before you begin your wood identification journey, it’s important to confirm your floor is real wood. Some man-made composites or plastics are made to imitate wood. These can be very convincing if you don’t know what to look out for.

If you can see the end-grain of the wood, it is unlikely that your floor is a composite. Growth rings are another giveaway that your floor is natural wood. However, some composite floors feature veneers which give the appearance of real wood. This is when a thin veneer is shaved from wood and glued to a man-made material. Look out for large repeating patterns in the wood. If there are reoccurring patterns, your floor may be a veneer.

Who am I? Identify wood by grain
How to tell the difference?

Observing wood grain

Common hardwoods have an open pore structure. This means the grains are easily visible. In some cases, it can be easy identifying hardwood floors by the characteristics of the grain. Close curly grains are common in woods like maple. However, woods like cherry and birch feature less pronounced grains with larger spacing between curls.

How to tell the difference between similar woods

Some wood types are instantly recognizable and easy to identify. Others share properties with similar woods. This can make it difficult to identify hardwood floor finish with ease. You might even be tricked by a glaze or stain added to the wood. Manufacturers sometimes do this to make softwoods or cheap woods resemble more expensive ones.

Identification tips

If you’re wondering “what wood is my floor?” you may need to scrape some of the finish off. This will allow you to identify it more accurately. If you’re wondering how to tell the difference between hardwoods and softwoods you should push your fingernail into the finish. On a softwood like pine, this will leave a dent. In a hardwood, the finish will remain unmarked. This will help if you’re wondering “how to tell what kind of wood floors I have?”

Species like maple and birch can look very similar when finished with a dark paint or stain. It’s important to correctly strip the stain to be able to make a positive identification. Don’t be afraid to remove too much stain, as you can always re-stain afterwards.

How to tell what kind of wood your floor is using the internet

It can be useful to consult a catalog of wood species when identifying your hardwood floors. The Wood Database is a useful resource for this purpose. It lists woods based on grain direction, grain closeness, color, hardness and other useful factors.

If you’re still asking yourself “what kind of wood floor do I have?”, look for an inconspicuous section of the floor. A section under a closet or cabinet is perfect. This is because you may have to scrape the wood to find out if it is painted or stained. By scraping in an inconspicuous area, you won’t risk ruining the look of your floor. Use a wood scraper to expose the wood, and then compare this with pictures on the Wood Database.

The odor factor

Woods that are relatively new will tend to retain their natural odor. Some hardwoods retain an odor for years and even decades. If you’re struggling to identify a wood with your eyes, try using your nose. This will only work if there is no stain on the wood, however.

Wood scents are often difficult to express in words, although some woods have scents which are similar to other flora. For example, rosewoods are named for their similarity in smell to roses. While smell can be a difficult thing to communicate, with first-hand experience this can be a useful method for identifying wood.

My wood remained unmarked – what type of hardwood floor do I have?

The scrape test will reveal if you have a hardwood or softwood floor. If you’ve discovered that you have a hardwood floor, now you may be asking “what kind of wood floor do I have?”

To find out for certain, you’ll need to discover whether your wood boards are solid or engineered. Finding this out is straightforward. You’ll first need to sand a section of the floor off with a palm sander. You may also need sandpaper to remove any excess tile mastic or glue. The sanded area should now give you a more accurate representation of the wood. You should be able to easily identify it after cleaning of the glue by comparing it with images from the Wood Database.

Ask an expert

Don’t be afraid to ask for professional help if you can’t identify your wood floor. Our team works with hundreds of different wood types, making us the perfect candidates to consult. If you don’t know your maple from your birch or your pine from your oak, don’t worry. A simple call to our team could help you identify your hardwood floor in next to no time.

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