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white oak verses red oak

by piesafejim
posted 1129 days ago


33 replies so far

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Cosmicsniper

2199 posts in 1783 days


#1 posted 1129 days ago

Jim: Red oak is more porous than white oak. I haven’t worked a lot of white oak either, but the difference in weight is likely reflective of that. From a hardness standpoint, they are similar however.

Edit: “Porous” is probably a bad term. Truth is that they can be difficult to tell apart, but it’s been said that white oak has more blockage on the pores. I’d reason that it could cause the difference you feel in weight. Or, perhaps it’s just a difference in moisture content?

Funny, but it’s not likely most of us have equal sized samples of both woods on hand!

-- jay, www.allaboutastro.com

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knotscott

5414 posts in 2000 days


#2 posted 1129 days ago

I was thinking it was likely due to moisture content too, but it’s really hard to know.

-- Happiness is like wetting your pants...everyone can see it, but only you can feel the warmth....

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dbray45

2488 posts in 1401 days


#3 posted 1129 days ago

White oak has a membrane in the pores that make it almost water proof and a pain to dry. It is more dense and is usually not red. It is great for outdoors where red oak is not a good choice. They also smell differently.

-- David in Damascus, MD

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TopamaxSurvivor

14721 posts in 2300 days


#4 posted 1129 days ago

Do they finish differently?

-- "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

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Cosmicsniper

2199 posts in 1783 days


#5 posted 1129 days ago

They are both very forgiving and finish well. I think white is prettier, especially with the ray flecks and tighter earlywood, but I use red oak a lot more because it’s easy to come by in Texas (IIRC, your a Texan too, so you certainly know that, Topamax).

It’s not a given that red oak is always “red,” but for the most part I do have to compensate for the reddish hue it will impart to the finish. It’s always shifted in that direction and seldom matches my expectations of a color. So, I normally cut my toner with a little green dye to compensate for that when I spray and color match woods.

-- jay, www.allaboutastro.com

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tenontim

2131 posts in 2369 days


#6 posted 1129 days ago

White oak’s “pores” close up when it’s kiln dried, making less likely to soak up moisture, which makes it more rot resistant. On the hardness scale, white oak is rated at 1360 and red at 1060. They finish about the same, except you have to contend with more redness in the color. Red oak does not fume well. It takes on a greenish tint. With the use of aniline dyes, I’ve been able to make them match in color. Personally, I prefer using white oak. Quarter sawn red will usually have a more spectacular flake in it than white oak. I can usually tell the difference when it’s being cut. Red smells like bad cheese to me.

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piesafejim

33 posts in 1157 days


#7 posted 1129 days ago

Thanks for all the input everyone. The reason the 2 were the same is i planed 2 blocks down and was going to try and mix red and white but there is so much difference that the white went back into the stack for another project and i have always tried to figure out what i could compare the smell of red oak to and i will agree on the the rotten cheese lol

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devann

1735 posts in 1317 days


#8 posted 1128 days ago

I know this is a red oak / white oak thread but I have a question. Is white oak and post oak considered the same species? The white oak described here sounds like what we call post oak in this part of the country.

-- Darrell, making more sawdust than I know what to do with

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tenontim

2131 posts in 2369 days


#9 posted 1128 days ago

Darrell, post oak is in the white oak family. Usually the ones in Texas don’t get as big and that’s why they aren’t commercially cut, which is a good thing. Us Texans have a tendency to cut down any kind of tree and make stuff out of it anyway.

View Waldschrat's profile

Waldschrat

505 posts in 2060 days


#10 posted 1128 days ago

Its not the pores that seal up that make oak more resistant to rot, nor does white oak adsorb moisture slower… a special membrane or something of that sort it does not have.

The reason oak does not rot as quickly is because it has high levels of tanin or tanic acid in it. The same stuff that’s in walnut, black locust and other woods that are also rot resistant. The tanic acid prevents or retards the growth of fungus that eats the wood substance in wood… lignin. Tanic acid is the same thing they used to use or still do maybe to treat leather, and why your hands turn black when you work with oak or other tanic acid bearing woods.

But its is true with certain woods such as Black Locust, the growth of Parynchym cells into the pores of other tissues in the Wood (the scientific terms of which I do not have in front of me in english “Gefaesbegleitend-parynchym” cell grows into the “Toepfel” and becomes “vertult” or plugged up) Which is why it can be sometimes difficult to get a good lamination between two boards.

