Wednesday, 12 May 2021 17:55

What are some key differences between Red Oak and White Oak?

Red Oak and White Oak are both beautiful hardwoods. Each with its own niche in the industry. Both of these species can be used in a vast variety of finished products, from flooring to furniture, and more. But how can you tell the difference between the two? And which species would work best in your specific application?ALDifferenceROWO2

A seasoned hardwood lumber expert would most likely tell you that there is quite a bit of differentiation between Red Oak and White Oak. To add to the complexity, under Red and White Oak there are as many as 8 or 9 different scientific species names that fall under each category of Red Oak (Quercus rubra) and White Oak (Quercus alba).

Many times the choice between Red Oak and White Oak comes down to personal preference based on the finished product they are producing. Whether it be furniture, flooring, cabinetry, doors, windows, etc. each have their own traits, beyond color, that may appeal to manufacturers.  That is why it is so important to understand the unique differences between both species.

Here are a few ways you can detect the differences between these two desirable hardwood species and which one might be most suitable for your application.

Lumber Color. This is oftentimes the most obvious difference between the two species. White Oak typically showcases a golden, creamy tone. Red Oak on the other hand has a warm,  pinkish hue.  Color is often times the determining factor for manufacturers depending on the look you are going for in your end product.

Cell Structure. Between the two species, one of the most significant differences is in their cell structure.  To observe this difference, take a look at the end grain of the boards of each species. On the White Oak board, you may notice, the pores in the fiber are found to be filled with tyloses.  Due to the tyloses present in White Oak, it allows it to be utilized for water-bearing products such as wine and whiskey barrels. That is a key difference between White Oak and Red Oak. Red Oak does not possess these tyloses and the end grain appears very open and porous. This is why many exterior applications use White Oak. The closed pore cell structure makes it much more resistant to rot and decay.

Species Hardness. White Oak lumber hardness is a touch higher than that of Red Oak lumber. With Red Oak possessing a Janka hardness of 1290 and White Oak coming in at 1360.

While there is a notable difference in hardness, both species handle wear very well and often excel in many applications. With this in mind, you will primarily see Red Oak used in many indoor applications, while White Oak is commonly used for both indoor and outdoor uses.

Medullary Rays. Medullary Rays, or “rays”, are important capillaries that transport nutrients and water throughout the tree as it grows in the forest.  The rays grow from the center of the log out across the growth rings. As the tree is harvested and sawed into lumber they present themselves as beautifully unique characteristics of the boards.  When the logs are quartersawn these rays become especially prevalent.  Quartersawing involves cutting the face of the boards perpendicular to the growth rings.

Quartersawn Oak offers a beautiful look that makes it highly coveted by many designers. Typically, you find this sawing style in White Oak due to the fact that the rays are much more pronounced than in Red Oak.  If you are looking for something that really makes your end product stand out, Quartersawn White Oak is a fantastic choice!

What species of Oak will work best for your application? If you have any questions or need any help figuring out whether Red Oak or White Oak is the right fit for your production, we would be happy to help you find the right fit for you!

American Lumber
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Last modified on Thursday, 13 May 2021 11:44

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