Two White Oaks

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merrill77

Master Scrap Maker
Chris
Corporate Member
Last spring, I bought a lot of white oak (mostly QS) for a project from an independent sawyer. I didn't get quite enough for my project (which is a 5-piece set), but I figured I would pick up more when I started the final piece. When I started milling it, I thought "gee, this looks a lot closer to red oak than I expected" (I've built several pieces recently from red oak and my wife and I agree we've got enough). But I thought: surely I must be wrong, certainly the sawyer knows what he's talking about.

Then in the spring, I won a batch of QS white oak (from The Woodworking Source, IIRC) and thought "great! now I'll have plenty to finish my project. When I picked it up, I thought "gee, this looks exactly like what I expect white oak to look like". I got it home and found that there was a pretty strong difference between that and the first batch. Too much difference to use them together on my project.

So I come seeking the collective wisdom of the group. I know there can be variation from one tree to the next...and possibly greater variation among a species harvested from different geographies. But I don't know how much. I've got pictures of typical pieces from each batch below (shown both raw and finished with 2 coats of blonde shellac).
Q1: Is my suspicion that one is red oak, rather than white, justified?
Q2: Is there any reasonable way for me to positively confirm that it is one or the other?

TIA!
Chris






 

Mike Davis

Mike
Corporate Member
The most positive identification is with a microscope. But, the difference is so obvious a small magnifying glass will do. Look at the cells, white oak has open cells and red oak has closed cells.
 

skysharks

New User
John Macmaster
Mike isn't it the other way around, white has the more closed grain, red oak has the open grain.
 

Mike Davis

Mike
Corporate Member
That's what i get for posting in my sleep. :rotflm:


YES, of course white oak has closed cells and red oak cells are open.


Thanks for the correction. :icon_thum
 

scsmith42

New User
Scott Smith
Mike and Mac: Although the "open versus closed pore" comparison is commonly used, there are actually five different species of white oak that have open grain; the most notable species found in North Carolina being chestnut oak.

Chris, the 100% sure test for white oak is to put a drop of sodium nitrite on it. If it is WO, it will stain very dark.

Unfortunately, color is not a good indicator when it comes to the various oaks, primarily because there are so many different species that make up with the red or white oak families.

One good indicater (other than sodium nitrite) is to look at the length of the rays. If they are under 3/4", it is probably red oak. Over 3/4", and it's probably WO.

In both of your photo's, the rays appear to be longer than 3/4", which would indicate that both boards are white oak.
 

Mike Davis

Mike
Corporate Member
Scott, Is it then false to say white oak is better for outside? I always heard that white oak was better for outside because of the closed cells.

Would it then go back to individual specie? Some white oaks are better than others for weather resistance?
 

scsmith42

New User
Scott Smith
Scott, Is it then false to say white oak is better for outside? I always heard that white oak was better for outside because of the closed cells.

Would it then go back to individual specie? Some white oaks are better than others for weather resistance?

Closed cell white oak is definitely the best for outside, and your closing statement is correct that some species are better than others for rot resistance.

"Most" of the white oak lumber is closed cell; chestnut oak being the most notable exception. IMO, chestnut oak is also one of the prettiest white oaks for furniture.
 

Bill Clemmons

Bill
Corporate Member
One of the true beauties of this web site / association: education. Thanks for the great info on the oaks. Always appreciated! :notworthy:

Bill
 

Howard Acheson

New User
Howard
>>>> the 100% sure test for white oak is to put a drop of sodium nitrite on it. If it is WO, it will stain very dark.

The quick and dirty test used to be blowing smoke through the length of red oak. The problem is that it's tough finding smokers these days.

As already pointed out, there are a number of sub-species of white oak and red oak. A number of white oak species can be colored like red oak.
 

paul dyar

New User
paul
Seen a demo at woodworking show in Charlotte, guy took a piece of red oak about 1/4" square and sucked water through it like a straw.
Paul
 

Gofor

Mark
Corporate Member
I ran across an page comparing leaves, bark, etc. of various oak species. Thought it might be of interest to some. I've added it to the link library:

http://www.ncwoodworker.net/links/showlink.php?l=319

added: FWIW, I must have a half-dozen different oak sub-species on my property!
Ditto here, also. Post, southern red, black, water, overcup, and white for certain. However, what messes me up is when I find 3 different leaves on the same tree (especially those less than 5 years old), Makes identifying them really hard. I guess the definitive way is to go by the acorns when they get big enough to have them.

Go
 

JimD

Jim
Senior User
I'm working with cherry right now but have built many projects in oak - more than I've done in cherry. Regardless of the wood, I enjoy finding a way to make the color variation that is normal in any type of wood work well together. I am glueing up what amount to flat panel doors to make a couple end tables. I sorted the pieces so that each frame will match reasonably well. I will have one, however, with mis-matched boards. I could mill more but the person this is for is not terribly picky, she enjoys a bit of contrast. It would bug me if I just put any old rail with any old stile. Seems sloppy.

Sometimes I use one color variation for the panels and a different one for the rails and stiles (for raised panel doors). Or you could have the top of a table be a different color variation than the base.

When we buy furniture, all this variation is evened out by the finish. I think one of the great things about making pieces myself is I can allow the natural color to come through while also avoiding having combinations that bother me (or the recipient). I would come up with a plan to use the lumber you've got. It could make a very nice combination.

Jim
 

scsmith42

New User
Scott Smith
I ran across an page comparing leaves, bark, etc. of various oak species. Thought it might be of interest to some. I've added it to the link library:

http://www.ncwoodworker.net/links/showlink.php?l=319

added: FWIW, I must have a half-dozen different oak sub-species on my property!

Chris, that's a great link!

One "quick and dirty" method to ID WO versus RO trees, is to look at the points on the leaves. WO leaves usually have rounded points, and RO leaves ususally have sharp points on the leaves.
 

PChristy

New User
Phillip
Isn't there a different in the smells of the two when milling it or is that my feet:wrolleyes: - When I have worked with WO it has a smell that stands out -
 

cptully

New User
Chris
One thing I would love to do is start building a library of small uniformly sized samples of different woods. I would shoot for 1x3x3 with the 3x3 surface being face grain.

From each sample I would shave off appropriate samples for microscopy and build a digital library of the microscopic images as well as pictures of the full sample. If anyone is will in to contribute pieces of unique species to such a project, please let me know. I have access to microscopy tools that would make these images very easily accessible and enjoyable for anyone to look at and review.

For what its worth, I got interested in the subject after reading Understanding Wood by Bruce Hoadley and then purchasing his Identifying Wood book.

Chris
 

scsmith42

New User
Scott Smith
Isn't there a different in the smells of the two when milling it or is that my feet:wrolleyes: - When I have worked with WO it has a smell that stands out -
To some extent, yes. Most white oaks smell like bourbon when they are being milled green. Many (but not all) red oaks smell a little more like a septic tank when they are milled green. On both, the smells pretty much disappear when the wood is dry.

Red oak is more susceptible to a bacteria infection that really makes it smell bad too...
 
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