Red Oak vs White Oak | Which is Better For You?

Red Oak (Quercus rubra) is a fast-growing tree, native to North America. It is often planted in gardens and parks as an ornamental tree. Apart from decoration, It is also cultivated for wood. Northern red oak is one of the most acceptable wood species for furniture. 

White oak (Quercus alba) is native to eastern and central North America. It is planted as a shade tree. It is a tree that gives acorns. Which wild animals consume. It is known for its heavy and strong wood. So it is the most acceptable wood species for durable flooring.

#Red OakWhite Oak
Scientific Name: Quercus rubraQuercus alba
Janka Hardness:1,290 lbf (5,700 N)1,360 lbf (6,000 N)
Tree Size:80–115 ft (25–35 m) tall65-85 ft (20-25 m) tall
Crushing Strength:6,780 lbf / in2 (46.8 MPa)7,370 lbf / in2 (50.8 MPa)
Uses:Cabinetry, furniture, interior trim, flooring, and veneerCabinetry, furniture, interior trim, flooring, boatbuilding, barrels, and veneer
Color:light brown to pinkish-reddishlight brown to medium brown
Workability:Good WorkabilityGood Workability
Availability:Easily availableEasily available
Sustainability:Red oak is a sustainable woodWhite oak is also a sustainable wood
Difference between red oak and white oak

Red oak and White oak Uses

Red Oak Uses

  1. Northern red oak is widely used for commercial projects such as fence posts, railroad ties, floors, and cabinets.
  2. Northern red oak bark is used in Medicinal for treating ailments and wounds.
  3. Red oak produces acorns, which are consumed by mammals, birds, and wild animals.
  4. Northern red oak is used to make quality charcoal, red oak burns slowly but produces high heat. So it is the right wood to make charcoal. Apart from northern red oak, Many other hardwoods are also used to convert wood to charcoal. This process takes about 14-16 hours and depends on the wood species.
  5. Red oak tree is used as an ornamental tree. Its pinkish-reddish color gives it an attractive look.

White Oak Uses

  1.  White oak is strong, dense with very close grain. So it performs very well in moisture and is more durable compared to red oak. So white oak is widely used to construct outdoor furniture, flooring, and boats.
  2. The bark of white oak contains tannins. So this helps in the treatment of various diseases such as diarrhea and asthma, and they are also a good source of antiseptics and washes.
  3. The white oak tree also provides food for mammals, birds, turkeys, rodents, raccoons, and squirrels.
  4. White oak is cultivated as an ornamental and shady tree. It is huge in size and dense.
  5. American white oak is widely used for Whisky and wine barrels.

Color / Appearance

Red oak color/grain: Heartwood is light to medium brown and the sapwood is white to light brown. The red oak wood has large and open pores. So it absorbs moisture very fast. Therefore it is not suitable for outdoor projects.

White oak color/grain: Heartwood is light to medium brown and the sapwood is white to light brown. The difference between sapwood and heartwood is not easily detected. But it is slightly darker than red oak.

The white oak grain is close and compacted. The closed grain of white oak makes it impervious to moisture and is particularly suited for use in the boating industry and marine applications. Due to the high density, it is more Weight (47 lbs / ft3 (755 kg / m3)).

Hardness

Red Oak Hardness: The hardness of red oak is 1,290 lbf (5,700 N) on the Janka scale.

White Oak Hardness: The hardness of white oak is (1,360 lbf (6,000 N)) more than that of red oak,  Ash (White) (1,320 lbf (5,900 N)), and American Beech (1,300 lbf (5,800 N)).

The hardness of any wood affects the roughness, scratch, and dents of the wood. Wood with higher hardness is less likely to get dents and scratches. High hardness is considered better for wood floors.

Read the Wikipedia post on Janka Hardness Test.

Water Resistance 

There is no doubt that white oak has better water resistance properties than red oak. Many boat makers choose white oak to make boats and boat parts because it is affordable with good water resistance. 

By the way, if we talk about Water Resistance wood, there is no wood that can be 100% water-resistant. But there are some wood species that perform well in moisture and water. Such as Cedar, white oak, and many others.

Some other species of wood, which do not have natural decay resistance, are made to withstand moisture by paint, proxy, and chemical treatment.

Price

There is not much difference in the price of white oak and red oak. Sometimes the price of red oak is more or less than white oak and it literally changes all the time. 

This change in their price depends on many factors. Such as transport, grade of wood, and availability. 

But we can say that white oak can be a bit more expensive than red oak. Because white oak has less amount of heartwood and a higher amount of sapwood. Heartwood is the middle part of the tree trunk whereas sapwood is the outer part of the trunk. Heartwood is used for furniture and flooring.

Red oak vs White Oak | Which is better for firewood?

Split-Ability of red oak is Medium or sometimes easy when dealing with a very straight piece. It produces High Heat, Red oak is capable of producing 24.6 million BTUs per cord.

White oak is the most popular firewood in the United States. Its density is higher than red oak. It burns for a long time and gives high heat. White oak is capable of producing 24.4 million BTUs per cord.

It burns easily and does not give much smoke. White oak split easily compared to red oak, due to the fine grain.

Red Oak and White Oak Flooring

For a quality wooden floor, it is necessary to have some properties of wood. Such as Durability, Hardness, moisture resistance, high-quality look, Sustainability, etc.

So which is the best for flooring Red Oak or White Oak?

If we give priority to the hardness and moisture resistance of the wood, then white oak is the best option for flooring.

Or if we give priority to the little bit lighter appearance and graining of the wood, then red oak is the best. Because strong graining helps hide the scratches and dents.

Finally, we can say both are great options for flooring. Some people prefer the look of red oak while others prefer white oak due to the low maintenance. It all depends on your choice.

Red Oak vs White Oak Trees Identification

Bark

Young red oak bark is smooth and light brown. first shining in dark green, then dark red, and finally becomes dark brown. Some of the bark is so dark that it almost looks black. Cracks begin to form in the bark of old trees.

White oak bark ranges from light gray to dark gray, sometimes it can also be white. Its branchlets are light green, in the beginning, later they become light gray.

Buds

Red oak buds are reddish-brown, ovate, acute, generally 6 mm (1⁄4 in) long. 

Whereas white oak has many small round terminal buds, which are reddish-brown without hairs, which are usually one inch long.

Leaves 

Red Oak Leaves
The Red Oak Leaves | Image by Julia Schwab from Pixabay

Red oak leaves alternately on the twig. They are 7 to 9 lobed, and 5 to 9 inches long with slender petioles 1 to 2 inches long. Red oak leaves are smooth and dull green on top in season. 

White oak leaves are deeply lobed and the tips of the lobes will all be rounded. Alternately, 5 to 9 inches long, 3 to 4 inches wide. There will be 5 to 9 ascending lobes looking like fingers.

white oak leaf
White oak leaf | Image by Marc Pascual from Pixabay

Wood

Red oak sapwood is darker, heavy, hard, strong, coarse-grained. Cracks occur in wood while moisture starts drying. Therefore, it is important to dry the wood before using it for furniture.

White oak is white to light brown and heartwood light to medium brown. Sometimes it is difficult to distinguish between sapwood and heartwood color. Because both look almost the same.

Conclusion

Red oak and white oak are both great species of wood. Both have their own pros and cons. Some customers like red oak grain and some like white oak. Choosing either of these two kinds of wood depends on your application and requirement.

Red Oak may be a more affordable and more attractive option for you. While white oak is more durable and suitable for outdoor projects. 

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