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Building a Deck With Oak, Maple, and Poplar Species

steveeee | Posted in Green Products and Materials on

hi, as a follow up to my last question, i’ve found that my trees are white oak. and i’ve read that white oak is great outside

i have a lot of decks in my design so thinking that would be a great use. plus siding. and some interior beams and paneling.

i assume i would need the structural wood on the decks graded but not the deck surface boards, is that right?

thanks, steve


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  1. Expert Member
    PETER G ENGLE PE | | #1

    White oak is a beautiful wood. I'd use it inside where it shows. Beams, paneling, flooring, cabinetry would all be great. Interior use will require careful kiln drying. As mentioned, it would probably make great decking. Long life if allowed to dry out properly between storms: up off the ground, not much tree cover, etc. I wouldn't use it for outside structural lumber. Too nice for that. Also hard and heavy to work with. PT SYP is the standard exterior structural lumber for a reason.

    Requirements for grading are going to depend on your local jurisdiction.

  2. maine_tyler | | #2

    I agree with Peter, though if you have a lot, decking doesn't seem a horrible use. Another thing to be aware of is that white oak (as with many hardwoods) shrink more from green to dry than most softwoods. This can mean that if you install white oak as deck boards before adequate drying, they are likely to check/split. Pay attention to grain for cupping too.
    I have installed white oak decking/railing on a trail bridge, and it checked and cupped a good bit due to initial moisture, grain, and being placed in sun.

    Some people prefer to quarter-saw oak for stability and aesthetics, but of course that's more work. If you're going through the trouble and expense of that, be sure to dry it properly. Lot's could be said on that subject.

    White oak is probably not currently fashionable for cabinets, but it can make a nice 'arts and crafts' or similar sort of look if you're into that. Stairs. Floors. Railings.

  3. Expert Member
    NICK KEENAN | | #3

    I had some white oak from my property sawn up. Some observations:
    * It is beautiful wood.
    * It is very hard and heavy. So hard that it's difficult to pound nails into. I've had nails bounce out after being hit with a hammer and hit me in the forehead.
    * It tends to warp, twist and check.
    * It is less durable outside than I had been led to believe. I made some benches with it and after only a couple of years it has started to soften and grow mushrooms. Fenceposts lasted less than five years before rotting off at the base. Siding does seem to be a good application where it's more protected, but I wouldn't recommend it for decking.

  4. steveeee | | #4

    thanks, but i made a mistake, i just had a tree expert come look and he said i have red oak, maple and poplar, no white oak, shows how much i know about trees!

    also i plan to cut soon but likely not use for trim kind of jobs until late next year so i plan to set up a solar kiln to dry.

    so any thoughts about red oak, maple and poplar for decking and siding?, and forget about grading, i'll just use it for none structural

    PS, i wonder if the tree guy was right bout the red oak, when i look at this,will%20often%20display%20brilliant%20colors.
    they sure look like white oak to me. no leaves at the moment but the bark looks like the photo and this 'On the other hand, white oak bark has deep furrows and ridges that are triangular in cross-section'

    actually, i think its a chestnut oak based on the leaf shape and that's in the white oak family.

    by the way, i just called the wood mizer dealer and there is a 28 week lead time to order their smallest mill LX25!

  5. Expert Member
    BILL WICHERS | | #5

    Poplar is the cheapest of the hardwoods, and it doesn't take stain well, so paint it or just clear coat it (it looks OK without stain). I've made lots of random wood things from it, because it's reasonably strong and it's cheap. I have no idea how well it would hold up outdoors though.

    Maple can be beautiful. There are many kinds of maple too. It can be hard and heavy, but not as bad as white oak in that regard. White oak is very, very dense hardwood.

    Red oak can be beautful, especially when stained. You'll probably find a lot of rotten/hollow centers in red oak trees, they all tend to do that as they age. You'll also find that fresh cut wet red oak smells like dog poo -- it's very noticeable.