White Oak is scientifically known as Quercus alba , Red oak (well there are different species I believe 60 in N. America alone) is called I believe Quercus rubra if my memory serves me correct.

The red oak is not very durable outside because it does not have as much tanic acid in it.

-- Nicholas, Cabinet/Furniture Maker, Blue Hill, Maine

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dbray45

2488 posts in 1401 days


#11 posted 1127 days ago

Not to be a pain in the backside—But you gotta do what you gotta do—Please note
http://www.wood-database.com/wood-articles/distinguishing-red-oak-from-white-oak

“The pores found in the growth rings on red oak are very open and porous, and should be easily identifiable. White oak, however, has its pores plugged with tyloses, which help make white oak suitable for water-tight vessels, and give it increased resistance to rot and decay.”

-- David in Damascus, MD

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tenontim

2131 posts in 2369 days


#12 posted 1127 days ago

“The pores found in the growth rings on red oak are very open and porous, and should be easily identifiable. White oak, however, has its pores plugged with tyloses, which help make white oak suitable for water-tight vessels, and give it increased resistance to rot and decay.”
And to add to dbray45’s comment, and dispute Waldschrat’s, red oak does have tanic acid in it, because it will darken with exposure to ammonia fumes. It’s just not a pleasing color.

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dbray45

2488 posts in 1401 days


#13 posted 1126 days ago

Nicholas – sorry to be that way but I work with a couple of mills and they are not big fans of white oak for this reason. After cutting the flitch, they let these air dry for over a year before they put them in the kiln so they don’t check and they dry thoroughly and evenly, otherwise they don’t dry correctly. It also adds to the cost per bf.

-- David in Damascus, MD

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richgreer

4522 posts in 1699 days


#14 posted 1126 days ago

You’ll recall that in the days when farmers used horses, a lot of their equipment (wagons, plow handles, etc.) were made of wood. They almost always used white oak because it was cheap and it held up in the weather very well.

FWIW – - White oak will fume very nicely and red oak will not.

-- Rich, Cedar Rapids, IA - I'm a woodworker. I don't create beauty, I reveal it.

View Waldschrat's profile

Waldschrat

505 posts in 2060 days


#15 posted 1126 days ago

dbray45:

Hey man no problems, I am just a stickler for detail and proper terms and uses, that what made this thread stick out in the first place.

Well allow me to Retort:

Check out what I wrote

What I originally said In addition to the Tannic acid… as a wood preservative (a great preservative by the way), Tyloses! The Plugging of the Parenchym cells … Well that’s exactly what I said… more or less… or tried to anyway! Although the proper term was lost to me at the time I wrote that post.

Tyloses is probably the English word for “vertylt”! I am mostly using these terms in German, so sometimes I forget the english ones.

So If you understand what Tyloses is/are then you know why I spoke up. Tyloses are not any sort of membrane. They are the things that are end up plugging the Parenchym cells. I took the liberty of posting this article here written in english: Very well explained from Wiki.


Tyloses are outgrowths on parenchyma cells of xylem vessels (vascular tissue used for water and mineral transport throughout a plant). When the plant is introduced to a stress like drought or infection, tyloses will fall from the sides of the cells and “dam” up the vascular tissue to prevent further damage to the plant.

Tyloses can aid in the process of making sapwood into heartwood in some hardwood trees, especially in trees with larger vessels.[1] These blockages can be used in addition to gum plugs as soon as vessels become filled with air bubbles, and they help to form a stronger heartwood by slowing the progress of rot

Thats more or less what I tried (obviously not that clearly) to describe. Not to mention as I originally stated the tannic acid in the wood helps to keep fungus at bay.

Not to mention, as well, the pores on oak (vascular pores) that one is able to see with out even a microscope are not necessarily plugged. In fact you can even blow into the endgrain of chunck of oak, if the grain is just right you can feel the air a couple inches away. (But this is something I have tried with Oak over here so this is kind of out of the scope of White oak).

No hard feelings just wanted to the facts to be out there. And you are right oak is not the easiest wood to dry… next to maple, it can be down right difficult especially in artificial drying or kiln drying.

