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White or red oak?

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Forum topic by RussellAP posted 03-06-2014 02:22 PM 901 views 0 times favorited 27 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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RussellAP

2954 posts in 953 days


03-06-2014 02:22 PM

Guys, I am bidding on a built-in job for a client who says he has red oak in his house. I think it’s likely white oak. How can you tell the difference? Is the difference important in any way for indoor furniture?

Thanks

-- A positive attitude will take you much further than positive thinking ever will.


27 replies so far

View mds2's profile

mds2

243 posts in 610 days


#1 posted 03-06-2014 02:27 PM

Around here every house build within the last 30 years is red oak everything. Trim, doors, cabinets, etc. I’m surprised there is any left.

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Don W

15059 posts in 1234 days


#2 posted 03-06-2014 02:28 PM

Red oak has a reddish hue, white oak is grey. Finish the 2 side by side there is a big difference in color.

Red oak is much more popular. You can typically buy red oak in places like Home depot. I’ve never seen white oak in a big box store.

Red oak for inside furniture will last forever, outside, not so much. White oak will last outside, so that’s where you see it more.

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

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RussellAP

2954 posts in 953 days


#3 posted 03-06-2014 02:36 PM

Don, I’ve rarely seen red oak around here in Kansas City. I see a ton of white oak which is why I was skeptical when he said the house was done in red oak. I don’t even know where I can get red oak here unless it would be a local sawyer. White oak can be made to look the same I think depending on the finish at his house. I was looking primarily for any grain difference there might be. I have a little of each and I can’t really tell the diff.

-- A positive attitude will take you much further than positive thinking ever will.

View BinghamtonEd's profile

BinghamtonEd

1369 posts in 1036 days


#4 posted 03-06-2014 02:36 PM

If it’s finished and you can’t see the end grain, you can look at the rays. Red oak usually has more shorter rays. White oak usually has fewer but longer rays. This has worked for me, but I’ve been looking at unfinished oak. Last time my wife went to her pregnancy checkup I found myself examining the oak woodwork in the doctor’s office thinking the same thing.

-- - The mightiest oak in the forest is just a little nut that held its ground.

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TheWoodenOyster

898 posts in 601 days


#5 posted 03-06-2014 02:37 PM

Try to find an end grain spot and take a look there. Red oak pores are massive. White oak pores are definitely visible, but not nearly as big. Color differentiation doesn’t do you much good and the two look very similar other than the pores. I can usually barely tell the difference with raw wood and under stain and finish I bet I would have a much harder time. Good luck.

Try Hobbithouseinc.com if you haven’t already.

-- The Wood Is Your Oyster

View camps764's profile

camps764

796 posts in 1026 days


#6 posted 03-06-2014 02:38 PM

this is a great question…curious to see the replies

Edit: and that’s what happens when open a tab and there are no responses…go get coffee…and then post your thoughts…my bad!

-- Steve. Visit my website http://www.campbellwoodworking.com

View Fred Hargis's profile

Fred Hargis

1819 posts in 1159 days


#7 posted 03-06-2014 02:41 PM

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen white oak trim…if it is it was almost certainly custom made. But in appearance, I don’t think the difference is that obvious if your trying to stay consistent with what he has. I prefer white oak, but it’s a personla taste thing IMHO.

-- Our village hasn't lost it's idiot, he was elected to congress.

View CharlieM1958's profile

CharlieM1958

15702 posts in 2884 days


#8 posted 03-06-2014 02:43 PM

Some good info here:

http://www.wood-database.com/wood-articles/distinguishing-red-oak-from-white-oak/

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

View Don W's profile

Don W

15059 posts in 1234 days


#9 posted 03-06-2014 02:44 PM

View Don W's profile

Don W

15059 posts in 1234 days


#10 posted 03-06-2014 02:47 PM

Hey Charlie, great minds think alike!

Russell, I find white oak to be more bland. It doesn’t have the sparkle of red oak. But then, you take what you can get.

I know a lot of guys don’t care for oak, but I think it makes some nice furniture.

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

View BinghamtonEd's profile

BinghamtonEd

1369 posts in 1036 days


#11 posted 03-06-2014 02:49 PM

I think if, given the responses and information here, it’s that difficult to determine white vs red…probably either would do, and whether it matches or not would primarily be a result of choosing oak that is sawn to produce a matching grain pattern, and a matching finish. Although it would be tough to know up front, especially given differences in price and the fact that you need to bid before you can actually try to make a matching sample.

Edit : I think it’s funny that Don mentioned white doesn’t have the sparkle of red. I’m working on a project with QSWO right now, and notice after planing it that the white actually literally sparkles.

-- - The mightiest oak in the forest is just a little nut that held its ground.

View summerfi's profile

summerfi

1066 posts in 353 days


#12 posted 03-06-2014 02:53 PM

The above suggestions are useful, but there is one conclusive way to tell the two apart that no one has mentioned. Look at the end grain with no finish on it. All wood is made up of fibers. If you look at the end grain of red oak, the fibers look hollow, like a bunch of soda straws held together. On white oak, the fibers are filled in and not hollow. You may need a magnifying glass to see this. This is what makes white oak slightly heavier and gives it more durability in outside applications and makes it suitable for whiskey barrels.

-- Bob, Missoula, MT -- "Of all the tools I own, my favorite is a good sharp pocket knife." - My Dad

View Don W's profile

Don W

15059 posts in 1234 days


#13 posted 03-06-2014 03:06 PM

Don’t get me wrong Ed. I like white oak. I almost did my whole kitchen floor with white oak, my wife just wanted lighter because the cabinets are red oak.

I just think for inside work red oak is a little better. But then I like darker wood. Its a personal taste, and white oak still comes pretty close. I do agree however, QSWO is fantastic.

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

View schuft's profile

schuft

122 posts in 1273 days


#14 posted 03-06-2014 03:13 PM

I just think for inside work red oak is a little better. But then I like darker wood.

That’s interesting Don, I’ve always thought of white oak as being darker. But then as others have mentioned there’s a wide variability of hue in these two species.

View MBD's profile

MBD

43 posts in 551 days


#15 posted 03-06-2014 03:13 PM

Summerfi is right, most of the time if both species are flat sawn, it is very hard to tell the difference without looking at the end grain. If you are a smoker, you can actually blow smoke through the hollow fibers of the R. Oak.

-- Matt, Mississippi

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