    That tree bark looks like red oak to me, but it's hard to tell for sure. Red oak bark tends to be deeper, more ridge-like. White oak part tends to be shallower and more rounded. Think "rocky mount red oak, appalachia white oak", kinda sorta :-) The leaves at that link show the pointy red oak and rounded white oak leaves pretty clearly. That's the easiest way to tell them apart, but remember that there is some natural variation so you might want to look at several leaves to be sure.


    1. maine_tyler | | #7

      "You'll also find that fresh cut wet red oak smells like dog poo -- it's very noticeable."
      Ha! I never associated it with that smell, though it is definitely strong. Dank. I have to say I love it. That and ash (which smells like olive to me).
      Who am I kidding most all of them are great. Poplar is maybe my least fav smelling of the typicals.

      That second pic almost looks like ash, speaking of. But tough to say from that pic.

  6. Expert Member
    NICK KEENAN | | #6

    None of those woods are durable outdoors. All work well indoors.

  7. walta100 | | #8

    Swamp Oak is in the red oak family.

    My guess is if you did the math and put any value on your time after paying to have it sawn get it dry and planed it would cost less to buy dry wood and them you are sure about what you will get. There is a learning curve and harvesting, drying and finishing lumber an all arts.


  8. steveeee | | #9

    ok, after asking on the forestry forum i'm like 99% sure i have red oak (or black oak which is red family), soft maple and poplar, non of which are any use outside as mentioned.

    also i don't think any are good for structural lumber so no point having it graded.

    so what does that leave me with? i don't feel like doing oak floors, too much work, i'm just going with laminate. so the only thing left i can think of is interior paneling. I'm not sure its worth the trouble of making a bandsaw mill just for that. i already have a 92cc chainsaw and an Alaskan mill, i guess i'll use that to make some paneling from the oak and maybe try sell the maple logs or use for furniture.

    any ideas anyone?

    it seems there is a lumber mill near me, maybe i'll just square up the logs with my chainsaw and have the mill cut them into boards

  9. Expert Member
    NICK KEENAN | | #10

    If you look at the link to a mill near you that was provided on the earlier post you'll see the economic value of the logs you have -- somewhere between fifteen cents and a dollar per board foot depending on species and quality. There are formulas for calculating board feet based on trunk diameter and species. While finished lumber might sell for $5 to $10 per board foot, there are a lot of steps involved from getting a log on the ground to a finished board, and I doubt that you can do any of them more cheaply than a professional, wood is a commodity business. The actual tree is a very small part of the value of finished lumber. So the economic value to you of those logs is probably maximized by taking them to the mill and taking what they will give. It may even turn out that the cost of transporting them to the mill exceeds their value as mill stock, in which case the economically rational thing is either to see if you can give them away for firewood, or pile them in a corner of the lot and burn them.

    That's economics. If you derive emotional value from using wood from your own land -- if your heart would swell with pride every time your gaze landed on the wooden thing you made from the wood on your land -- that's impossible to value. But a good starting point is to assume that it's not going to save you money. Then the question becomes entirely a personal choice.

    1. maine_tyler | | #12

      "It may even turn out that the cost of transporting them to the mill exceeds their value as mill stock, in which case the economically rational thing is either to see if you can give them away for firewood, or pile them in a corner of the lot and burn them."

      It's pretty unlikely that transport cost would eclipse the log value, but depending on the size of the load, you may need to find a smaller truck to haul. Consider that the timber industry transports chips pretty far distances frequently (many timber stands are not right next to the mill). I think what would be most likely to eclipse the value in a small operation is the labor. Big harvests work efficiently at scale. Sometimes, on a small enough job (especially stand improvement jobs), you pay the logger to log. As in you pay money to have trees removed and see nothing in return because the logger charged more than the value of the trees.

