Monday, 16 September 2013

How to spot the differences

The differences matter! We have a lot of calls from customers looking to match into an existing floor, most commonly when they have removed a hearth or dividing wall. So not only do we need to find the right sized block (and believe me there are many sizes in the reclaimed parquet world when things were cut in Imperial sizes - unlike the uniform metric world we seem to inhabit today!) but we also need to work out exactly what the wood type is.

Often the block is a pale colour but very grubby, so the original grain is hard to see. However when you look at the side of the block you can sometimes scrape the debris off and see the grain. Or indeed if you can find an area and sand a bit back to view the original surface you are better off. If it is pale it is almost always a European wood, Beech, Pine or Pitch Pine, maple or occasionally oak. So how do we know which is which?

Firstly, for Pitch pine and Columbian Pine - see how noticeable the grain is? Pitch Pine has dark and resinous lines contrasting with the pale honey colour you would expect from pine, and the lines are normally significantly thicker than pine. It is a much harder-wearing block and 'bruises' or dents less easily than pine.

Secondly how hard and heavy is it? Trouble is if you don't know your pines, that is hard to compare. Both pines have 'open' pores however but generally Pitch pine has harder wood between the resinous lines. See the photos below for an illustration.
Pine close-up showing grain
Pitch pine close-up
Sometimes the only way to tell is to look at a larger area to get an overall feel for the amount of dark contrasting lines you can see as every block is different.

The other confusion is maple or beech. The differences between beech and the pines are marked when you start looking, but between beech and maple on initial viewing there are similarities.

The colour of beech is pinkish pale honey and the grain is flecked, even though there are other grain lines to distract you, look for the background flecking. Maple is a pale almost warm ash blonde with a shimmer, and  a more varied grain, but without expertise you can be none the wiser. The good news is that the timber hardness is the giveaway - if you press your fingernail into beech wood you can hardly make a dent, whereas you will easily leave a nail mark in the much softer maple.

See below for grain differences:

Maple close-up show grain differences

Beech close-up

Lastly, oak. You can always tell oak when you look closely and when you handle it - it is a hardwood, it has a lovely smell and the colour is a silvery grey brown which is unmistakeable once you get your eye in. You can also occasionally see the medullary rays across the wood like little silvery streaks, an absolute confirmation that you have oak. You can see that in the panel below:

Oak panel showing grain

So hopefully this will give you a bit of an idea as to how to work out the differences between these European woods when you are trying to match your floor.

1 comment:

  1. Could you please do a tropical hardwood version of this post?! We bought and are currently laying what is supposed to be teak but it seems awfully red. It would be lovely to know for certain, the more I look, the more unheard-of options there seem to be! Bubinga? Panga panga? Mahogany? Our is it teak after all...
    Your site and blog have been fantastic, by the way, and the post on (some) builders and their dim view of reclaimed flooring was very motivating!