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Forest Products Laboratory
One Gifford Pinchot Drive
Madison, WI 53726-2398
Phone: (608) 231-9200
Fax: (608) 231-9592


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Wood Identification Public Service

Identification process:

Scientific wood identification depends primarily on characteristics of wood cells revealed with a hand lens or under a microscope. To prepare a microscope slide, a cross-sectional surface of the specimen is smoothed with a sharp knife and examined with a hand lens. Thin sections are cut freehand along the grain from the radial and tangential surfaces and prepared for viewing under the microscope. Identifications are typically based on technical anatomical features observed at high magnification. Gross features such as color, odor, and texture are of limited utility as they can be quite variable and therefore are less diagnostic.

Hand lenses


Identifications based on wood anatomy are generally accurate only to the genus (e.g. ash, spruce) or, in some cases, to a subgeneric grouping (e.g., white oak group), but rarely to the exact species. Therefore, all information known about the specimen is important and should be provided. The wood's common name and country or geographic area of origin are especially useful and may help to determine the precise species.

Please fill out these sections of the specimen submission form.

Images of the transverse surface of three hardwoods (left) and three softwoods (right)

Number of specimens:

The Center for Wood Anatomy Research will identify a maximum of 3 wood specimens per household per calendar year as a free public service to private U.S. citizens. Persons in need of more than three identifications per year, or businesses, non-profits, or other institutions in need of identifications, should engage the services of a private wood identification consultant or seek help from a local university or other source of expertise. Misrepresenting business or other institutional specimens as submissions from private citizens will result in loss or suspension of access to this service.

Specimen size:

Specimens 1 x 3 x 6 inches are recommended for purposes of identification. Smaller specimens may limit our ability to provide an identification. We will not identify charcoal specimens, nor specimens from archaeological contexts except by prior arrangement.

Technique for removal of small samples from valuable wood products:

Small specimens must be cut or split from large items rather than shaved or gouged. To produce a good specimen, use a fine saw, sharp knife, or small chisel and cut across the grain to a depth of about 3/16 inch. Make two such cuts at least 1/2 inch apart. If a knife is used, a splinter can be split out by prying up at one of the incised points. If a chisel is used, the edge can be placed in one of the cuts and then angled to travel down the grain to the other cut. A sharp tap will produce a good specimen. If the specimen cannot be rolled between thumb and forefinger without crumbling or breaking, do not submit it. Specimens of insufficient size or quality will not be analyzed.

Preparation for shipment:

If more than one specimen is submitted, individual items should be clearly labeled as 1, 2, and 3, with the numbers marked directly onto large specimens. For small specimens, use individual envelopes (e.g. coin envelopes) with the information for the enclosed specimen marked on each envelope. Results will be reported by number - do not use letters or other codes. Do not tape specimens to cards or paper because they can be easily damaged when the tape is removed. It is not recommended to submit any wood specimen of any size in a typical letter envelope, as such submissions are often damaged by automated equipment used by the postal service. Use a padded envelope, cardboard document envelope, or small box instead. Include a copy of the submission form with your shipment. If you require delivery confirmation, send your request via a carrier that can provide such information to you.

Determination of origin:

With our wood anatomical identifications we typically do not provide information regarding the origin of an item.

Age determination:

No attempt is made at this Laboratory to ascertain the age of wood specimens.

Forensic work:

The Center for Wood Anatomy Research does not identify wood specimens for private parties engaged in legal disputes.

Duration of Process:

Wood identifications can take anywhere from 5 minutes to many hours, depending on the type of wood, the size and quality of the specimen, the information provided with the specimen, and several other factors. In most cases, specimens are identified within 4 weeks of receipt

Please note: No specimens will be returned to the sender. Small specimens are often destroyed in the identification process. We will not identify nor return submissions that do not meet the requirements outlined in this document (number, quality, from commercial entities, etc.)

Specimen submission form:

Download our fillable specimen submission form here. Include a paper copy of this form with your submission.

Send your samples to:

Wood Identification Public Service
Center for Wood Anatomy Research
USDA Forest Service, Forest Products Laboratory
One Gifford Pinchot Dr.
Madison, WI 53726-2398