-- Nicholas, Cabinet/Furniture Maker, Blue Hill, Maine

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Waldschrat

505 posts in 2060 days


#16 posted 1126 days ago

tennontim:

I would also like to add that I did not try to say that red oak was not “fumable” for lack of better words! However it just does not have the same amount of tannic acid. hence its also not as durable. But this does not mean that trees vary (maybe you had “good one”) also I noticed that there are different kinds of Red Oak. Different trees of the same species have, depending on where grown, varying contents of pigments, turpentine, saps, tannic acid and so on.

There is apparently a Southern Red Oak. Quercus falcata… never worked with it. But it exists

If you work with ash, your hands will turn brown after awhile too, or even cherry. They both do not necessarily fume well, because the tannic acid is enough to turn your hands black when it comes into contact with the salts in your hand, but not enough to make dramatic fumed effect when exposed to ammonia. Although again this depends on the tree. Rich Greer has a point.

Just so were on the level and the record is straight.

-- Nicholas, Cabinet/Furniture Maker, Blue Hill, Maine

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Don W

14824 posts in 1192 days


#17 posted 1126 days ago

Both red oak and white oak are actually a series of oak species. So there are actually different red oaks and different white oaks (I don’t know them, just know of them). White oak tends to vary a bit more and can sometimes look closer to red oak. White oak will have a more greyish look. As Rich stated, white oak was used for outdoor equipment because it would last forever in the weather, even untreated.

White oak typically doesn’t have the nice grain as red oak, so it’ll be less likely used in furniture. Its often called post oak because a white oak fence post will last a long time. Longer than most people. My Dad has some in his barn yard he drove in 1945. They still hold the gate (and that has been replaced several times.)

-- Master hand plane hoarder. - http://timetestedtools.com

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dbray45

2488 posts in 1401 days


#18 posted 1125 days ago

Nicholas – The wood you have locally may be different in a number of ways, the names can be changed, translations, varieties of trees. I have seen this more than a couple of times. If you look at Brazilian Cherry, its not cherry as a species, just in some color and appearence.

If memory serves me right, as time goes on it has it moments, oaks, pine, cherry, and several other woods have anywhere up to 100 different variations depending upon where you are in the world.

The flavors that come under the red oak category, have pores that are so open, you can use them as a straw. This makes them prone to checking and splitting when drying. White oaks, if you don’t get them dry will warp and twist when you cut them and it is seriously heavy. If you kiln dry them to hot and/or to fast, you can crystalize the sugars and actually lock the moisture in the wood, only to expose it when you mill it making the wood unstable when the item is made.

The other option is to use them green and if the lumber is quarter sawn, you should be good to go, so I have been told. The piece will move but it won’t warp or break up. Working with green wood is becoming a lost art.

-- David in Damascus, MD

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Sawmillnc

150 posts in 1679 days


#19 posted 1125 days ago

There are around 600 species of Oak with about 20+ species in each group that are common in North America. The Red Oak has open Tyloses versus White Oak which has closed Tyloses. If you want to be able to differentiate between red and white use a 5% Sodium Nitrate solution and if it turns dark it is white oak. white oak also has a different smell (lactones) and the rays are longer. The kiln drying of white oak is difficult and I usually let it air dry 60 days for 4/4 before going into the kiln. There is bound moisture and unbound moisture in wood. The water in the unbound part of the wood is called free water and evaporates quickly as it is only held by capillary forces. Bound moisture is held by hydrogen bonds and the presence of OH (hydroxyl) groups by lignin and cellulose. White oak has a stronger bond to water than Red Oak. You can only effectively remove 1-1.5% Moisture a day with white oak species and 2-3% on Red oak. Walnut you can remove 6-8% Moisture a day without adversely affecting the wood quality.

Never heard of “crystalizing sugars” locking moisture which is actually case hardening and considered a defect in Oak. If you over dry without relieving stress it causes case hardening and is usually the product of a Dehumidifying kiln that does not implement steam in the final stages to equalize the load.

The best red oak sub species for lumber is Northern Red Oak and Black Oak( depends upon location) and Shumard oak. The best White Oak is Quercus alba Swamp Chestnut and Chinkapin.

-- Kyle Edwards, http://www.sawmillnc.com, Iron Station , NC (near Charlotte)

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Waldschrat

505 posts in 2060 days


#20 posted 1123 days ago

That’s some good information! I had no idea that there were so many (600!) species of Oak. thanks for the scientific info!

