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How Wood Grows

Being a woodworker of many years I have friends who will constantly ruin a good walk in the woods with questions of, “what type of tree is that?” Truth is, I’m not really very good at identifying trees. I’m much better at identifying a slab of lumber! I recognize the wood in the form I’m most familiar with. I’d like to be able to identify trees, but it doesn’t strongly affect my woodworking.

That said, knowing something about how trees grow does play into my abilities as a woodworker. Certain species grow fast, but their wood isn’t the strongest or have the most attractive grain pattern. Other species are prone to diseases or rot and need to be examined carefully for defects. If a tree has lots of branches, it’s going to have lots of knots. All of this plays into the qualities of the wood for building furniture. Strengths, how stable it is … lots of things to consider.

Now I’m not saying you need a degree in dendrology. But just like understanding grain direction will help you in using a hand plane or a planer, a little bit of knowledge about trees and wood will make you a better woodworker. The short video below will teach you about pith, growth rings and much more, and is an excerpt from a more comprehensive video on the subject of wood, “The Woodworker’s Guide to Wood” from Ron Herman. It’s a good starting point and hopefully will teach you a couple of things in less than 10 minutes. And if you get interested, there’s lots more to learn. Oh, you still won’t be able to identify trees in the woods, but I’ve learned if you make it up and sound smart, those friends are just glad to have an answer. Enjoy!

– David Thiel

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  • keithm

    I can tell dogwood by its bark.

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Wood Finishing 101