American White Oak and Red Oak Qualities & Uses

Oak is among the finest materials used for top quality woodworking projects. This hardwood is strong and beautiful, especially when properly finished. There are many varieties of oak, and it helps in woodworking to know the distinctions of and differences between the various types of stock. Information about both the American white oak and red oak follows.

There are some qualities which American white oak and red oak have in common, including:

  • Oak is a type of hardwood that dulls tools more quickly than other common materials.
  • When working with oak, sharpen your tools and keep them honed because oak is highly susceptible to burning.  Typically, however, you can sand out the burn marks.
  • It helps to operate tools, such as router bits, at appropriate speeds which will diminish the burning effect on oak.
  • On a scale of 1 to 5, oak has a hardness of about 4.
  • Oak is filled with tannic acid. For centuries, animal hides were tanned using tannic acid in the bark from oak trees.
  • Patience and finesse are required in working with oak. This hardwood can split or chip easily when routing along the edges, because of its heavy graining.
  • The character of oak as displayed in furniture and other woodworking projects is one of its best qualities. For this reason, woodworkers tend to finish oak as minimally as possible. Sanding with sandpaper of progressively finer grit is recommended to get best results when finishing the oak minimally.
  • Oak is typically sealed with the use of shellac.
  • Digital moisture meters with wood-friendly pinless scanning are among the many types of moisture meters which can be used to ensure that the oak you’re building with has an appropriate level of moisture content.

White Oak

White Oak Flooring

A closed grain hardwood, white oak is almost impervious to water.  The pores of the heartwood of white oaks are typically plugged with tyloses, which is a membranous growth. Tyloses makes the white oak impenetrable to liquids and particularly suited for use in the boat industry. Because of its resistance to moisture, white oak is also widely used to construct outdoor furniture.

White oak is fairly straight-grained and is a favorite material used in many types of fine furniture. It’s usually available quarter sawn. The grain in quarter sawn white oak has a striking ray flake pattern.

The coloring in white oak is varied. Separate boards of white oak lumber may be dark brown, light brown, or brown with yellow tones. Stain and wood sealer tend to beautifully enhance the appearance of white oak.

Red Oak

The usual purposes for red oak are often quite different than those for white oak. Red oak, available at most home centers, is used as:

  • Lumber
  • Fence posts
  • Mine timbers
  • Railroad ties
  • Veneer
  • Pulpwood
  • Boxes
  • Pallets and crates
  • Caskets
  • General millwork
  • Woodenware
  • Handles

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Red oak is porous and has open grains. It’s more prone to shrink than white oak. Compared to birch or maple, red oak finishes and stains easily and doesn’t have blotching problems. Because the open pores in red oak absorb stain, the grain patterns become very evident when a dark stain is used as a finish.

Red oak will stain black when water penetrates the surface.  If you have red oak flooring, be especially careful not to expose it to standing water. Obviously, red oak doesn’t have the water-resistant qualities of white oak.

Last updated on May 5th, 2021