What Wood is That?

As happens, I was nattering on to one of my co-workers about some woodworking enthusiasm or another.  This is itself not unusual (some might say it is “too usual”), but led to her, several days later, lending me a book.

What Wood is That?, by Herbert L. Edlin, is, as the name implies, a guide to identifying wood types.  It dates to 1969, and its most notable feature is that it contains a fold-out section containing small samples of most of the woods mentioned within.  Partially due to the age of the book, the wood samples now have a nice patina to them.

Some of WWiT is dedicated to a flowchart-like classification system, which is not of much immediate use to me since I am not at this time surrounded by padauk, mahogany, and teak furniture that needs classification preparatory to going on the block at Sotheby’s.  The rest of the book describes the general life cycle of a tree, and contains a brief history of the lumbering industry, noting which areas were most heavily worked at what time.  Further chapters give considerable detail about the 40 or so woods discussed; their preferred environs, leaf structure, size, and uses.

While these 40 woods are discussed in detail, the usefulness of this detail to me is more academic than practical, given how esoteric some of the materials are.  The author was a forester around the world, and knows his stuff firsthand, but one upshot of this is that the woods discussed are from all over, and some information is probably dated.  While I can believe that some teak is still lumbered with the help of trained elephants, some of the woods discussed aren’t even mentioned in more recent books that I have.

All in all, an interesting (if brief) read, and would be quite useful as a “first try” reference if I worked with antique pieces.  It was also quite nice to see examples of exotic woods such as zebrawood and purpleheart (which is, yes, purple).

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