Oak is one of the most popular hardwood flooring materials as it adds warmth, character and style to any property. Due to its high tannin content, it is resistant to fungal and insect attacks. With such characteristics, oak has found its way into many houses and buildings, especially for interior paneling and fine furniture construction.
When considering oak hardwood flooring, many people fail to realize that there are significant differences between its two common species – red and white oak. Besides the obvious variation in colour, they also differ by grain pattern, hardness, texture and price. It’s important to consider the features of each and their major differences to make an informed choice.
Red and White Oak Hardwood – A Brief Guide
What Is Red Oak?
Grown in acidic soil in climates with an average dry to medium moisture, red oak is common to the central and eastern parts of the U.S. and Canada. Its unique grain patterns and red to brown colour variations make it suitable for a range of interior designs. With its pink/red undertones, red oak gives your home a warm and inviting touch.
Uses of Red Oak Lumber
Readily available in a wide range of widths and thicknesses, red oak lumber is used in flooring, interior trim, veneers, panelling and furniture. However, it is not suitable for tight cooperage or exterior work. Red oak contains tannic acid which creates a chemical blue dye when combined with the iron in water. This means that if water seeps through the surface of your red oak flooring, it can create black, ugly stains.
What Is White Oak?
Natives of Eastern and Central North America, white oak trees have been documented to exceed 450 years of age. Although they are referred to as ‘white’, their bark is usually a light grey. Its name is derived from the colour of the finished wood.
Uses of White Oak Lumber
Due to its closed cellular structure making it resistant to water and rot, white oak lumber is a perfect flooring choice. It’s also suitable for shipbuilding, construction, agricultural implements, interior finishing and the manufacture of whiskey and wine barrels.
What Differentiates White Oak from Red Oak Lumber?
To a layman, red oak is red and white oak is white. However, things are not that simple. Although both look somewhat similar, are commercially harvested and can be used for the same projects, there’s a significant difference in appearance (of the finished product), density, hardness and affordability. Let’s take a close look at some of these key differences.
Surprisingly, red oak is lighter in colour than white oak, which is more popular for its golden-brown streaks. White oak has a yellowish-brown colour while red oak has a pinkish undertone. The pink graining of red oak is often clearly visible in unfinished planks. If you choose a natural finish for your red oak hardwood floors, the reddish tone will be visible, but if you go for darker tones, the colour difference between the two decreases. When stained, white oak becomes darker and browner whereas red oak becomes lighter and shows pinkish undertones. Since both are attractive, the choice is a matter of personal preference.
While red oak tends to have a stronger and wider grain pattern (with some variations), white oak has a smoother look with straight patterns. Some people prefer red oak hardwood floors because the swirls, zig zags or deviations in their grain help hide dents and scratches. Others like the slightly smoother grain of white oak because it looks simple, clean and classy. Perhaps the difference lies not in their looks but in the skill used to harvest and cut the hardwood variants.
Both red and white oak rank among the hardest of the hardwoods. While maple secures the top position on the Janka hardness scale, white oak ranks second with a score of 1360; red oak, 1290. It is harder and heavier than red oak and can be installed in high traffic areas. Its hardness is an important factor in the oak milling process. While red oak can be cut with normal saw blades, special carbide-tipped blades and bits are required to cut white oak.
Durability is a crucial factor when choosing a hardwood for your floors, and white oak has this advantage over others. While red oak hardwood is better at concealing dents than white, it’s more susceptible to dents and damage from impact. However, this does not apply to scratches as the wood’s resilience to these is determined by its finish and quality. White oak, on the other hand, is harder and more dent-resistant than red. Both varieties are quite sturdy and can last for ages when looked after.
White oak features a closed grain and pores that make it resistant to water. Red oak, on the other hand, has open grains and larger pores that easily absorb water. This is an important factor to consider when choosing a hardwood for a basement prone to damp and mould. White oak would be ideal for these areas, whereas red oak is more suited to bedrooms and living rooms that are not exposed to water and other elements.
There is generally not a big price difference between red and white oak flooring. Since raw hardwood is a commodity, the price fluctuates depending on several other factors, including plank size, availability and quality. Note: red oak trees have a wider diameter and are available in larger quantities. Therefore, if you go for wider white oak planks, it will cost you more as they are scarcer.
White Oak vs Red Oak Comparative Study
Characteristics White Oak Red Oak
|Characteristics||White Oak||Red Oak|
|Colour||Red or pink undertone with lighter stains||Warm brown and yellowish tint|
|Appearance||Smooth look||Textured look|
|Water Resistance||Closed grain finish offers excellent moisture and rot resistance||Weak water and rot resistance|
|Price||Relatively expensive due to its scarcity||Relatively inexpensive due to its easy availability|
Both red and white oak hardwood floors provide excellent benefits but differ slightly in terms of colour, price, grains and hardness. Analyze the different aspects and decide what works best for you.
This infographics compares Red Oak and White Oak so you can decide which is the best option for your home or office flooring. Get in touch with AA Floors & More Ltd in Toronto for free consultation before you plan your next residential or commercial flooring project.