A friend of mine asked me the other day about how I distinguish different wood types on our antique furniture. Now, I only regularly deal with a limited selection of wood types, but there are two basic facts that you need to know.
The first, most important thing I could say on the subject is this: there is no such thing as a “cherry finish” (to name the most popular example). This is a misnomer invented for the convenience of cheap synthetic veneers made to look like cherry (or any other wood type), and the term has simply become so popular that it has come to incorrectly apply to real and imitation cherry alike. Finishing is the process of staining and coating applied to a wood.
The way to identify wood is by its grain—not by its color. There is, again, no such thing as a “cherry color.” Before staining, nearly all wood simply looks, in color at least, like the normal timber you’ll find at any hardware store. This is why you will find, for example, oak furniture that is very light, or orange, or even black (as when it is ebonized). Some woods, however, tend to be a certain color, like yew, which tends to be orange-ish, and all woods take differently to different stains. However, the rule still stands: you identify wood by its grain.
It is difficult to explain what each grain looks like, but it is easy to show with pictures. Just see the following.