Oak has long been a favorite among wood workers. It is dense, durable, and machines and finishes very well. However, “Oak” is a broad classification. In the United States alone there are close to 90 species. These species broadly fall into either Red Oak or White Oak. Both have similar wood working properties and both show dramatic figure in the quartersawn grain known as Medullary Rays or Ray Flake.
That is where the similarities end. The main difference between Red and White oak can be found by looking at the end grain. Doing this reveals open pore structure in the growth rings of the red oak versus the closed structure of the white oak. White oak has tannin built up in these pores. This tannin makes white oak water resistant and ideal for applications such as boat building, outdoor furniture, flooring, and making whisky/wine barrels. A quick way to tell the difference between the two species from their outside appearance is to look at their leaves. Red oaks have pointed tips on their leaves and a white oak’s leaf will be rounded at the tips.
On the other hand, the open pore structure of the Red Oak means it will wick up moisture where it can get trapped and cause damage to the wood. Red oak is ideal for indoor applications where it won’t encounter water, such as millwork and interior trim, interior doors, cabinets, and fine furniture.
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