My greatest fascination at the London College of Furniture was in learning about woods. My skill is largely gone at this point in time--I am down to the obvious woods used in furniture making while the more exotic timbers are obscure to my memory. Gribble, the wood technology teacher gave us the single most important information on wood identification which was to it identify by the size of the pores. The size of pores is classified, although it can be a loose classification depending on how wet or dry a growing season may be. As a rule, larger pores tend to be the result of a growth spurt, usually associated with either spring or a rainy season. Oak, ash, hickory, chestnut and elm all have strong growth periods in the spring and are all ring porous. Timbers like maple, birch, sycamore, linden are semi-ring porous, having smaller pores. Their spring growth is not as pronounced. And then there are diffuse porous woods. Boxwood and ebony are both diffuse porous trees. Tropical timbers can have strong growth spurts, teak is often classified as a ring porous timber for this reason. Even mahogany can have moments where the pores are larger because of a growth spurt, but as a rule, most tropical timbers are semi-ring porous or semi-diffuse porous.
Among my greatest pleasures at this time was in visiting the veneer merchants in Islington called Crispin's to look at all of the veneer they had on hand. Wood is just one of those materials, sort of like gems without the flash, that is marvelous to look at. (George Nakashima, the cabinetmaker, certainly understood this by emphasizing the use of untrimmed timber in his designs.) I was almost always joined by one of my friends from the Musical Instrument group at the College when I went to Crispin's and he quickly learned that I, like he, was a sucker for looking at exotic woods. We found sources for exotic timbers near and far. I remember driving to Norfolk to find some Brazilian "walnut", which was a good looking timber (but not as nice as English walnut in my eyes). On that trip to Norfolk, we passed the then under construction M25 (London circular road) and I remember passing a stand of poplar that were being cut and my co-conspirator urging me to stop to grab a sizable hunk--he used it for frets in lutes and guitars.