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

Free Download – Is a Pin or Pinless Moisture Meter Best For You?

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


  1. David H Thomas says:

    I have a smaller piece of red oak that I have carved into a large spoon. I gave it to my wife and she used it once. I sanded it (I thought thoroughly, it was very smooth) and then coated it with mineral oil. She used it for the first time tonight and washed it, but didn’t leave it in the water. Afterward, I noticed that it feels rougher and needs to be sanded again. Any ideas what I have done wrong? Or have I chosen the wrong piece of wood?

    • Jason Wright says:


      I have noticed the same affect when I wash and dry my wooden spoons. It may be that it needs to cure longer and to wash it by hand. I hope this helps.

  2. oakleigh says:

    the white oak is nice

  3. Virginia brickwedde says:

    I need to replace a wooden out door step from the front door . I am thinking I would like to use white oak.
    How should I should I finish it so it will stand up to the outdoor moisture?
    It would be nice to NOT paint the white oak step, so what is the best way to do this, from start to finish?
    Thank you.

    • Ron Smith says:

      The only way to properly use untreated wood of any type outside is with the addition of water-repellent preservatives, sealer or paint that contain UV protection.

  4. Jerry Hamm says:

    I have acquired some fresh cut red oak boards that are 1 1/2″ x 7 1/4″ x 10’0″ in size . I am planning on using these to attach to an existing wall to install handrails in a theatre for ada improvements. Currently I have built a rack in the same location where the wood is to be utilized . While on the rack they have spacers of an inch and a half with firm supports both underneath and above with clamps used to hold the support structures in place . I also have a couple of fans , one on each end circulating air around the boards. 3 days ago when I checked the moisture content the readings ranged between 16% – 21%. What would the optimum moisture content be for preparing the wood for plaining , sanding and staining?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *