Red Oak vs White Oak Lumber: Which is Best For Your Project

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Even though there are hundreds of different oak types across the United States, only two types of oak trees are used to make lumber. Consequently, you will have the choice between the Red Oak vs White lumber while selecting the material for your next woodworking project.

Both red oak and white oak are utilized to manufacture hardwood lumber that can be used for flooring, decking, and various other construction projects. However, the slight differences between these oak trees make them suitable for use in different contexts.

That’s why white oak lumber is a better choice for outdoor projects or high-traffic areas, while red oak can be a reliable option for projects that have limited budgets.

Our red oak vs white oak lumber comparison will grant you an insight into the properties of either of these materials and help you decide which one best fits your project’s demands.

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Main Differences Between the Red Oak vs White Oak Lumber

The main differences between red and white oak lumber are:

  • Red oak lumber is easy to find, whereas finding white oak lumber can be challenging at times
  • White oak lumber is rugged and durable, whereas red oak lumber is more susceptible to damage
  • Red oak lumber is affordable, whereas white oak lumber is usually more expensive
  • White oak is naturally resistant to insects and decay, whereas red oak isn’t resistant to decay or insects
  • Red oak has 80% moisture content after it is sawn, whereas white oak has 65% moisture content after it is sawn

Key specifications

Red oak White oak 
Hardness 1290lbf on the Janka scale 1360lbf on the Janka scale
Water resistance Moderate Excellent
End grain type Open cells Closed cells
Weight Relatively light Heavier than red oak
Impact resistance Good Excellent
Moisture content 80% MC 65% MC
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Evaluating the features of Red Oak and White Oak lumber

Red Oak

Red Oak Lumber

Quercus rubra or the northern red oak is an oak species that is native to central and eastern parts of the United States, and southern regions of Canada. The vast majority of lumber manufactured in the United States is made from these trees.

There are more than 20 subspecies of red oak, but manufacturers don’t specify the subspecies and label their products as red oak lumber. The name doesn’t suggest the color of lumber but the color of the oak’s leaves that turn red in autumn.

Red oak lumber is one of the most durable types of hardwood you can find on the market, which is the reason why it is frequently used to produce furniture or wooden flooring.

All hardwood lumber is either flat-sawn, quarter-sawn, or rift-sawn, and the pattern on this material depends on the sawing method.

Key features

  • Rays are ½-inch long
  • No special sawing requirements
  • Contains 80% moisture content when freshly sawn
  • Great for kitchen renovation projects
  • Affordable and largely available
  • Red oak flooring usually has red or pink tones
  • 1290lbf hardness score on the Janka scale
  • The majority of red oak is harvested in the Great Lakes region

Visual appearance

Unless the finish is already applied, it is difficult to differentiate between red and white oak lumber by just looking at them. Also, the visual appearance of red oak lumber depends on the technique that was used to saw lumber.

Arguably the best way to determine if lumber is made of red oak is to look at the length of cathedral patterns that are revealed by flat-sawing lumber. These patterns on red oak lumber are rarely longer than ½-inch, while rift-sawn models can be recognized by a unique vertical or horizontal pattern.

The end grain of red oak lumber consists of open cells that can be recognized by a smooth surface. Identifying red oak flooring is somewhat easier, once the finish is already applied, and most models have dark color tones.

Red oak planks can fit nicely into differently styled interiors, which is the reason why homeowners across the United States choose this material.

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Hardness and usability

With the 1290lbf hardness score on the Janka scale, red oak lumber is among the hardest types of hardwood you can get. Despite a high hardness level, red oak lumber is still relatively light when compared with white oak or maple lumber that has a higher score on the Janka scale.

You can saw through red oak lumber using a miter saw or any other tool that is powerful enough to cut through wood. The material won’t break or shatter even if you cut it with a regular saw blade, and it is soft enough to be carved with chisels.

Go through our guide to the best chisels for woodworking to learn more about different types of chisels you can use to carve wood. The properties of red oak lumber make it a great choice for novice and DIY woodworkers who still don’t have the skills to cut the hardest types of hardwood.

Other noteworthy features

The red oak lumber or flooring is best suited for indoor use since frequent exposure to rain, snow or sun can speed up the process of decay. Also, the material isn’t resistant to insects, as termites or Wood-Boring beetles can damage its internal structure.

