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Thread: Red vs. White vs. other Oak sp.

  1. #1
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    Red vs. White vs. other Oak sp.

    Can some of you shed some light on what you consider the chief differences between red and white oak? (Are there others available? Black, maybe?)

    I know there is a color difference but for those of you that have worked both, what did you find you like/disliked about each species?

    My wife has suddenly discovered quartersawn oak. She was never a fan of flatsawn oak and therefore not an oak fan but she saw a qs oak kitchen display at the San Jose Home/Garden show yesterday and was like, "What is that wood? That is pretty cool!" She was shocked to find out it was oak and learned something about how lumber may be cut from logs and how it can look very different.
    Wood: a fickle medium....

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  2. #2
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    Talking

    White oak is used for barrels (think of Jim Beam, Jack Daniels, etc. ) and things that get wet.
    Gary
    Bluegrass - Finger Pickin Good!

  3. #3
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    White oak is a fair choice for outside projects. It's more resistant to rot and insect damage than red oak. Don't use red oak outside. Quarter sawn white oak was the primary choice for Mission style furniture. As a cabinet maker, I'm bored with seeing red oak everywhere (unless the design is unique). I don't mind the look of white oak (unstained).

  4. #4
    Chris,

    I made a built-in desk in the kitchen using white oak for the end panels. (I found a 15" wide piece - not at HD!) I've made kitchen cabinet faces from red oak, and the white seems to be more dense and considerably harder than red oak. (At least, it seemed that way when I was doing a relief carving in it!) Also, the grain seemed tighter. Your tools have to be SHARP! When it's all done, however, it's beautiful wood.

    Bob
    Spinning is good on a lathe, not good in a Miata.

  5. #5
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    Chris,
    One very important beggining to a great project is to start with great wood. I don't do any staining....I love the natural beauty of the wood to "speak" as its life continues as furniture. As you know, a lot of time goes into each peice of furniture that is hand made...start with great wood! White quartersawn oak has the figuring and "rays" that make it special. Red oak is a much more ordinary wood....not worth putting your good time and hard work into.
    Last edited by Mark Singer; 06-08-2004 at 11:12 AM.
    "All great work starts with love .... then it is no longer work"

  6. #6
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    Red oak is open pored. White oak is closed pored.

    White oak is more dense.

    The color is diffrent(as has been pointed out already).

    Both are very attractive when qrt sawn. White oak is a bit more dashing in this form. The rays are larger.

    Like all lumber, the beauty lies in the artisan.

  7. #7
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    Chris,
    I have a bit of English brown oak, which is a sort of medium brown, and has a more attractive grain than red oak, and to my eye white oak. Seems softer than white oak. Some is burled, and that is quite striking. There may be other types as well. Lacewwod is called silky oak in Australia, but I don't know if it is related to oak.
    Alan

  8. #8
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    Cool...great info on oak that I wasn't aware of initially. I have some lacewood at home...neat stuff.
    Wood: a fickle medium....

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  9. #9
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    The most noteworthy distinction between "white" oaks and "red" oaks (there are multiple species in each catagory) is in the pore structure as mentioned. A piece of red oak can be used as a soda straw...hence, the reason it's ill-suited to outdoor projects. You might want to pick up a copy of Bruce Hoadley's Understanding Wood and/or his Identifying Wood. They really get into the basis for all this kind of thing and being the analytical person you are, should make for interesting bathroom reading...
    --

    The most expensive tool is the one you buy "cheaply" and often...

  10. #10
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    Actually, I have both of his books. I shall look up oak and see what it is all about.
    Wood: a fickle medium....

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  11. #11
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    Let's put a mention in here for riftsawn oak, as well. You don't get the tiger effect, but you do get a nice, straight grain. And some stability is added (vs. flatsawn), or so I am told.

  12. #12
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    There are several dozen species of white oaks and red oaks both. However, by the time they hit a sawmill, they are broadley categorized as either white or red.

    I have harvested a lot of "white oaks", but more specifically, "post" oak. Post oak gets it name because it is good for posts for fences. As has been said, white oak is a good outdoor wood, and any white oak would be good for a fence post. There is also willow oak. Both post oak and willow oak are not as desireable as a true white oak, as they are more prone to checking, honeycombs, etc.

    I've harvested several red oaks too - water oak and southern red oak mostly. Neither of these are as good as the northern species.

    A fantastically hard "white" oak is Live Oak. Sharp tools are important, but big BIG HP motors are important too!! The USS Constitution was nicknamed "Old Ironsides" because cannon balls would bounce off of it. It was made from Live Oak. It's specific gravity is .95 - just about as heavy as water.

    Some oaks, depending on where they grew, are more susceptible to mineral staining and streaking. Appilachian red oak comes to mind as a less desirable red oak.

    Both oaks can be upland or lowland oaks. Think of growing on the top of a hill (upland) or in a valley (lowland). The upland oak will have more growth rings per inch, as it grows slower, versus the lowland that gets more water and grows faster - bigger (wider) rings.

    Scarlet red oak is beautiful red. I'm sure you've been in a lumber store and seen both pale and vibrant red oaks. This is most likely because you are looking at different species that got mixed at the sawmill or drying yard. Smaller, specialty mills are a good source for your hunt for a specific red or white oak.

    I think what gives oak a bad rap is two things. First, rotary cut oak plywood. This is when they peel the wood off like toilet paper. It's not a natural look and creates huge cathedrals. Rotary cutting gives a great yield to a veneer log and there is less piecing (stitching) together. Second bad rap is bad finishing. Oak's huge pores REALLY collect pigment and cause a big contrast between the latewood and earlywood; earlywood being the wood that grows in the spring - faster growing - bigger pores, whie late wood is the summer growth. Filling these pores or choosing a finish schedule that does not include a pigment stain really helps the look of any finished oak.

    I have used both rift sawn and quartersawn red oak. Both are beautiful. Here's a countertop I made on a built-in back in '99 with QSRO. At the time, the 1/4" thick ply cost me $53 a sheet. I filled the pores, stained it, then brushed a varnish on it.

    Probably more than you wanted to know.
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  13. #13
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    More, Dr. Burch, I need more!! Thank you for the abstract, now I'm ready for the dissertation!
    Wood: a fickle medium....

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  14. #14
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    I have read that White Oak can be steamed in a... I think ammonia solution? The projects which I have seen steamed this way look awesome, it really brings out a deaper brown color.

    I've seen white oak have a yellowish color, which I can't stand, and it has kept me away from the wood (might be the finish)... much prefered that steamed look.

    Anyone know how to do this?

  15. #15
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    [QUOTE=Chris Padilla]Can some of you shed some light on what you consider the chief differences between red and white oak? (Are there others available? Black, maybe?)

    QUOTE]

    Chris ---
    Black oak, at least here in California, is a red oak which grows in the Sierras. I've worked with black oak -- I have several rooms in my home which are floored with it -- and I have a difficult time distinguishing it from the generic red oak (probably from Tennessee or the like) in the lumberyard.

    Now, when you ask about "others", lemme tell you about live oak. California live oaks are the predominant native tree for 100 miles around your home. Unfortunately, it generally only used for fire wood. This is a pity. It is beautiful lumber. When you look at it, you can tell it is a red oak, but it isn't the bland stuff in your lumberyard. It is often darker, with swirls of brown and black in it. The ray fleck is much more prominent. And, because the tree is so gnarly, the lumber has lots interesting grain patterns in it.
    The downside with live oak is that there is no commercial market in the lumber. You need to pull it out of firewood, or find an amateur sawyer who has cut and dried it.

    Jamie

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