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Petrified wood is an attractive material widely used in decoration and furniture production; however, the demand for natural petrified wood created the appearance of numerous fakes. Fakes are represented mainly by natural wood covered with polymers, which allow the preservation of the natural texture of wood and make the material harder.
The most crucial differences between real and fake petrified wood are hardness, weight, grain pattern, and color. Real petrified wood is harder as entirely composed of minerals and absent any organic matter. It preserves the natural grain pattern of wood and uniform colors.
Some people praise petrified wood for its natural textures converted into stone, while others like that the material they possess was a living plant millions of years ago. These people can accidentally run into fakes that are abundant on the market.
Fake petrified wood producers do not intend to sell fakes and make a profit from a scam. Manufacturers create stabilized wood for furniture production, but third parties can resell them as petrified wood.
We will provide you with the essential properties of real and fake petrified wood to protect you from buying fakes. With careful observation and some easy tests, you can avoid fakes and enjoy the beauty of nature-created material.
How to Tell if Petrified Wood is Real
Real petrified wood is a unique material, so we will pay attention to the properties that differentiate between real and fakes.
To tell if petrified wood is real, check the following properties: real petrified wood is hard and cannot be scratched by a piece of glass or a knife. Also, it is denser and feels heavier for its size than regular wood. Finally, real petrified wood is entirely composed of minerals, so no organic materials are present.
Petrified wood is a type of fossil formed due to the petrification process when a tree or plant is buried under sediment or volcanic ash and undergoes a process of mineralization, which replaces the organic material in the wood with minerals throughout millions of years.
To understand the nature of real petrified wood properties, let’s begin with the process of natural petrification and discover how a tree was converted into a stone:
- The first step is the death and burial of a tree or plant. A plant can fall into the water or be covered by sediment when plant dies. The overlaying of plants is crucial as it isolates oxygen and preserves wood from on-surface disintegration.
- The second step is decay and mineralization. Over time, the organic material in the wood decays, leaving behind a porous structure. Minerals in the surrounding water, such as silica or calcite, gradually infiltrate the porous structure of the wood, replacing the organic material cell by cell.
- The third step is consolidation. As the minerals replace the organic material, they gradually harden and consolidate the structure of the wood, creating a fossilized replica of the original plant.
- The last stage is erosion and exposure, bringing petrified wood to the surface.
And now that we know that there is no more organic material in petrified wood and it is entirely composed of minerals, we can create a list of characteristics and features to look for in real petrified wood.
Hardness is one of the most crucial features for identifying real petrified wood. Petrified wood is harder than regular wood and various substituents and cannot be easily scratched or chipped.
Petrified wood is denser than regular wood and should feel heavy for its size.
Petrified wood should retain the same pattern as its original wood form, with visible growth rings, knots, and other characteristics. If the grain pattern is not visible or is different, it is a sign of a possible fake.
Petrified wood typically has a natural range of colors, excluding some bright and vibrant hues. For example, real petrified wood commonly occurs in reddish, yellowish, and brownish shades.
The specimen should show signs of mineralization, with minerals replacing the organic material of the wood. If the specimen is not mineralized, it is natural wood or other man-made fakes.
What Does Real Petrified Wood Look Like
Real petrified wood looks like a piece of wood with a structure entirely made up of minerals. Real petrified wood occurs in natural brown, yellow, and red colors and has the same grain pattern with grown rings and knots. In the polished state, real petrified wood has a glassy luster, while natural wood has waxy.
Real petrified wood looks like a piece of wood that has been turned into stone. The wood’s original cellular structure has been replaced by minerals, usually silica, which creates a detailed, three-dimensional replica of the wood.
Real petrified wood can look different depending on the type of wood, environmental conditions, mineral solutions, time of petrification processes, and host rocks. However, they have similar features like hardness, grain pattern, and weight.
The colors of petrified wood can vary based on mineral composition. Still, generally, they remain warm and natural with gentle changing of shades and excluding any intense unnatural colors.
Real petrified wood can consist of a variety of minerals, depending on the conditions under which it was petrified:
- The most common is silica. It can occur in different minerals like chalcedony, jasper, and agate.
- Less common is calcite. It is often found in the cavities of wood that have been partially decayed or weathered.
- Iron minerals (hematite or limonite) can be present in silica and calcite-based petrified wood. Iron oxides and hydroxides replace wood’s organic material and create reddish or yellowish color.
- Pyrite and copper can be found in petrified wood as rare impurities.
TIP: Many petrified kinds of wood are unsuitable for rock tumbling or lapidary work because it has too many faults and fractures. Check out the guide on cutting and polishing petrified wood in the article below:
How To Cut & Polish Petrified Wood: Follow These 3 Steps
How to Tell Fake Petrified Wood
Fake petrified wood can be told apart with the help of scratch, weight, and hot pin tests. Fakes are scratched by a knife or a piece of glass. They feel light for their size and melt under the hot needle. Additionally, fake petrified wood can occur in vibrant, unnatural colors like green, blue, and purple.
To tell real petrified wood, there are some simple at-home tests.
Petrified wood is much harder than regular wood and cannot be easily scratched. Try scratching the surface of the specimen with a sharp object such as a nail, a knife, or a piece of glass.
If the specimen is easily scratched, it may not be real petrified wood. For a detailed guideline on how to make a Scratch test, you may refer to the article Performing Scratch Test on Rocks (Follow These 8 Steps).
Petrified wood is heavier than regular wood because minerals have replaced organic matter. Therefore, if the specimen feels light for its size, it may not be petrified wood.