Consequently, red oak lumber is a great choice if you want to produce handmade furniture, make a kitchen top or if you want to install stylish wooden flooring in your home. You should look for alternative options if you’re working on outdoor woodworking projects since red oak lumber doesn’t respond well to seasonal changes.

Reliability

The combination of visual appeal, sturdiness, durability, and affordability make the red oak lumber one of the most attractive options for carpenters. The material is soft enough to be sawn without causing the blade to skip or burn.

Pieces manufactured from red oak lumber don’t show a tendency to change or lose some of their properties over the years. However, dragging furniture over the red oak flooring or dropping a heavy object will damage the floor.

The material is relatively cheap, which is the reason why DIY carpenters and woodworkers choose it over white oak material that is slightly more expensive.

White Oak

White Oak

Quercus Alba or the white oak is a North American native oak type that grows in the eastern and central regions of the continent. Its name comes from the distinguishable light gray bark, and it doesn’t indicate the color of the lumber that is produced from white oak.

As a material white oak is widely used in carpentry because its hard structure makes it one of the most durable types of hardwood on the market. When compared to red oak lumber, white oak lumber tends to be heavier and more durable, but it is also more difficult to process.

White oak is also naturally resistant to insects, which makes it suitable for a broad range of outdoor projects. This material is also a popular flooring choice, because it has great impact resistance, and it is easily stained so finding different color options isn’t difficult.

However, you should keep in mind that staining white oak to look like red oak isn’t possible.

Key features

  • 1360lbf hardness rating on Janka scale
  • Rays are around 1-inch long
  • Closed-cell end grain
  • Resists water well
  • White oak flooring has brown tones
  • 65% moisture content after sawing
  • Affordable, but more expensive than red oak
  • Heavier than red oak

Visual appearance

The grain pattern on white oak lumber is less visible than on lumber made of red oak because the material is heavier. However, flat-sawing or quarter-sawing reveals recognizable ray patterns that are around 1-inch long.

The grain lines are closer to each other on white oak lumber and they don’t have as many swirls as red oak lumber models. Also, the cellular structure of white and red oak lumber is different, as the end grain of white oak lumber contains closed cells.

This suggests that the pores in the fiber are filled with tyloses, which makes it more difficult to damage the lumber. White oak was used to manufacture countless antique pieces as well as the USS Constitution, the world’s oldest commissioned naval vessel that is still afloat.

The material’s visual appeal is undeniable as the floors or furniture made of white oak looks elegant and sophisticated.

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Hardness and usability

White oak is one of the hardest types of hardwood on the market. Its hardness rating on the Janka scale is 1360lbf, but you shouldn’t be misled by this information into thinking that white oak is significantly harder than red oak.

Red oak is still a hardwood that can withstand heavy-duty usage, but it is easier to damage it than white oak. Such a high hardness level comes from the material’s cellular structure, which protects it from damage made by any type of impact.

The closed-cell structure makes white oak naturally resistant to insects and or water, which is the reason why white oak is often used to make wine or whiskey barrels.

Its natural resistance to seasonal changes makes white oak a great choice for all outdoor construction projects since the prolonged exposure to sunlight, rain, or snow isn’t going to damage it.

However, processing white oak requires an enviable skill level, since the hardness of the material requires the use of titanium or carbide-tipped saw blades.

Other noteworthy features

There are around ten different types of white oak trees, so the exact properties of the lumber largely depend on the white oak species. These differences don’t affect the lumber’s ability to perform well in outdoor conditions or its hardness, but rather how the lumber looks.

The material’s hardness makes carving white oak lumber difficult since you will have to use more power to drive a chisel into the wood. Also, inexperienced woodworkers might find it challenging to saw white oak lumber since it may cause the saw blade to skip or burn.

White oak lumber is brittle, and you must introduce it into the saw blade gradually to avoid splintering or shattering the material.

Reliability

The fact that a centuries-old vessel made of white oak is still floating is probably the best testament of the material’s reliability. You can use white oak to make anything from flooring to wine barrels or decks without having to worry about the object’s durability.

White oak lumber costs more than red oak lumber, but the price difference isn’t huge, and the toughness of the material justifies the higher price. Differences between white and red oak lumber are miniscule as both materials are robust enough to withstand frequent usage.

White oak reacts better to wet weather conditions, which makes it better suited for outdoor use.

