Oak and chestnut are both deciduous North American trees in the beech family. The wood from these trees is used in furniture making, flooring, decorative veneers and wide range of other woodworking projects. However, this wood varies significantly in appearance. Chestnut can be hard to tell from some species of oak, but other types are much more distinctive.
American chestnut, or Castanea dentata, is rare on the lumber market and is usually derived from older structures, as the parent tree is now rare. This tree produces white to light brown sapwood, and gray-brown to brown heartwood. American chestnut darkens as it ages, and may become dark brown in tone. It usually has a straight grain, but spiral examples do exist. American chestnut often has worm holes. Chestnut wood with large numbers of holes may be sold as "wormy chestnut."
European chestnut, or Castanea sativa, is also called Spanish or sweet chestnut. This wood is native to Europe but is also grown in North America. It produces pale sapwood clearly divided from the heartwood, and yellowish-brown heartwood that bears a resemblance to some species of oak. Most young wood has a straight grain. Older trees may develop spiral grain patterns, however.
White oak is also called Quercus alba, Arizona oak and stave oak. It produces white to light brown sapwood that is highly variable in width. The heartwood may be light tan, pale yellowish brown, pale brown or dark brown. Some white oak heartwood has a pink tone. The grain is open, with long rays and occasional burls, swirls and crotch marks. This wood produces a flake pattern on quartersawn boards known as "tiger rays" or "butterflies."
Red oak, or Quercus rubra, produces white, gray or light red-brown sapwood. The heartwood is pink to light reddish brown, or sometimes light brown. Some red oak is peach in tone. This tree produces lumber with a straight, open grain. On quartersawn boards, it has a shorter, narrower and darker flake pattern than white oak.
Black oak is also known as Spanish oak or scarlet oak. Its scientific name is Quercus coccinea. This tree produces white, gray or pale red-brown sapwood and heartwood ranging from pink through light red-brown and light brown. Like red oak, the heartwood is sometimes peach-toned. Black oak is porous and has a straight grain, with flakes similar to those of red oak.
Quercus macrocarpa, known as bur oak, blue oak or scrub oak, has white to light brown sapwood similar to that of white oak. The heartwood is light tan to dark brown, sometimes with a light pink tone. This tree often varies significantly in color and grain, depending on where and how quickly the tree grew. Bur oak has open grain with long rays similar to those of white oak.
- Photo Credit Hemera Technologies/PhotoObjects.net/Getty Images