Red Oak vs. White Oak: What is the difference?

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If you were talking to a wood science major they would tell you a lot!  They would be able to rattle off the various different scientific species names that fall under each of the red oak and white oak categories.  They would tell you that there are eight or nine different variations of quercus rubra and a similar amount of quercus alba.

If you asked a woodworker or craftsman they would also tell you there are significant differences between the two hardwood species, and not just the color.  They would probably also tell you how they prefer either red oak or white oak based the product they are producing such as furniture, doors, windows or flooring. So there is a great deal different between both species.

red-oak-leafOne of the most significant differences between the two species is their cell structure.  In white oak the pores in the fiber are found to be filled with tyloses.  According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, Tyloses are balloon-like outgrowths of parenchyma cells that bulge through the circular bordered pits of vessel members and block water movement.”  Because of the presence of tyloses white oak is able to be utilized for water bearing products such as wine and whiskey barrels where red oak cannot.  This is also why white oak is commonly preferred for exterior applications because its closed pore structure will also make it more resistant to rot and decay.

Another primary difference of red oak and white oak are their rays. Rays, or more properly referred to as medullary rays, are important capillaries that transport water and nutrients throughout the tree as it grows.  These 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 unique characteristics of the boards.  When viewed after a quartersawing process, where boards are cut with the growth rings in a perpendicular fashion to the face of the board, these rays many times add beautiful visual features to the lumber that are highly desirable in design.  Since the rays are more pronounced in white oak you will find designers and architects preferring quartersawn white oak for many of their projects.

white-oak-leafRed oak and white oak are both beautiful hardwoods with both having their respective place in working with wood.  What is important is choosing the proper oak for the application.  If we can help you with that decision please let us know. We would be happy to help.

Baillie Lumber Co.
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