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Review: Identifying Wood: Accurate Results With Simple Tools by R. Bruce Hoadley

Review: Identifying Wood: Accurate Results With Simple Tools by R. Bruce Hoadley

Reviewed by Nicholas Von Robison

Originally published in American Lutherie #29, 1992 and Big Red Book of American Lutherie Volume Three, 2004

Identifying Wood: Accurate Results With Simple Tools
R. Bruce Hoadley
Taunton Press, 1991. 224 pp.
ISBN 0-942391-04-7

Can’t tell the difference between... uh... spruce and Shineola? Hope that batch of Picea excelsa you paid a small fortune for really isn’t Pinus attenuata or something similar? In times past, wood identification has been the weak spot in most luthier’s knowledge simply because the ID methods available have not been user-friendly. Dr. Hoadley has made a valiant effort to remedy this problem and I think has succeeded very well in his hybrid approach to wood identification.

Of the old methods, one approach involves trying to match an unknown wood with a photograph or a veneer sample. The futility of this approach is obvious unless you are a rank amateur trying to determine whether a sample is walnut or zebrawood. The other method, usually presented in texts for professionals, involves a thorough understanding of wood structure, formation, chemistry, and so on. The ID process is accomplished by the use of dichotomous keys — this type of key presenting a series of choices, each choice involving only two possibilities. While this method can be highly accurate if you know your wood stuff, making a wrong choice or misinterpretation anywhere during the keying process can throw you wildly off the track.

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