Oak - red or white?

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Forum topic by KnickKnack posted 09-10-2008 06:41 PM 6020 views 0 times favorited 11 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View KnickKnack's profile


1094 posts in 3806 days

09-10-2008 06:41 PM

Topic tags/keywords: oak red oak white oak outdoor furniture

I’ve just bought some oak from the local, err well, the only lumberyard nearby (I’m in Portugal). Portugal is, as you probably know, a land full of magnificent oak trees (some cork oak, others not), which it’s illegal to fell, so this is, I was told, from America.
It IS oak, of this I’m sure, but is it red or white?
How can I tell?
I’ve looked at pictures on the ‘net, and the “white oak” pictures look redder than the “red oak” pictures.
I was hoping to make some outdoor furniture with it – Timelife recommends white oak for this, but says red oak is unsuitable (but doesn’t say why). Are they right? Will I spontaneously combust if I sit outdoors on a red oak chair? Will it dissolve in the first rains?
Any thoughts appreciated before I start, or don’t start, work.

As an aside – what thoughts on my alternatives – choices are limited to beech, ash, pine, and african woods I don’t want to use.

Aside aside – I was also offered “tola”, but I can’t find out much about this.

-- "Do not speak – unless it improves on silence." --- "Following the rules and protecting the regulations is binding oneself without rope."

11 replies so far

View Dick, & Barb Cain's profile

Dick, & Barb Cain

8693 posts in 4539 days

#1 posted 09-10-2008 06:58 PM

Here’s a good site for wood ID,

White oak is supposed to withstand the elements better, but I think it’s ground contact, like fence posts , or railroad ties.

I think with the proper finish. Red Oak will hold up outdoors.

-- -** You are never to old to set another goal or to dream a new dream ****************** Dick, & Barb Cain, Hibbing, MN.

View CharlieM1958's profile


16281 posts in 4457 days

#2 posted 09-10-2008 07:07 PM

Try this link for some tips on telling them apart:

-- Charlie M. "Woodworking - patience = firewood"

View KnickKnack's profile


1094 posts in 3806 days

#3 posted 09-10-2008 08:27 PM

Wow – nowt is simple.
A lot on Charlie’s site seems to involve comparisons. For example – “Look for the rays (long horizontal marks), which will be longer in white oak”, which won’t work since I have only one sample. Much seems also to be about growth rate.
My oak
1000 words
seems to look more like the white than the red – but that’s in someone’s part of the country.
Perhaps someone with experience…?

-- "Do not speak – unless it improves on silence." --- "Following the rules and protecting the regulations is binding oneself without rope."

View Daren Nelson's profile

Daren Nelson

767 posts in 4145 days

#4 posted 09-10-2008 11:03 PM

That is white oak. A closer shot of the face grain and end grain would confirm it 100%. The growth rings are too close together for commercially available red oak.

View CutNRun's profile


122 posts in 4085 days

#5 posted 09-10-2008 11:17 PM

White oak has occlusions in the vessel elements called tyloses. These basically plug the pores enabling white oak to be used in barrel making. Red oak does not have tyloses and cannot be used for barrel making. If you look closely at a fresh, clean cut on end grain, red oak will have open pores while white oak will have pores that are plugged. The “blowing smoke” trick is also a function of the pore structure. Hmmm, haven’t used some of those words for over 25 years. Back to lurking.

-- CutNRun - So much wood, so many trails, so little time

View David Freed's profile

David Freed

113 posts in 3907 days

#6 posted 09-11-2008 03:53 AM

I agree with Daren. It looks like white oak to me. Another variation of blowing through a piece is to stick one end in water. You can blow bubbles with red oak, but not white oak.

-- David, Southern Indiana

View calacalou's profile


13 posts in 3797 days

#7 posted 09-11-2008 04:05 AM

This is definetely white oak. I am 99.9 per cent sure of this.

-- Chantal L., Montreal

View tenontim's profile


2131 posts in 3983 days

#8 posted 09-11-2008 04:06 AM

I can tell by the smell when you cut it. White oak has a pleasant, woody smell. Red oak smells like bad cheese.

View Josh's profile


119 posts in 4177 days

#9 posted 09-11-2008 04:19 AM

How funny. I was going to say by the smell to. Only I think the red oak smells better. It is the only oak I use to smoke with. I agree on the oak white oak having a woody smell.

View SteveKorz's profile


2139 posts in 3953 days

#10 posted 09-11-2008 07:08 AM

Yup… white oak… end grain is plugged.

-- As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. (Proverbs 27:17) †

View LeeinEdmonton's profile


254 posts in 3820 days

#11 posted 09-12-2008 07:20 PM

Red oak does not like moisture hence is not used for exterior projects. Water will turn it black. White oak is more resistant to water & in Eastern Canada is often used for decking to take advantage of the wear characteristics.

-- Lee

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