      At the least, go firewood. Burning a whole clear-cut of anything besides total slash in 'the corner' is quite frankly a nuts idea, though I understand it was perhaps to make a point about the economics. I say that as someone who's burned plenty of piles of wood, but they were all brush/slash, not entire semi-mature trees.

      I don't recall seeing how many acres we are talking about here. The economics of it—if a major concern— would depend a lot on the quantity, not to mention many other factors we can't truly advise about on-line.

      Steve, I'm surprised you say you have a chainsaw mill since you also say you're not a tree guy. Have you used it much? I have delved into that tunnel, and while it has it's unique uses (and can be fun) it is not an efficient way to mill trees. Even with a big saw (I use a Husq. 394xp for trail projects). If you're going to have a mill mill trees, there's no point in squaring them with such a tool.

      If you really want to use red oak in the house, my first thought would be floors. I never heard of nor considered oak as siding, but I don't see why you absolutely couldn't do it. I'm not sure it makes best use of it per se but it's use.

      1. Expert Member
        NICK KEENAN | | #13

        "I think what would be most likely to eclipse the value in a small operation is the labor."

        Is labor not a cost?

        Look at that table of prices. For hardwoods you get a dollar a board foot for the absolute best stuff, maybe twenty cents for #2. Hardwoods are about four pounds per board foot. So you're talking at most a twenty-five cents a pound and maybe as little as a nickel. It's no gold mine to be collecting heavy objects and shipping them at those rates.

        1. maine_tyler | | #14

          Yeah labor is a cost. The word cost after the word labor was implied since I thought it obvious.
          You mentioned transport cost. I was saying on-site labor (i.e. the logger and equipment operation costs too) are more likely to be what makes a small operation 'not worth it' economically.

          Maybe you were just saying that the final cost of transport would be the straw on the back after all the other accrued costs.

          Either way I agree with you that the value of 'raw' trees is not super high and much/most of the value comes from turning it into the final product.

  10. steveeee | | #11

    i wonder about using the red oak as siding and paint it well first. at least i get to use some of it.

    1. capecodhaus | | #15


      You have too many questions hastily posted. You're likely not going to reinvent "the wheel" in this pursuit. Focus on the build, don't get buried under board feet of milling.

      Logging and tree work isn't a hobby for most folks and clearing land is best for the professional who is experienced and insured. Go prune with a pole saw for a few days, see what it's like to get hands on.

  11. Expert Member
    PETER G ENGLE PE | | #16

    Since you don't have an obvious use for most of that wood, I think your best bet is to act more as a broker than anything else. Find a logger who will clear the necessary area and respect your space. When "logging" a property, they often make a serious mess and you're going to need to remove the stumps and slash as well as the timber. Find someone who will do all of that. Have them cut and stack anything bigger than your wrist for firewood, or at least separate that out so you can process it. Burning the rest works, but immediately releases its carbon into the environment. Chipping it for mulch is better and it can be used to dress your beds once construction is done. Mulch releases most of its carbon in 5-10 years. Burying it sequesters the carbon for a decade or more.

    If your logger routinely works with a mill, they will probably just buy the logs from you & charge you for the extra work. If you're lucky, you might break even. The work with the mill. They would probably do custom milling of the logs to your specifications if you want to use the wood for anything. You could dry the wood yourself in a solar kiln, but having the mill kiln dry would be more reliable.

    There's a lot of options, but it seems that you're best bet is selling most of it and trying to buy back what you need as finished lumber. As mentioned above, harvesting and processing your own lumber is a LOT of work. Unless you do this sort of thing for fun, it can be a real drag.

  12. Crisofur | | #17

    See picture below. I laid FAC grade kiln dried white oak over galvanized steel framing 3 years ago. I wouldn’t use any that wasn’t kiln dried. It’s very unique and quite beautiful. I stain it once a year with a oil based stain. It gains character every year that passes . This year it’s turned a dark wine color . It’s super tough. I have dropped and dragged stuff on it that would have tore up pine or composite

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