Guidelines for Taking Wood Samples from Objects of Antiquity

(These are best-case scenario guidelines, and should be followed when possible.)

Where To Sample

  • In an unexposed area of the object that is not structurally crucial
  • In an area of straight grain, free from knots and burls
  • Please avoid areas such as nail/nail holes, labels or signatures, saw or drill marks, joinery or beneath hardware.

What To Sample

  • Secondary woods (structural or from hidden areas)
  • Any parts of the object which one is uncertain about
  • Any parts of the object which superficially appears to be made of different wood

How To Sample

Sample Size

  • Softwoods (pine, spruce, fir, etc.) - at least match stick size (2mm x 2mm x 15mm with the grain)
  • Hardwoods (oak, walnut, sweet gum, etc.) - at least pencil eraser size (5mm x 5mm x 20 mm with the grain)
  • Tropical Woods (Mahogany, Sabicu, Astronium, etc.) - at least a ½" cube

Sample Integrity

  • Samples should be free from, irregular grain, punky or rotted areas and insect holes.
  • Samples should be taken in one, solid piece. Small flakes are unacceptable.

Sample Taking

  • Use a stout, very sharp knife or a ¼" chisel.
  • Make first cut across the grain and about ¼" deep. (A below)
  • Make second cut across the grain, at least ¼" away from first cut. (B below)
  • Align the chisel with the grain, between the first two cuts and about ¼" below the edge of the wood. (C below)
  • Insert the chisel and twist to pry or pop the sample out. (C below)

Sample Preparation

  • Place each sample in a coin envelope and mark the envelope with the name of the object and from where it came
  • Place sample envelopes in a padded mailer to avoid crushing in the mail.

How to take a sampe from a piece of wood

Prepared by Harry A. Alden, Microscopist, MCI. 2002.