Case hardening is something that you see over here once in a while as well as “cloudyness” in kiln dried lumber, the milky whitness you see after planing or jointing, but the case hardening or honeycombing you do not see right away.

-- Nicholas, Cabinet/Furniture Maker, Blue Hill, Maine

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oblowme

91 posts in 1188 days


#21 posted 1123 days ago

With all of this talk about oak familys and who belongs where etc I haven’t seen anything yet that is correct about ‘familys’ in the oaks- All of the oaks are in the BEECH family.

-- A TOOL JUNKIE- There, I just admited it to myself...

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closetguy

744 posts in 2517 days


#22 posted 1123 days ago

I use both red and white oak in my projects and don’t really see any difference in them other than white oak is lighter in color. I use General Finishes Arm-R-Seal and they both finish out the same with the same number of coats. I find more figure and interesting swirls on a regular basis in white oak. I experience more dovetail tear out with quarter sawn. Here are some examples:

Red Oak Sides

White Oak Sides

Quarter Sawn White Oak Sides

-- I don't make mistakes, only design changes....www.dgmwoodworks.com

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oblowme

91 posts in 1188 days


#23 posted 1122 days ago

I was a Hardwood Lumber Inspector for 10+ years and learned how to ID a species on sight, you had to or your career would not last very long. There are alot of clues used in this. Oaks are relatively easy; early wood pores open = RO, early wood pores closed = WO. To the majority of us it’s not an issue other than apperance, but if you ship a load of WO to a cask maker with a bunch of RO in it someone(s) is going to be highly pissed- RO won’t hold water, the reason all of the old tall ships were made of WO. You can slice an inch
off the end of a piece of RO and actually blow smoke through it. There is one exception (at least) to that, we called it ‘Bastard’ oak- RO with closed pores. But what happens if you can’t see the end grain? Color of the wood isn’t reliable in the least but the color of the inner bark (if any) will often get you started in the right direction- Orange/yellow = RO Red/brown = WO (but don’t count on it)
The most reliable clue is the lenght of the rays, those little bitty lines you see on the face of flat sawn lumber and the ‘fleck’ seen on the face of QS lumber- RO rays are short- 1/2” – 3/4” WO rays are alot longer 1” – 1 3/4”. Very easy to spot which is wihich if you know what you’re looking at, no, they do not resemble one another in the least. The fleck in RO is short and narrow, in WO it’s long and wider. If someone tries to sell you QS WO that looks like the above picture you are about to get ripped off as it is clearly RO.
The QS is heavier than flat sawn question is a non-starter- The wood weighs what it does and it don’t care how you saw it. RO weighs @ 7#/bdft green, WO about #7.2. The weight will vary from tree to tree esspecially if they come from different sites, but it ain’t by much.
The above picture “circa 1964” is labled WO, it is actually RO, I can see the lenght of the rays on the face.
There are things to look for in any of the varities of wood both hard and soft.

-- A TOOL JUNKIE- There, I just admited it to myself...

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closetguy

744 posts in 2517 days


#24 posted 1122 days ago

You’re right WoodRme. I grabbed a picture out of the wrong folder. This one should be white oak. I make so many of these (white oak, red oak, butternut, ash) that they all start looking the same after a while, especially after the finish is applied. Kind of like being married 30+ years…

-- I don't make mistakes, only design changes....www.dgmwoodworks.com

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oblowme

91 posts in 1188 days


#25 posted 1121 days ago

Yup, that’s white oak, a fine looking piece I might add.
These are post boxes? (just my guess)
Keep up the good work

-- A TOOL JUNKIE- There, I just admited it to myself...

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bound

11 posts in 1314 days


#26 posted 1121 days ago

Good info from WoodRMe. Thank you for the info about bastard red, I had never heard of such a thing.

I have been using a trick similar to his smoke blowing description to differentiate between downed oaks to make lumber out of.

Roy Underhill demonstrated that air can travel through the end grain of red oak by splitting off a piece 1”X12” and using it as a straw to blow bubbles in a bowl of water. Try it it really works!

I don’t know if the smell is foolproof.. but anecdotally, fresh cut red oak smells a bit like vomit to me.

