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Oak wood floor slabs and hammer

All About Oak Wood: Properties, Comparisons and FAQs

Prized for its strength and beauty, oak wood has been a highly sought-after material for centuries. It’s no surprise that it remains a popular choice for furniture and flooring today. Its versatility has made it a go-to option for architects, interior designers, and homeowners who appreciate its natural beauty and longevity.

In this article, we'll delve deeper into the characteristics of oak wood, look at the differences between red oak and white oak, and learn how to maintain oak wood furniture. We’ll also compare oak to other popular wood types, and answer some frequently answered questions.

What is Oak Wood?

Oak wood is a hardwood that’s prized for its strength and durability. It’s one of the most common tree species in the Northern Hemisphere and has been used for centuries in construction.

While there are more than 600 species of oak trees, we’ll be focusing on red oak and white oak as they’re more commonly used for furniture and flooring.

Red Oak vs White Oak Wood

Red oak and White oak wood close up

Though they fall under the same family, there are some differences between these 2 species of oak:

Red oak White oak
Colour
  • Lighter in colour, with salmon and pink undertones
  • Darker in colour, with more beige and olive hues

Hardness
(Janka scale*)

  • 1,290 lbf
  • While it’s not a noticeable difference, it may dent more easily than white oak
  • 1,360 lbf
Grain
  • More pronounced, wavy grains
  • Short rays help to hide dents and scratches better
  • Subtler, tighter grains
  • Long rays add visual length to the wood
Water and rot-resistance
  • Poor water and rot-resistance
  •  Excellent water and rot-resistance
Insect-resistance
  • Not very resistant to insects due to lower tannin levels
  • High tannin levels make it extremely insect-resistant
Price
  • Cheaper as it’s more widely available
  • More expensive than red oak

*The Janka scale measures how resistant a piece of wood is to wear and tear. A higher rating indicates a greater level of hardness and durability in the wood.

Red Oak Wood

Whether you're looking for a rustic or modern feel, red oak's beautiful reddish-pink tones and distinct wavy grain pattern make it a versatile choice for a variety of interior design projects.

Advantages
  • Busy grains on the wood are able to hide scratches and dents better
  • Usually cheaper than white oak as it’s more commonly available
  • Durable for indoor furniture like dining tables, floating shelves and wooden benches
Disadvantages
  • Poor water resistance, and if water penetrates the surface, it results in an unsightly black stain
  • Poor insect resistance as it doesn't contain the high levels of tannins that white oak contains
  • Softer than white oak, meaning that it may dent more easily  
  • Not recommended for outdoor furniture as it’s more likely to warp and split if not properly dried, or if exposed to sudden changes in temperature or humidity

White Oak Wood

White oak is incredibly water and insect-resistant, making it perfect for both indoor and outdoor furniture. Whether you're looking for a classic or contemporary look, white oak will fit the bill with its beige hues and subtle, uniform grain. 

 Advantages
  • The wood’s close grain and small pores make it naturally water and rot-resistant
  • Compatible with a wide range of finishes, including stains, paints, and varnishes
  • Incredibly sturdy, making it ideal for furniture that needs to withstand wear and tear
Disadvantages
  • As the wood is so heavy and dense, you might want to reconsider if you’ll be moving the furniture a lot
  • Less pronounced grain patterns mean that it doesn’t hide scratches or dents very well
  • Tends to be more expensive than red oak

 

How to Maintain Oak Wood Furniture

Oak wood dining table

Just like all the other types of furniture wood, you have to maintain your oak wood furniture to keep it in tip-top condition. Here are some tips to ensure it stays that way for a long time!

Keep Out of Sunlight

This tip is more so for oak wood furniture that’s made for indoor use. Try to keep it away from direct sunlight to prevent the colour from fading. 

If the temperature’s too high, it might even cause the fibres in the wood to shrink, resulting in warping and splitting. 

Wax Regularly

By waxing the surface every 6 – 9 months, you can nourish and protect the oak wood from the effects of regular use.

Tip!

Test the wax first on an inconspicuous spot. Apply a little on the underside of your table or behind a cabinet before waxing the entire surface!

Use Gentle Cleaning Agents

Wiping down your oak wood furniture after every use, especially high-use furniture like dining tables, and cleaning up spills immediately are a must to preserve the longevity of the wood. 

On top of that, using gentle cleaning agents can help to prolong the life of your furniture. Disinfect the surface with gentle cleaning products made specifically for wood furniture, or create a natural cleaner using a 1:3 solution of vinegar to water.

As a rule of thumb, use just enough cleaning solution to make the cloth damp before wiping. Ensure that it’s not dripping wet so that excess liquid doesn’t seep into the wood.

Oak Wood vs Other Wood Types: Walnut and Teak

Walnut wood and teak wood are very popular alternatives among homeowners for wood furniture. Read on to see how they compare to oak wood and find out which is best suited for you.

Oak Wood Walnut Wood Teak Wood
Colour Varies from light olive to reddish brown Ranges from light to dark brown; fades to yellow gradually Consistent shade of golden brown

Hardness
(Janka scale)

1,290 – 1,360 lbf 1,010 lbf 1,000 – 1,155 lbf
Grain Close grains Tight grains Close grains
Durability Extremely durable Very durable Extremely durable
Water and rot-resistance
  • High levels of tannins make it very resistant to rot and insects
  • White oak is more water-resistant than red oak
  • Strong water resistance
  • Resistant to insects and moisture due to the high concentration of natural oils
 

FAQs About Oak Wood

What is oak wood used for?

Oak is a versatile wood used for a wide variety of applications. It’s a classic choice for hardwood flooring, beams and frames, as well as an assortment of furniture like tables and chairs. It can also be used to build cabinets for leather shoes or sturdy cupboards to store valuable things like jewelry and authentic trading cards.

Oak wood is also used heavily for wine barrels as it imparts a unique flavour to the wine, and is resistant to rotting.

How long does oak wood furniture last?

The lifespan of oak wood furniture depends on various factors such as the quality of the wood, the construction techniques used, and the care and maintenance it receives. 

Generally speaking, well-made oak wood furniture that’s properly cared for can last for generations. With regular cleaning and polishing, oak wood can maintain its beauty and durability for many years. 

However, it's important to avoid exposing the furniture to extreme temperatures or humidity levels, as this can cause warping, splitting, or cracking. 

How to identify oak wood?

Since oak wood varies in colour, it’s not the most accurate way to determine the type of wood. 

A better way would be to feel the grain of the wood. As oak is generally rougher, any smooth-feeling wood most likely isn’t oak. Additionally, a dead giveaway that a piece of wood is from the oak tree is when it has ray flakes – these are small dark horizontal lines, which are especially visible when the wood is quartersawn.

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