Q: Recently we received a truckload of green 8/4 white oak lumber from one of our suppliers from southern West Virginia. After putting on stickers many of us here at our mill, including myself, feel that this lumber is in fact red oak. The pores of the lumber are open. It also has a reddish tint unlike the tan we normally see in our white oak. I remember that there was a chemical that can be applied to oak boards to identify red or white oak in hard to identify lumber. My question is do you happen to know the name of this chemical that we used and also where I might be able to get some?

A:  Your memory is accurate. A 10 percent solution of sodium nitrite in water is a perfect indicator of whether the oak is from the white oak grouping (rounded leaves, sweet acorns) or red oak grouping (pointed leaves, bitter acorns). When put on green or dry, warm or cold lumber or logs, the chemical will turn quite dark if the wood is white oak.

A pharmacist or high school chemistry teacher should be able to make a solution for you. Discard any unused solution; or else, if you store the chemical, prepare the proper labeling; see OSHA regulations for requirements.

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