"Water Oak" Versus "Pin Oak"

      Locally common names for Oak varieties can cause confusion. Here's a discussion of some Oak tree varieties and some information on their characteristics. February 9, 2008

Here in the South I've always heard it called water oak or pin oak. Can any of you tell me if it's worth sawing into boards? We have a very large one to cut down today and I was wondering what to do with it.

Forum Responses
(Sawing and Drying Forum)
From contributor T:
Pin oak and water oak are not the same tree. Water oak makes fine boards, especially if stem diameter is between 2 and 3 feet. Once they get over 3 feet in diameter, they are usually rotten inside.

From Professor Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
Water oak (Quercus nigra) is a fine wood indeed. It is sometimes called possum oak. It is not the same as pin oak.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for the info. How can I tell the difference between the two? Now that I think about it, has the pin oak got long slim leaves?

From contributor N:
I may be incorrect here, but if you are in the deep South, I doubt you will have much pin oak. I don't think that it dips down into the lower coastal plain. Perhaps do a search on pin oak range map?

From contributor N:
I checked for you and found a range map. They list no pin oak in AL. Only one county in GA and a few in MS (surprised that some are in southern counties). This site also has pictures: https://plants.usda.gov/

From the original questioner:
Man, you all are the greatest. I've got a water oak. Not sure all these years what I've been calling a pin oak.

From contributor K:
Willow oak usually grows along with water oak. The willow oak has a long narrow leaf, and the water oak has a bulge on the end like a slender pear shape.

From contributor V:
Adding to what contributor T said, I have seen at the mill where I buy lumber that fresh sawn water oak seems to split easier than other oaks if handled roughly. I have seen a wide 4/4 board break in half just falling off the saw onto the belt, feeding the green chain. The boards came from the outside of large logs and though they weren't rotten, they did seem to be weak. I don't know what they would be like after drying.

From Professor Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
Some trees have growth stress in them and this stress causes the lumber to split easily when it is handled, as noted. It can happen with many species.

From contributor J:
I live in Southeast Texas and the water oaks are very plentiful here. Common terminology for them here is pin oak as well, wrong as that may be. I cut them for lumber regularly and the resulting boards are so similar to red oak, that most people can't tell the difference. I actually find more tiger striping with the water oak and prefer it for cabinets and furniture over local red oak

From contributor T:
Water oak is a variety of red oak. Much or most of the flooring sold in the US as red oak is indeed water oak.

From contributor X:
As contributor J said, here in north Texas as well, many old timers refer to water oak as pin oak and vice versa. We do have both pin oak and water oak in my county, regardless of what the books say.

From Professor Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
Some of the common local names for the water oak tree (Quercus nigra) are American red oak, blackjack, pin oak, possum oak, punk oak, red oak, spotted oak, water oak. This is from the USDA publication 'Hardwoods of North America.'

From the original questioner:
Well that makes me feel better. I believe what contributor K called willow oak is what I've been calling pin oak.

From contributor B:
Knowing the names for trees comes in real handy and sometimes keeps you from making costly mistakes. We had a new logger ask us if it was okay to bring pin oak. One of us agreed, thinking it was what we call chinquapin. What he brought was what we call water oak. Here it tends to be shelly and very fast growth. Often it stinks like a pig pen. We got about 10 logs in and I sawed two into 10x10 by 18 beams for a bridge project. They were rejected due to extensive shell.

From Professor Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
The smell and the shake (shelling) tell us (100% certain) that this tree was bacterially infected, which causes the bad odor and the shake.

From contributor B:
Thanks for that additional information. The buyer of the timbers for this bridge project knows his woods real well. (He even knew the logger and commented, "He knew better than that.") He identified one other 10x10 as being pin oak and took it. We have about 10 more of these logs in and not all show the shake/shell. I'm letting them set until the last to see if shell develops in the ones that don't now show it.

From contributor W:
What is confusing about water oak and "pin oak" in the South is that locally in many places, willow oak and laurel oak are called "pin oak." They are not pin oak, since there is a distinct species that is pin oak, Quercus palustris, that has lobed deeply cut leaves. It is just a local convention, and wrong at that.

From contributor X:
A lot of our pin oaks, and other red oaks, are succumbing to oak wilt. The live oaks are hardest hit. Whites are pretty resistant to it. I cut a lot of standing dead red oaks. They are already spalting in most cases, but I don't keep anything even slightly punky. I am not using the wood in structural applications, but am considering using some for bracing in my timber frame addition. Can anyone see a problem using the spalted (just an attractive bacteria) pin oak for braces?

From Professor Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
Spalting is the result of a white rot fungus being in the wood. It does indeed reduce the strength substantially, so you should not use it. Punkiness is the ultimate indicator of severe strength loss; you can easily lose 50% of the strength without punkiness. The grading rules for structural wood do not allow any white rot fungus in structural pieces of lumber. Note that spalting is not bacterial. It is fungal.

From contributor X:
I wouldn't have thought the strength could be compromised that much and still be hard, heavy, and solid. I won't use it for braces then. It'll make pretty cabinets.

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