Red Oak, like most of the North American Oaks, is very hearty and grows quite large, which results in high availability and affordable pricing. Red Oak is a strong species that bends rather well due to its open grain structure, but it can dull cutting edges rapidly, so sharp tools are a necessity to prevent splintering.
Because Red Oak has such a large growth range, inconsistencies do arise among the trees. At J. Gibson McIlvain, we do our best to source our Red Oak lumber from Northern climes where the growth is slower, thereby producing a deeper color and a tighter growth ring. This makes for a stronger tree altogether and significantly reduces splintering.
Sapwood should be avoided in Red Oak, but since sapwood is often overlooked during grading, careful inspection is necessary to prevent wastage of your product. Unlike some lumber companies, we at McIlvain will downgrade Red Oak when sapwood is present. Frequently, this wood will not even be sold unless it can meet the necessary specifications after the sapwood has been trimmed away.
It should be noted that due to its high level of tannins, Red Oak will corrode steel fasteners; this can then cause staining of the wood over time. This same staining can occur when water-based glues and steel clamps are used, so care should be taken during assembly to avoid these products.
Because of open pores and grain, Red Oak will finish well, but a uniform surface can sometimes be hard to obtain without a pore filler. Red Oak wood will stain nicely, however, because it has so many pores to capture and hold pigment.
With its availability and low cost, Red Oak lumber is used in a wide range of applications. Red Oak is commonly used by retail stores for shelves, moulding, and merchandising fixtures, and it is of course used in furniture design, cabinetry and millwork.
This continuation of the Wood Species series is written by Shannon Rogers, a/k/a The Renaissance Woodworker and founder of The Hand Tool School. It has been provided courtesy of the J. Gibson McIlvain Lumber Company, where Rogers works as Director of Marketing.
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