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Sometimes patience pays. Back in 2002, the Taschen publishing company released “The Woodbook” , a ridiculously priced and gorgeous book filled with photos of 354 American species of trees that showed you the end grain, the quartersawn grain and the plainsawn grain of each type.

If my memory serves, the book was about $80 to $100 , now it fetches $200 on the secondary market. No matter how cool the book was, I wasn’t going to buy it at that price. Senior Editor David Thiel got his hands on one (somehow), so I was able to enjoy it vicariously as long as I handled it with latex gloves (not included).

“The Woodbook” was actually a reprint of “The American Woods” (1888-1913) by Romeyn Beck Hough. The original version had actual veneer slices of each species on every page and was in 14 volumes. It is, naturally, very rare. So finding the original was also out of the question.

On Friday, this story got a happy ending. Taschen has reprinted the book yet again, improved the typography and lowered the price. It is now named “The Wood Book” (that extra space comes at no extra charge). And the list price is $39.99, but you can find it for sale for a shade more than $25.

This version is also a lot easier to read. The 2002 edition had black pages and the letters were in gold. You read that right. Perhaps you weren’t actually supposed to read the descriptions; the only way you really could read it at all was to try to get the light to reflect off the letters just right.

The new 2007 edition has white paper with black letters. So not only can you read the text (which comes in English, French and German), but you also can see the drawings of the leaves of each species as well.

My two gripes with this book are the way the species are organized and the lack of technical data. It’s inconvenient to find a species you are looking for unless you know its Latin name. Then you have to find it in the index to find the page number. But that’s a quibble. As to the data in the book, most other sources contain more information on the physical attributes of the wood.

But the photos make up for any deficiencies in the text. They are gorgeous. Sharp. Detailed. And in color.

– Christopher Schwarz

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  • Rob Porcaro

    FWIW, here are my favorite wood information sources:

    1. Understanding Wood, by Bruce Hoadley (of course)

    2. the Forest Products Laboratory Wood Handbook, a free download at

    3. FPL’s Tech Sheets, many species available, very detailed data, at

    4. Wood Identification and Use, by Terry Porter, published by GMC (UK). Lots of excellent pictures and technical data in a beautiful book, 20 bucks at Amazon.

    5. Paul Hinds’ unbelievable site with a zillion pictures of a zillion species of wood. This guy must really love wood. (Hey, so do I!)

    Hope this is handy for readers.

    Rob Porcaro

  • Larry Marshall

    You’ve hit the nail on the head with your comments about the gold print on black. I love the book but that stupid gold text doesn’t lend itself to casual reading. Still, it’s a great reference.

    Cheers — Larry

  • John Leko


    Here are two other books that fall into this class.

    "The Real Wood Bible" by Nick Gibbs (published by Firefly Books, 2005) provides three views (sanded, sanded & finished with oil, and a photograph of the board’s corner to show end grain) of 100 different woods. Species are categorized "principal" or "secondary" according to their worldwide availability (be they native or imported). A picture index (on p. 37!?) gives both the common and Latin (botanical) names, as does the index at the conclusion of the book. The last chapter, "Special Effects", shows images of diseased, figured, and quartersawn woods and burls. Gibbs even gives statements concerning each wood’s availability and sustainability.

    The second book is one that my wife found for me in one of her discount catalogs several years ago. Herbert Edlin’s "What Wood Is That?" begins with a discussion of the ways that wood can be worked, then introduces a 14 point system for wood identification. The best part about the book though, is that it applies this system to a set of 40 included veneer samples!

    A quick Internet check reveals that both of these volumes are still widely available (new even!), and are moderately priced.

  • Peter Robinson

    What a shame they didn’t either expand it so it truly was ‘the wood book’ or retain the original name showing the coverage to be limited to just the American woods.

  • Casey Gooding

    I found this book about a year ago at my local Barnes & Noble. I have spent quite a bit of time flipping through it, wishing I could come across some of these beautiful woods.

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