All my friends know that I’ve been a “ukulele nut” for most of my life. A girlfriend in college gave me my first real uke, a mahogany Martin Style 0 that she bought at a thrift store for the whopping sum of one dollar. For years, I carried that uke everywhere, strumming it on backpacking trips in the Sierras, at parties (much to the chagrin of revelers that found the sound only a little less pleasant than an accordion/banjo duet), and when my friends sang on the streets of downtown Santa Cruz for spare change.
As promised many moons ago, here are the sure ways to tell the difference between red and white oak after they are sawn into lumber. Since my last post here I have been asked exactly why you need to know the difference if it is so hard to tell them apart. There are a couple of subtle reasons including the woodworking qualities of each:
The other day I was surfacing some lumber for a project, and I reached for the depth stop on my planer. In a few clicks I was once again locked into the usual 3/4-in. thickness setting. I bet it’s the one that gets used the most on your planer, too. I wonder if that’s a good thing?
I would guess we all have heard about the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s raid on the Gibson Guitar company on August 25th. If you haven’t, you need to push back the rock a little.
The U. S. Attorney’s Office in Tennessee originated the warrants for possible violations of the Lacey Act, as amended in 2008. This act makes it illegal to import any wood or any item containing wood that was harvested, manufactured, or exported in any way contrary to the laws of the originating country. In other words, when Gibson imported wood from India, if any Indian laws were broken in doing so, then the wood becomes contraband and then Gibson is liable for illegally importing that wood into the United States.
Cedar is used in many different projects in woodworking. There are humidors and cigar boxes made of Spanish cedar, closets and blanket chests lined with Eastern red cedar, and even your carpenter’s pencil is more likely than not made of incense cedar. There is one small problem, however; none of these commercial woods are, in fact, cedar.
Log purchasers use many reasons for the differences in log rules. For example, users of the Doyle Rule, which underestimates volume in smaller logs, say that this is the very reason it is a fairer rule in that it costs them more to process smaller logs. This is logical since the logger will have to cut more trees, the sawyer will have to saw more logs, and the yard crew will have to move more logs to the sawyer, to equal the amount of lumber in much larger logs. However, if he cannot efficiently utilize smaller logs, he should base his offer on that, not on a biased estimation of yield. There are other reasons given to justify variance in log rule use, but frankly, none hold much water for me. As we can see, there is the potential for dishonesty when choosing log rules.
From the time the very first Europeans set foot on American soil, we have tried to develop systems to estimate the board feet of finished lumber we can obtain from a green log. It seems straightforward: figure the number of 1-inch thick planks that can be sawn, subtract for the width of the saw blade (kerf) and for waste (trim), and there you would have it, what is known as a “log rule.” However, it is not that simple, because that does not take into consideration the high variability between logs, equipment used to saw those logs, and the operators of that equipment. The Forest Service’s Forest Products Lab in Madison, Wisconsin reports that over 95 log rules with about 185 different names have been developed in our brief history as a nation.
As a forester, I field plenty of questions from friends and acquaintances about trees in general. However, by far the most common question is “how can I tell the difference between red oaks and white oaks?” Well, here’s how.
Oaks are in the beech family and in the genus Quercus which is the very literal Latin word for “oak tree.” The oaks are identified as belonging to one of three different subdivisions: the white, red, and intermediates. Only the red and white oak groups are found in North America. I don’t know the real reason white oaks are named such except that the namesake of the group Quercus alba (alba means “white” in Latin) has a white bark. However, the underside of the leaf is whitish as well. In addition, the namesake red oak Quercus rubra (yep, rubra means “red” in Latin) has a reddish wood, a red/orange inner bark, and its leaves turn a brilliant to rusty red in the fall. So, you see the problem?
An interesting fact about oaks is that from the time red oaks bloom, to the drop of the acorn, is two years. If those acorns aren’t eaten by squirrels, deer, raccoons, turkeys, wild hogs, and any of the other numerous species that eat oak acorns, when they drop to the ground, then they will sprout the following spring. The white oaks, on the other hand, bloom in the spring, grow acorns, and drop them in the fall of the same year. When those acorns drop to the ground, they immediately begin the sprouting process and try to establish a beginning root system before winter sets in.
There are some major differences between the two groups and some more subtle ones. Although the wood can sometimes prove difficult to distinguish, especially if it was flatsawn, bark, leaves, and acorns are very useful in telling the difference between live trees of the two groups.
Aside from the obvious whitish bark of the White Oak and Swamp Chestnut Oak (both white oaks) and the darker bark of the Northern Red Oak, Cherrybark Oak, and Blackjack Oak (all red oaks), the leaves are the telltale indicator between the two groups. Look closely at the two oak leaves in this picture.
You have to look closely to find the one sign that quickly distinguishes the red oaks from the white. At the tip of a red oak leaf or the lobes of the leaf, you’ll find a spine or bristle.
They may be almost microscopic, or very visible; however, you will never find them on a white oak leaf. So, as simple as it sounds, THAT’s how you tell the difference between a red oak tree and a white oak tree.
Next time we will attempt to find the difference between the wood of the two oak groups. See you then!
It all started with a cry for help.
Early last year, I read an interesting entry on a foresters’ forum. A reader explained that she was given a wooden chainsaw-carved bear by her father. A few days after she received, it she noticed that it was growing “hair.” Lauren wrote, “I noticed some things growing out of the sides of the bear that look like little white strings, about 2 inches long. I got a broom and brushed them off, and within 2 hours of me brushing them off, they had already started to grow back!” She had no idea what was happening with her new gift, and most of the good folks who replied didn’t either. Most of them guessed it was fungus of some sort. They were close, but it was far too early to call it a fungus. Confused yet? Continue reading
I was perusing my shop’s lumber inventory the other day when I started to recollect how long some of those boards had been collecting dust on the racks. You know what I’m talking about, right? You plow through massive piles of wood at the local lumberyard until you find a board that just shouts, “Hey, it took 200 years for me to develop my gorgeous color and unbelievable figure, so take me home with you!”
So you plunk down some serious cash and take that lignin beauty home, only to slide it into a rack where it must sit patiently, waiting for just the right project to come along. Trouble is, the longer you hang on to those glorious planks, the less likely it is that ANY project will ever be good enough to justify using them!