Is it White Oak or Red?

White oak and red aren’t easy to tell apart, even for serious knot heads. Here's how to determine which is which.

Family Handyman
Red oak

Slice a 1/16-in.-thick piece from the end of the board in question. Hold it up to the light. You’ll see dozens of pinholes of light if it’s red oak. If it’s white oak, no light will shine through. That illustrates why white oak is rot-resistant and well suited for outdoor furniture, while red will rot if you so much as give it a dirty look. Act like Cliff Clavin at that next party and bore someone with this tidbit: All hardwoods contain long hollow cells called water vessels that conduct water up to the treetop. Red oak’s vessels stay hollow like drinking straws, while white oak’s vessels get filled with resins during the fall growing season. If you use red oak outside, water will wick its way right up those vessels and start rotting the wood from the inside. But since the channels in white oak are somewhat sealed, it’s a fairly rot-resistant wood.

Family Handyman
White oak

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