As I was planing a board of oak, I noticed an acidic vinegar-y smell emanating from the newly exposed surface and the shavings.

I read this might be due to natural acids present in the tree. I didn't cut the tree down, rather I have purchased the board, already surfaced on 4 sides. I'm not sure if it's received any treatment - The label (from the big orange store) simply said "oak".

I don't mind the scent, but:

  1. Is it a sign that i should let it dry off a bit more?

  2. If it was indeed acid causing this, would I need to neutralize it before applying certain finishes?

Some pics:


Left: end grain; image covers 1/2" of the board's width (fullsize -- woodworkers with trypophobia: beware). Right: Face of same board; scale unknown (fullsize). Colors and whites have not been calibrated/balanced #nofilter.


Chances are that you have a red oak board. Red oak is notoriously smelly, described variously as resembling vomit, poop, silage, fermentation - you get the drift. It is widely known as piss-oak because of its extreme smell.

I recently had a red oak experience and considered submitting a question about it. In my case I was using well aged oak (a curbside discarded oak futon provided ample wood for a project that produced hundreds of small parts).

Despite having been finished and presumably in a typical dry indoor environment for years, it just plain stank when I ripped and cross-cut the wood. The smell has since abated (about one month) - I do not intend to apply to finish the work.

I assume that the smell comes when a new surface is exposed to air and has nothing to do with how long it has been aged or dried.

  • 1
    Apparently, an extreme smell that goes beyond vinegar might be caused by bacteria. "Wetwood bacterial infections can produce fatty acids such as acetic acid, butyric acid, valeric acid, caproic acid, or propionic acid, which impart the odor..." Some of those acids are associated with decaying flesh, for example. According to my brief digressions into this, red oak naturally has acetic acid in it, but this can be compounded by a common infection. Neat! askanaturalist.com/what-is-causing-this-vinegar-smell
    – jdv
    Oct 18 '18 at 19:37
  • Added photos. Visual inspection would confirm that it's red oak (vs white oak), based on the fact that pores are clean (wood database). Acid treatment can be used to change wood color, but then needs to be neutralized, hence why I asked about finishing. I can see how some would attribute it the smelly undertones you list, and I now wish I could unlearn these associations.
    – ww_init_js
    Oct 19 '18 at 7:17
  • Oh, just noticed a caveat: white oak doesn't have tyloses in the sapwood. So, I'd probably have to believe it's read oak, based on nose evidence alone.
    – ww_init_js
    Oct 19 '18 at 7:35

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