The woes of Oak

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Forum topic by pdegreyt posted 07-26-2012 08:04 PM 4285 views 0 times favorited 17 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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66 posts in 2111 days

07-26-2012 08:04 PM

Topic tags/keywords: oak

I have a question for those of you in the US why does US oak not stain your hands? I used to work iwth oak in Belgium and every time I would have a case of the blue hands. I have worked with oak here in the US and no blue hands I was wondering why that was. just a small note I did work with hand tools back in Belgium

17 replies so far

View Kookaburra's profile


748 posts in 2187 days

#1 posted 07-26-2012 08:16 PM

I have never heard of blue oak hands! And I have worked with a lot of oak. Any chance they treated it with an insecticide or something in Belgium that is not used in the US?

-- Kay - Just a girl who loves wood.

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Steve Peterson

370 posts in 3045 days

#2 posted 07-26-2012 08:36 PM

I get black stained finger tips when I work with white oak. There are so many species of oak, but usually they get clasified as either red or white. Most oak sold in the US is probably red oak. Any chance you know what type of oak you had in Belgium?

-- Steve

View Tokolosi's profile


678 posts in 2318 days

#3 posted 07-26-2012 08:38 PM

I work with oak quite a bit and also never experienced it. However, I did a quick Google search and found a few references to hands and fingers getting stained blue/grey/light purple from oak. The explanation seems to be that the oaks high tannin content reacts with oils and perspiration on your hands causing the staining which apparantly is really hard to remove. It also seems that the only time this happens is working with fresh oak. White Oak is reportedly a really bad one but aparantly fresh cherry, mesquite and walnut will do the same.

-- “There is nothing like looking, if you want to find something. You certainly usually find something, if you look, but it is not always quite the something you were after.” ~ JRR Tolkien

View bondogaposis's profile


4680 posts in 2314 days

#4 posted 07-26-2012 08:54 PM

There are hundreds of species of oak. No doubt you were working w/ a different specie in Belgium.

-- Bondo Gaposis

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51457 posts in 3443 days

#5 posted 07-26-2012 09:10 PM

I heard once that the tannin in the wood, combined with the iron oxide that comes off metal tools, mixes with the perspiration on your hands and the three cause the staining. I am not a chemist so not sure if that makes sense, but thats what I’ve heard. I think it affects folks differently too…maybe depending on your body chemistry and how moist your hands are. I havent had this problem, but then I dont use a lot of hand tools either.

-- Wayne - Plymouth MN

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404 - Not Found

2544 posts in 2932 days

#6 posted 07-26-2012 09:10 PM

American white oak has a lower tannin content than European oak. I go through a lot of American white oak here in Ireland, because it is more readily available than the native oak. Never had blue finger with the imported stuff.

View sawdustmaker101's profile


36 posts in 2648 days

#7 posted 07-26-2012 09:11 PM

Was the Belgium oak green fresh cut? I worked in the saw mill / pallet business for several years, and when the oak was cut you’d get blue hands handling the stuff.If you fell an oak and left your metal felling wedge on the stump it would leave a blue mark. Its the tannin…

-- Bob, Michigan

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2236 posts in 2653 days

#8 posted 07-26-2012 09:14 PM

I have experienced it ,more than a few times.I even had it on my recent project which is butternut.I have also had it with walnut.

-- I don't drive a Prius.

View DS's profile


2894 posts in 2383 days

#9 posted 07-26-2012 09:16 PM

I’ve seen the gray-blue marks when clamping across glue-ups. The moisture in the glue combined with the iron of the clamp react with the tannin in the wood. (I’m careful to isolate the clamps from the boards these days.)

I’ve never had this on my hands, but, I could see how it could happen if the iron-oxide is somehow introduced into the equation. (Perhaps from handling metal tools, or, even having dust with high iron content on your hands)

-- "Hard work is not defined by the difficulty of the task as much as a person's desire to perform it.", DS251

View pdegreyt's profile


66 posts in 2111 days

#10 posted 07-26-2012 09:19 PM

French oak and the oak used in Belgium will stain, that why it is used in making wine because of the chemical released by the oak that will add to the flavor of the wine. the side effect at least in French oak is when working with the wood your hands mostly your finger will turn blue and yes it takes quite some time for it to wear off your fingers. It seems that the oak in US doesn’t have the quality of it’s French oak cousin. So this makes me wonder if US oak is suitable for making wine?
I was also taught back in school(in Belgium) that when building wood project that will be used with food or as hand tools you can only use birch(berk in Dutch) because it doesn’t bleed meaning release and chemicals that will react with any type of moisture, yet here I see people use all types of wood for tools and cutting boards. strange for me I would say

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66 posts in 2111 days

#11 posted 07-26-2012 09:24 PM

was the oak fresh cut? that is a good question. I can’t remember, the wood was provided to us by the school. it came from the lumber yard, but that is all I can remember. It is intresting to learn about the other wood types out there that bleed as well. has any of you ever worked with madrone?

View EPJartisan's profile


1118 posts in 3088 days

#12 posted 07-31-2012 09:50 PM

Hi and for the opposite reason is why whiskey distilleries in Scotland use old white oak Bourbon casks from the US. Madrone is an amazing wood for carving, as tight grained as fruitwoods (reminds me of pear wood), but far more stable and it carves beautifully and occasionally can have some great figuring, but the color and texture is very uniform.

-- " 'Truth' is like a beautiful flower, unique to each plant and to the season it blossoms ... 'Fact' is the root and leaf, allowing the plant grow and bloom again."

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5688 posts in 3271 days

#13 posted 08-01-2012 01:36 AM

Ahhhh….Nothing like Belgium Blue!

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20 posts in 2088 days

#14 posted 08-01-2012 09:21 AM

didn’t knew about belgian blue . First time i heard it :)

-- Andrei,

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1310 posts in 2949 days

#15 posted 08-01-2012 12:55 PM

I have gotten some gnarly oak in the wilds of northern Michigan that stained me blue/grey. It also smelled something AWFUL. But, I think this particular oak came from an unusual soil set for North America.

-- Lis - Michigan - -

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