Domestic and foreign lumber

Q: I have just found a source of rough-sawn lumber from overseas. Are any great differences between domestic and foreign lumber with the same name? I have bought some maple and beech and it seems to have different coloring.

A:  Most foreign lumber is a different species and sometimes a different genus than common U.S. lumber (except for Canadian lumber). Common names or trade names are often not a good guide for identification of the lumber you are purchasing. On the other hand, often foreign lumber does look and behave similarly to our native lumber. Pau marfim, also called guatambu, is often a good substitute for hard maple.

Even if you have the same species, lumber handling can be different overseas and that can result in different appearances. For example, for the white-colored woods, drying procedures will greatly affect the color even for the same species. European beech sometimes has a pinkish hue, compared to American beech. But even under 10x magnification, we cannot tell the difference between the two. The pink is a result of the slow drying (dry American beech slowly and you will have the same coloration.) and not a difference that can be used for identification.


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Gene Wengert

Gene Wengert, “The Wood Doctor” has been training people in efficient use of wood for 45 years. He is extension specialist emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.