Building a Better Back Scratcher - Identify Species and Grain


In this second lesson, students are given several samples of wood. The students' goal is to identify the species of wood blanks they're working with and recognize the different grain patterns that influence wood strength.



The qualities of different types of lumber are as different as night and day. Students may have flown their first toy glider made from balsa wood - it's light, soft and flexible, and they may have used a cutting board made from Maple. Maple and Balsa are similar in color, but there's a reason we don't build toy gliders out of Maple, and we don't make cutting boards out of Balsa wood.... Some species are better than others for bending, and students will learn which species have better characteristics for bending.

In this lesson, students will match unmarked wood blanks of different woods with others that are named, so that they can visually identify the species of lumber by looking at a board. This lesson builds on the photos they used to identify trees in lesson 1, by matching actual samples of the wood.

In addition, grain direction is a source of strength in a board, and the grain direction is determined by how the log is sawn into boards at the lumber mill. Students test grain strength and learn how grain orientation influences overall wood strength. They get to break something and not get in trouble!

[Additional information for the instructor and a material list is included in collections under resources. It is titled "Lesson 2, Materials and Instructor Resources"]

Lesson Times

Lecture, Video and Class Work
1 Class Period
Hook, Additional Activities - Shop Time
1 Class Period

Industries / Subjects / Grades

Industries / Pathways
  • Building and Construction Trades Building and Construction Trades
    • Cabinetry, Millwork, and Woodworking
  • Agriculture & Natural Resources Agriculture & Natural Resources
    • Forestry and Natural Resources
K-12 Subjects
  • Science
    • Life Sciences
Grade Levels
  • 9
  • 10
  • 11
  • 12
  • Adult

Standards and Objectives


California's 2013 CTE Standards (3)

Related Instructional Objectives (SWBAT...)

  • Students will be able to visually identify commonly used lumbers used in woodworking
  • Students will be able to visually identify and draw common cuts of lumber including flat sawn, quarter sawn, and rift sawn, and the qualities of each type
  • Students will be able to identify, define and describe the significance of grain orientation in a board.

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