I was drilling two studs in order to install a wall-mounted shelf, and one of the studs smelled funny when I started drilling.

It smelled kind of sweet and the dust that came out is sort of red, plastic-looing and waxy.

It kind of smells like cedar. I live in Austin, Texas, so could it be cedar studs?

Also, it's near the stairs, could I have hit a beam?

  • 3
    Assuming you aren't hearing water, chances are you just hit a knot... no problem, except for possible reduced holding power on the shelf. Hope that's not the only screw holding up that side of the shelf. Jan 4, 2016 at 2:51
  • @AloysiusDefenestrate There are three vertical holes, it's a rail system. Jan 4, 2016 at 2:53
  • 2
    It's probably pine you're smelling, a knot in the pine. Jan 4, 2016 at 3:09
  • 2
    the studs are pine (doug fir, etc.) not cedar. The smell is pitch or resin.
    – ojait
    Jan 4, 2016 at 4:07
  • 1
    It's not three different knots, it's one of "the good two by fours". Not dimensionally, i.e., the oldschool ones, but the one out of every 100 2x4's that seem to weigh a ton. Because they're loaded with resin. I set these aside for when I need "a good" 2x4. Framing a house in cedar would be cost prohibitive. Also, any beam worth its salt won't care if it has a screw in it.
    – Mazura
    Jan 4, 2016 at 12:45

1 Answer 1


It is the resin from the coniferous tree the wood was milled from. Resin, gum, amber, is in every softwood tree. It is produced by the living tree when it becomes damaged, from say boring beetles.

The pungent smell you detected while drilling was the warmed drill bit burning a pocket of tree resin. A fairly aromatic scent it is. Resin can have different consistencies depending on ambient temperature and it's age. Some resin is dried and crumbly (almost crystalline). While other times it is viscous and sticky.

  • 1
    If you wait 75 years, the stuff will harden to the point that it's nearly impossible to drill. Jan 4, 2016 at 4:09
  • In 75 years all trees will be gone.
    – ojait
    Jan 4, 2016 at 4:19

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