Red Oak, White Oak, Black Oak, and More

but there's more to the story than that. This thread offers a few little-known facts about oak varieties. June 20, 2005

Is all the black oak that is being sold finished as red oak? I am from central Indiana and there are a lot of black oaks being removed, but you never see black oak lumber for sale. Any help would be appreciated.

Forum Responses
(Sawing and Drying Forum)
From Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
Oak lumber is sold as either red or white. These are the two groups of oaks based on leaves, acorns, and so on. (Once in a while, California black oak is sold alone. Also, live oak would be alone.) Once sawn into lumber, we cannot separate oak into any group except red or white groups.

Note: Within the group of 20 or so species that we call red oak, there is northern red oak (Quercus Rubra) and southern red oak. Within the 20 or so in the white oak group, there is one species called white oak (Quercus Alba).

So, black oak in the midwest is legally sold as red oak. When the rings are spaced 1/4" or further apart, we might also call this a southern oak (or lowland). Closer spacing is a northern or Appalachian (or upland) oak. This adjective is added to either red or white and does not replace red or white.

From contributor Z:
Gene, would pin oak fall into the red category?

From Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:

Pin oak is one of the 20 commercial red oak species.

From contributor D:
I recently milled, dried, and built a project out of chestnut oak. This variety appears (and smells) a lot like white oak. I was told by the tree cutter that this is considered in the red oak family. Is that right?

From Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
To contributor D: Chestnut oak is a white oak. However, it is a little different than most white oaks in that it does not have the occluded pores. That is, the pores are not plugged. (Many people know that white oaks have deposits in the pores of the wood, making the wood water-tight, so you can make barrels that hold liquids from the white oaks. This is true for most white oaks, but not all. Chestnut oak is a major exception.)

Some years ago, Jack Daniels had an ad with a forester leaning against a very large oak tree. The ad mentioned how they were proud of the oaks that they used for barrels, etc. The tree was actually a chestnut oak tree. After I wrote to them to let them know about this, they were kind enough to send me a nice letter of thanks.

From contributor J:
As an interesting side note, my brother-in-law and his family own and run a sawmill in Kentucky that makes staves for barrels. The barrels wind up with whisky or wine in them, and all of their staves are red oak. I can only guess that they must saw them to avoid the porosity issue.

From Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
To contributor J: This is the first time I have heard of red oak being used for liquid barrels. White oak has a vanilla flavor that adds to the liquid in the barrel. This is not true with red oak.

Hence, white oak is preferred for wine barrels. White oak also has a lack of leakage. Some barrels can be lined with plastic. Barrel oak is quarter-sawn. To add color and flavor, white oak barrels may be charred on the inside. This gives whiskey its dark color.