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oblowme

91 posts in 1188 days


#27 posted 1120 days ago

bound- RO as well as a number of other species can smell very different from one load to another, mostly due to the chemistry of the different sites harvested from. I’ve seen one load that came out of the PA/OH area that smelled like cider vinager. Most do have that rotton egg odor, but I’ve also seen some that had little to no odor at all. The ones that are particulary fowl smelling come from the low grounds, the other from the high.
Funny you should bring up odor- I can tell you what a mill is cutting from the smell alone, don’t even have to go into the building, all I have to do is stand down wind.

-- A TOOL JUNKIE- There, I just admited it to myself...

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Sawmillnc

150 posts in 1679 days


#28 posted 1120 days ago

With all of this talk about oak familys and who belongs where etc I haven’t seen anything yet that is correct about ‘familys’ in the oaks- All of the oaks are in the BEECH family.

—A TOOL JUNKIE- There, I just admited it to myself…

Well if you want to get technical… The ORDER NAME is called Fagales which is derived from genus Fagus which includes Birch, She-oak, Beech, Walnut, Bayberry, Southern Beech. The name does not connote that all of those species are subs species of Beech but rather all are a part of a family of trees that flower. Quercus (oak), Fagus (beech) , Betula ( birch), Juglans(walnut) are all distinct separate species genetically and physically. So no, the Quercus genus is a sub species of the Fagaceae family of the order Fagales and not a Beech.

-- Kyle Edwards, http://www.sawmillnc.com, Iron Station , NC (near Charlotte)

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oblowme

91 posts in 1188 days


#29 posted 1119 days ago

Oh…now I get it, the books got it wrong. Huh.

-- A TOOL JUNKIE- There, I just admited it to myself...

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Sawmillnc

150 posts in 1679 days


#30 posted 1119 days ago

That’s from the books you just have to understand what they say. A common ancestor does not mean it is the same species no more than a modern Skink is a Tyrannosaur.

-- Kyle Edwards, http://www.sawmillnc.com, Iron Station , NC (near Charlotte)

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Sawmillnc

150 posts in 1679 days


#31 posted 1119 days ago

-- Kyle Edwards, http://www.sawmillnc.com, Iron Station , NC (near Charlotte)

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oblowme

91 posts in 1188 days


#32 posted 1118 days ago

Ok, so my dendrology skills don’t go quite as deep as others. However the National Audubon Societie’s Book (Eastern trees) a book that has mucho creds (as do the rest of the books they publish) does not list the Oaks as a family in and of itself, if you go looking for Oak you will find every one of them listed under the Beech family. For 99% of us that’s close enough.
Tracing the history all of the way back as far as it goes is not really relivent, if you want to go that route then an argument could be made that since both man and trees developed from bacitera (or you could go back even further) then we are trees and trees are us as well as dogs, geese, beavers and camels (one hump and 2).
That sounds silly and it is, however the theory is sound and provable.
If you really want something to mull over consider this: The NHLA makes the rules for the measurement and inspection of Hardwood Lumber and is the law of the land as it were. The Book (quite extensive and hard to understand for the untrained) states that ‘No inspector shall attempt to differentiate between xxxxxx and xxxxxx species’ probably not a direct quote as it’s been years since I’ve needed the knowledge contained within, but it’s pretty close. The rule applies to Tupelo/Black Gum, Yellow Poplar/Tulip Tree, Pecan/Hickory and I’m sure I’ve missed some others. Does that mean they are the same? No, just that they are close enough, given their characteristics, relationships and end use that it’s a waste of time dividing them. The old joke goes “You can tell the Black Gum from the Tupelo when you open the kiln door- the Black Gum will unload itself. Actually after looking at several million feet of hardwood one can tell one from the other, but no one really cares.
The point is we have RO and we have WO, dispite the hundreds of varients within them, and that is really the only practical extent we need to know. Knowing that they are both in the Beech family is little more than a novelity. Knowing that they (all trees) share a common ancestriy and can be traced back through it’s family tree (couldn’t resist that one) is trival at best.

-- A TOOL JUNKIE- There, I just admited it to myself...

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Sawmillnc

150 posts in 1679 days


#33 posted 1118 days ago

WoodRMe. Spot on and good information.

-- Kyle Edwards, http://www.sawmillnc.com, Iron Station , NC (near Charlotte)

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