Q: What is the difference between red oak and white oak?

A: We divide the many species ofoak (genus name is Quercus) into two basic groups: Red oak and whiteoak. Within each of these groups are about 20 species that are commerciallyused for lumber. However, almost all lumber is sold as either red or white andthe species separations are not made.

 

In the woods, if the leaves on thetree are rounded at the ends, it is in the white oak group. Pointed ends meanred oak. Sweet acorns, white oak; bitter, red oak.

 

For lumber, some generaldifferences are:

- - White oak tends to be slightlyheavier than red oak

- - White oak tends to be slightlystronger, harder and stiffer than red oak, but not always

- - White oak, when freshly sawnis about 65 percent MC; red oak is 80 percent MC

- - Some of the red oak specieshave a reddish color (especially cherry bark oak), but some do not; some whiteoaks are darker and some are redder than red oaks (but color is not a goodseparator between white and red)

- - Most white oaks have the largepores in the wood plugged (and are used for whiskey and white barrels), but redoak is not plugged (technical term for being plugged is occluded)

- - White oak dries more slowlythan red due to occlusions

- - When finishing, red oak ismore porous than white due to occlusions

- - Any gluing differences betweenthe two groups are small and are overshadowed by other factors, such asmoisture content

- - Any mating differences betweenthe two groups are small and are overshadowed by other factors such as grainangle and moisture

- - The ray cells on white oak arelonger (over 1-1/2 inches longoften in white vs. ½ inch in red) and wider; thisdifference creates an overall appearance difference and this difference is howexperienced people can separate red and white instantly

- - The ray pattern contrast evenin flatsawn grain makes white oak look “heavier” which is an often an undesiredappearance difference to many North American consumers (except in Mission Stylefurniture); in contrast, European and Asian consumers like the heaviness ofwhite oak

- - On a quartersawn surfaceespecially, white oak has more dramatic ray fleck patterns than red oak

- - On the average, flatsawn whiteoak shrinks and swells with moisture content changes slightly more than red

- - White oak has natural decayand insect resistance; red oak has little resistance

 

Overall, for most properties thereis more variation within each group than between the two groups. For thisreason, the geographic source of lumber is often very important to maintainconsistency.

 

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