Red oak and white oak are in the same family, but have very different characteristics. Unfortunately simply looking at the boards may not give you enough information to tell the difference between the two. And no, looking at the color of the boards won’t do it. Red oak isn’t really red, and white oak isn’t really white.
Tyloses to the Rescue!
Here’s the solution to the red vs white question. Cut a thin section off the end of the board and have a close look at it. The end grain of red oak is very porous. The end grain of white oak, not so much. You may be able to see the difference with the naked eye, but holding the pieces up to a light makes it easy to see the difference. Red oak looks like an open honeycomb, with light filtering through. You can’t see light through white oak. That’s because the pores of white oak are filled with tyloses. When you do this test make sure the pores aren’t simply filled with sawdust, which could make red oak look like white oak. And, cut your sample from the heartwood, not sapwood, of the board. Sapwood inherently has fewer tyloses than heartwood.
What else do we get from tyloses?
You may already know that white oak is a better choice than red oak for outdoor projects. That’s because tyloses are sealing up those pores so the wood can’t wick up water. And, being close grained, white oak is a great choice for things you don’t want to leak, like boats and whiskey barrels.
Want to know about the medium you’re working with all the time? Check out more videos on understanding wood. And you’re sure to get a lot from our helpful shop tips, too.
Use the same pieces and a blowgun. Blow air thru them. Also, if they sit for a while white oak will oxadise and turn yellow.
Thanks for the information. It is interesting to understand the properties of the wood and is usage. I read you can identify the two oaks by the size of the shiny veins they have RED have small ones and WHITE have large ones. Of course in some limit case we need an other way 🙂
It would be hard to take a electric miter saw to the lumber yard.
If you really want a cool science experiment, cut off a piece of each oak about 3 inches long and put one end in a glass of water and blow on the other end. The red oak will show bubbles in the water because your breath is traveling through the open pores.
Cut a short piece of each, put the end of each piece, one at a time, in a glass of water. If you can blow bubbles through it it is Red Oak. If not it’s White Oak.
Thankyou so much for such an easy and simple way to distinguish from white to red oak