Feb 27

Tricks of the trade

by David Venables, European Director, American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC)

I gave away one of my secrets last week to a room full of architects in Portugal, when I was asked how you tell the difference between American red oak and white oak. So I thought it was time I shared it.

Given their names you might think colour is the answer, but actually you can get white oak lumber that’s red or pink in colour and red oak that it is so light that it looks the same as white oak.

Why is this?

Well for a start, there are many many different sub species of red and white oak and they grow across a huge geographical area in the US, from Maine in the north, to Louisiana in the south and east from the Mississippi river to the Atlantic coast.  In addition, climate, topography and soil variations can also result in colour, grain and texture variations that can mislead even the most experienced “woodies”.

The easiest way to tell the difference is to look carefully at the ray flecks you find in all oaks (often best seen as flame-like patterns in the quarter sawn plane).  In true red oaks these ray flecks will always be shorter (typically around 10mm) than in white oak (20mm or longer). Simple but effective, so now you can impress next time you are challenged with the oak test!

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