Hot pin test
This test can help you determine if the specimen has been artificially treated. Heat a sewing needle until it is red hot and gently press it against the surface of the specimen.
If the needle leaves a mark or the surface melts, it is likely, not petrified wood. Hot pin melts plastic, resin, or other polymer material commonly used to impregnate wood.
It is also a good idea to ask professional geologists or paleontologists whether petrified wood is real. They can use different sophisticated methods to make an identification.
For example, microscopic examination, X-ray diffraction (XRD), chemical analysis, and many other techniques. Check this article to get acquainted with Modern Methods of Rock & Mineral Identification (by Expert).
BTW: Do you want to know more about rock and mineral identification? The books listed below are the best ones you can find on the internet (Amazon links):
- Smithsonian Handbooks: Rocks & Minerals
- Gemstone & Crystal Properties (Quick Study Home)
- Ultimate Explorer Field Guide: Rocks and Minerals (National Geographic Kids)
Can Petrified Wood be Faked
Petrified wood can be faked in costume jewelry and small furniture objects. Fake petrified wood can be created by artificially adding minerals to a piece of wood, soaking it in a mineral-rich solution, coating it with polymers, or entirely made up of resin by molding and imitating wood texture.
There are two different approaches to making artificial petrified wood:
- The first is when natural wood is enhanced to get closer to real petrified wood properties. Natural wood can be soaked in a mineral-rich solution or coated with mineral slurry or polymers.
- The second is using different materials and making them look like petrified wood. Some artificial materials like molded resin and chunks of agate can be shaped in the form of wood and eventually painted to mimic the look of petrified wood.
Also, as has been covered previously, manufacturers do not intend to scam people by selling fakes. They officially produce artificial petrified wood for furniture production.
TIP: Petrified wood may be one of the unique minerals on the planet, but does it have any value out of niche collector circles? Find out the answer in the article below:
Crucial Factors of Petrified Wood Value: What’s the Worth?
Difference Between Real and Fake Petrified Wood
The most significant differences between real and fake petrified wood are hardness (real is harder), weight (real weights more), color ranges (real has soft natural colors), grain patterns (real preserve natural pattern with knots and rings), the presence of polymer impregnation (typical for fakes).
In the table below, you are welcome to check ten characteristic properties that help to differentiate between real and fake petrified wood.
|Characteristic property||Real petrified wood||Fake petrified wood|
|Hardness||It is hard as it is composed mainly of silica. It cannot be scratched by a knife or a piece of glass.||It is commonly less hard and can be scratched by a knife.|
|Weight||Petrified wood is denser than regular wood and feels heavy for its size.||Fake petrified wood made up of natural wood or resin feels light.|
|Color range||Occur in warm natural colors: brown, orange, yellow, red, and creamy.||It can occur in bright colors: blue, green, and purple.|
|Grain pattern||The grain pattern is preserved with knots and rings and is generally continuous.||The grain pattern can be disrupted and may seem composed of different parts.|
|Luster||Glassy or vitreous.||Resenious and waxy.|
|The presence of mineral grains||It can have iron oxides, pyrite, and copper inclusions.||Usually do not have any crystal inclusions. |
Exceptionally, mineral grains can be added in a repetitive pattern.
|Touch test||Feels cold to the touch.||Feels warm to the touch.|
|Hot pin test||No reaction.||The surface of the material starts to melt.|
|UV light test||No reaction. Exception, the presence of calcite.||The whole mineral surface can glow chalky-yellow or chalky-blue.|
|Presence of bubbles||No bubbles.||It can be present in polymers.|
TIP: Amber fakes are very diverse. Natural amber is an organic gemstone, so there is another way to spot amber fakes. Check out the differences in the article below:
Real vs. Fake Amber: 9 Key Differences & UV Light Testing
Where to Buy Real Petrified Wood
Petrified wood is a common material that can be found all around the world. Buying petrified wood is safe, and there are not so many fakes. It’s partially true; however, in small objects or costume jewelry, there is a possibility to come across fakes.
It is better to buy petrified wood from a reputable dealer asking questions about the origin. It is safe to purchase petrified wood in a rough state, but always pay attention to the slabs and slices. Buying near the petrified wood localities and from specialized shops are the best places for purchase.
BTW: If you are looking for the best UV light for rockhounding, find out my picks below (Amazon links):
- BEST OPTION: Convoy 8+ 365nm UV LED Flashlight with Patented Glass Filter
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There are a lot of petrified wood fakes. They are primarily used for furniture and design object production but sometimes can be substituted for real petrified wood without disclosure. There are ten main differences in spotting fake petrified wood.
They are hardness, weight, color range, grain pattern, luster, the presence of mineral grains, touch test, reaction to hot pin, UV light, and the presence of bubbles.
Conduct three main tests to tell apart real petrified wood and fake:
- Hardness test. A metal object cannot scratch real petrified wood.
- Weight test. Real petrified wood weighs more than its natural equivalent. You have to expect a weight of a stone.
- Hot pin test. Real petrified wood does not react; however, fake petrified wood can start to melt.
Real petrified wood is generally harder than fakes and cannot be scratched by a metal object. It weighs more than its counterpart.
Real petrified wood preserves the grain pattern with knots and rings, while fakes can have interrupted texture. Real petrified wood occurs in natural colors, which excludes any vibrant green, blue and purple.
TIP: Do you know where to find petrified wood near you? And what locations in the United States are the best? Check out the answer in the article below:
6 Best Locations for Finding Petrified Wood Near Me (USA)