How to tell the Difference Between Red Oak vs White Oak

How to tell red oak from white oak. Assuming you have just come across a tree or a pile of wood. Can you determine whether the wood is red oak vs white oak?

How to tell red oak and white oak by looking at the leaves, bark, grain.

The terms “Red Oak” and “White Oak” refer to general groups of trees. As shown in the table below, within each group are several different species.

Red Oak Group
  • Black Oak
  • Pin Oak
  • Red Oak
  • Sawtooth Oak
  • Scarlet Oak
  • Shingle Oak
  • Shumard Oak
White Oak Group
  • Bur Oak
  • Chestnut Oak
  • Chinquapin Oak
  • English Oak
  • Swamp White Oak
  • White Oak

Leaf Identification of Red Oak vs White Oak

If the tree still has leaves, then this makes identification much easier. While the characteristics vary from one species to the next, red oak has jagged leaves with sharp angles. Whereas, white oak has leaves with rounded edges.

Red oak and White oak leaves.
Red oak and White oak leaves.

In the fall, when leaves change colors, the leaves on red oaks will often display brilliant colors. However, the leaves on white oaks often simply change to a dull brown when fall comes around.

Bark Identification of Red Oak vs White Oak

When looking at the bark, red oak is typically smoother. The bark does not have deep furrows and tall ridges. Rather flatter veins running down the tree – which have a hint of red in them. On the other hand, white oak bark has deep furrows and ridges that are triangular in cross-section.

Red oak vs white oak bark.
Red oak vs white oak bark.

Grain Identification of White Oak vs Red Oak

When examined closer, the pores of red oak and white oak are very different. Red oak is an open-grained wood with very large pores. The pores are so large, some people say you can blow into one end of the wood and air will come out on the opposite end. On the other hand, white oak is a close-grain wood that is almost impervious to water. This may explain why white oak is less likely to shrink than red oak.

Bowl with red oak grain.
Bowl with red oak grain.
Bowl with white oak grain.
Bowl with white oak grain.

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One thought on “How to tell the Difference Between Red Oak vs White Oak

  • July 24, 2018 at
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    Hey, thanks. I have many of both of these trees on my land, but never found the differences so clearly illustrated till now. Regards, Barry Brumfield

    Reply

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