Oak lumber is one of the most attractive and durable woods available in the United States and for that reason we'd like to give you some tips about what to look for when buying oak lumber online at Rino's Woodworking or at our showroom. If you're ordering online you should verify that the wood meets your standards before it's shipped, but in general we only sell lumber that is rated FAS 1 or 2 which are the highest ratings possible. If you are purchasing wood for interior finish work or a special woodworking project, it's important to make sure you're getting the best wood possible. (FAS Rating)
Before we start, the first thing you need to establish is what type of project you're undertaking. Are you looking for a beautiful wood and mostly focused on a perfect appearance or are you more interested in structural strength. This will be a guiding factor in your decisions.
1. To start out, if attractiveness if your goal, the first thing you need to verify is that the wood looks good at a glance. This will include scanning the boards for knots and imperfections. For some applications, markings and streaks might be desirable but in general you want a wood that is free from visual blotches and roughness. The FAS rated wood will be your ideal choice. Some additional imperfections might include mineral streaks and strange grain textures in other grades. None of these imperfections will affect the strength or long term integrity of the wood though so it's not a bad thing to have "personality" in your wood.
2. Consider the grain patters of the wood. You'll rarely be able to select every piece of wood that you purchase but when you're choosing a board to use in your project, make sure to choose the lumber with the most attractive grain patterns for the highly visible areas. There are lumber boards with vertical grains and flat grains. Normally wood of a higher quality has vertical grains because the wood is cut a certain way and this method of cutting yields less wood from the tree. Be aware that grains will vary greatly. These grain patters are the tree's life story and should be appreciated and they'll always be unique. Even boards cut from the same tree can differ in color so be aware of this going into a project.
3. When you're holding a board, run your hands over the surface and edges and feel it. What you're looking for are small dents and nicks that might lower the quality of your final project. It would be terrible to realize when you're in the finishing stages that the top of your bar has a big nick or dent in it that you didn't notice previously, or a beautiful piece of furniture is scarred in some way.
4. Look at the board from different angles and lay it down on a flat surface to see if it's straight. A good way to do this is to look down the length of the board too and see if it curves in any way.
5. Check the crown of the board. The crown is the upward arching curvature you see when you look down its narrowest dimensional edge. Most lumber that is used in the structure of a home rarely comes without a slight crown but when you're talking about fine hardwoods, there should be very little crowning or bending if possible.
6. If you're project would benefit from knotty or rougher wood, consider the price difference between the wood grades available. Oak is definitely not the cheapest wood because of it's beauty and strength. (Most things are that way in the world, right?) If you can live with wood that has imperfections then you should be able to benefit from a price break. Watch out for splits in the wood though.
7. Make sure that your lumber is kiln dried. Wood naturally seeks to be in balance with it's surroundings and will have a tendancy to expand and contract. For this reason wood is kiln-dried - especially for wood that is going to be used in the construction of fine furnishings.
8. Red or white? The are two main types of oak wood: red oak and white oak. We've covered this in the past about buying oak molding on this blog but in general you need to know that Red Oak is best for interior work and white oak can be used for interior and exterior applications.
Now, get out there and build something! If you want further reading regarding the basics of hardwoods please visit our hardwood 101 section and check out our extensive molding profiles. Please call us if you have questions and we'll be glad to help you make the best decision possible for your next project.