Red oak lumber

Pros

  • Suitable for a broad range of applications
  • One of the finest types of hardwood
  • Sowing red oak lumber isn’t difficult
  • Frequently used to manufacture desks, chairs, or cabinets

Cons

  • Red oak lumber soaks water quickly
  • Not as durable as white oak

White Oak lumber

Pros

  • High hardness rating
  • Great for outdoor constructions
  • Visually appealing
  • Resist damage and scratches well

Cons

  • Sawing through white oak lumber can be difficult
  • More expensive than red oak

The best alternatives to Red Oak and White Oak lumber

There is very little doubt that both red oak and white oak lumber are among the best types of hardwood you can find, but there are many other types of lumber that can provide the same visual appeal offered by white and red oak lumber.

We’ve shortlisted some of the best alternatives to the red oak and white oak lumber so let’s take a closer look at their features.

Cherry lumber

Cherry lumber

Despite its relative softness, cherry lumber is an incredibly versatile material that can be used for flooring or to build furniture. It has a 950lbf Janka hardness rating, which makes it much softer than red or white oak lumber.

Its color and aging process make cherry lumber a popular choice among carpenters and woodworkers. While still fresh, the material has a light pink color that gradually turns brown and red as the material ages.

The grain pattern of cherry lumber depends on the tree, but in most cases, you can expect a smooth closed cell grain pattern.

Walnut lumber

Walnut Lumber

American Walnut, Black Walnut, or simply walnut lumber is one of the most popular types of lumber in the United States. This material is somewhat harder than cherry lumber, as its Janka hardness rating is 1010lbf, but it is still much softer than red or white oak.

You can use walnut lumber for a broad range of woodworking projects, although this material is commonly used to make musical instruments and furniture. Its color changes over time from dark brown to lighter tones of the same color.

Due to the fact that walnut lumber is softer than most types of hardwood, power tools can saw through it with ease.

Maple lumber

Maple Lumper

 

According to the Janka hardness rating, the maple lumber has a 1450lbf hardness, which makes it the second hardest hardwood, behind hickory lumber. Soft maple lumber is also available, but this type of maple lumber is just 25% softer than hard maple lumber.

This material is used to manufacture high-end flooring, furniture, or kitchen accessories and it has a bright, almost white color that can in some cases contain reddish and brown hues. Maple lumber usually has straight rays, although variations like tiger, wavy or fiddleback are also available.

You should keep in mind that maple lumber is more expensive than most types of hardwood on the market.

Frequently asked questions about the Red Oak and White Oak lumber

Question: Can I add a different finish to the red oak lumber?

Answer: Yes, you can. This process is straightforward, especially if the lumber isn’t already stained. However, some color tones can be hard to achieve.

Question: How good is red oak flooring?

Answer: Wood flooring made of red oak is visually stunning and more durable than most other types of flooring.

Question: Can I use white oak lumber to build a deck?

Answer: White oak lumber isn’t affected by direct exposure to water, which makes it a great choice for a decking project.

Question: Is white oak lumber expensive?

Answer: The cost of a single white oak plank depends on its dimensions, but most models cost between $3 and $6.

Our Verdict: How to know if the Red Oak is a Better Choice for your Project than the White Oak?

Nucasa O1X2-S S4S Red Oak
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09/23/2021 10:51 pm GMT
Woodchucks Wood White Oak
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09/23/2021 10:40 pm GMT

The success of your woodworking projects often depends on the quality of hardwood you choose. The red and white oak lumber are among the best materials you can pick if you want to install a new floor, make a new desk, or any other piece of furniture.

Differences between these two types of lumber are minor, as both materials are sturdy, durable, and capable of withstanding high amounts of pressure. However, red oak lumber is a bit softer than white oak, so it is more susceptible to damage and it doesn’t handle prolonged exposure to water well.

We recommend opting for white oak lumber if you need a material that isn’t affected by water or impacts made by heavy objects. Red oak lumber should be your first option in case you’d like to get a high-quality material at an affordable price.

Was this red oak vs white oak lumber comparison useful? Let us know in the comments or continue reading our check these under-deck ideas you can build from red oak and white oak lumber.

David Borgogni

David is passionate about sharing his insights on top trending and mainstay products for the home. As an avid renovator, he has become well accustomed to the tools used to build houses, which in turn allows him to help others make better purchasing decisions when choosing which tools and equipment to use to renovate their homes.

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