Difference Between Red Oak and White Oak (With Table)

Red oak and white oak has a different wood type, color, and texture and that is why they have different applications. For example, red oak furnishing is not recommended for exterior purposes as it is not water-resistance and reacts with iron. On the other hand, white oak is suitable for exterior furnishing. There are other distinguishing factors between red oak and white oak.

Red Oak vs White Oak

The difference between red oak and white oak is that red oak is found in the shades of pink and salmon whereas white oak is available in darker shades of brown and beige. Red oak is not appropriate for marine-based applications and it is not water-resistant whereas the presence of tyloses in the heartwood of white oak makes it impenetrable to water. 

The red oak tree is more famously known as Northern red oak as it has a very broad distribution across North America. This tree has high commercial significance as its wood is used for making furniture and flooring. The red oak trees can grow up to 150 feet with 4 feet diameter. They can be easily spotted in the US and parts of Canada

White oak wood is very valuable as during colonial times it was used for shipbuilding. These trees grow extensively in the Eastern US and it plays a crucial role for the animals in that ecosystem. White oaks aren’t easily available as red oak because of their slow growth. For this reason, it is also a bit costlier. 

Comparison Table Between Red Oak and White Oak

Parameters of ComparisonRed OakWhite Oak
AppearanceThe color of red oak is lighter than white oak and appears in different shades of salmon and pink. The color of white oak is available in the darker shades of beige, brown, and yellow. 
TextureRed oak has a rough appearance due to strong graining and thus helps in hiding scratches and dents. White oak has a comparatively smoother texture as the graining is moderate. 
UsesRed oak is extensively used for timber production, fuelwood, and veneer. White oak is famous for making boats, and wine barrels for its closed cellular structure. 
ResistanceRed oak doesn’t have a very strong resistance property. White oak shows high resistance to water and rot. 
AffordabilityRed oak is less expensive than white oak. White oak is costlier due to its less availability. 

What is Red Oak?

 Red Oak (Quercus Rubra) is also known as Northern oak. It has great commercial significance because of its extensive use in turning and flooring applications. It is also used as pulpwood, fuelwood, lumber, mine timbers, etc. Though it has several applications, red oak is not a good option for exterior furnishing. Red oak contains tannic acid which in reaction with iron forms a chemical blue dye. Moreover, it is not resistant to water and allows it to penetrate the surface. 

The diameter of the red oak trees is approximately 4 feet and the sapwood is 1 to 2 inches thick. While the sapwood is white the heartwood appears brown with a tinge of pink or red. The texture of the wood varies from place to place as Southern Canada has a fine texture of red oak as compared to Southern US. The graining pattern is more evident in red oak and it is also able to absorb more stain.

The red oak trees are also known as ornamental trees and due to their shallow root system, they can be easily transplanted.  Red oak grows well both in acidic and alkaline soil but extreme soil conditions (too wet or too dry) are not suitable for it. 

What is White Oak?

Apart from the extensive use of white oak in flooring and making furniture, it is famous for making ships and wine barrels. The average height of the white oak ranges between 80 to 100 feet but some of them can grow as tall as 150 feet. They have wide-spreading branches and some of them grow horizontally towards the ground. 

The growth rate of white oak is very slow and that’s why it is harder to transplant white oak successfully. This makes the availability of white oak less often as compared to red oak and thus costlier. When the wood of the tree is first to cut it gives a beige to white color. The bark of the tree is grayish and it has rectangular scales on it. White oak produces both male (yellow-green) and female (reddish) flowers. 

In the heartwood of the white oak, tyloses are present that make the wood impenetrable to water. Thus, white oak is suitable for exterior works. But, various types of insects attack the trees like the gypsy moth and oakleaf caterpillar. Wood borers affect the lumber of fully grown plants that damage their economical value. 

Main Differences Between Red Oak and White Oak

  1. Red oak is lighter than white oak and appears in different shades of salmon and pink whereas the color of white oak is available in the darker shades of beige, brown, and yellow. 
  2. Red oak has a rough appearance due to strong graining and thus helps in hiding scratches and dents whereas White oak has a comparatively smoother texture as the graining is moderate. 
  3. Red oak is extensively used for timber production, fuelwood, and veneer whereas white oak is famous for making boats, and wine barrels for its closed cellular structure. 
  4. Red oak doesn’t have a very strong resistance property whereas white oak shows high resistance to water and rot.  
  5. Red oak is less expensive than white oak but due to less availability of white oak, it is costlier. 

Conclusion

Both red oak and white oak are extensively used for flooring and furnishing purposes. But, while the red oak is not suitable for exterior furnishing, the presence of tyloses makes white oak water-resistant. At the same time, red oak is less susceptible to being attacked by insects whereas a variety of insects reduce the economic value of white oak.

Red oak and white oak grow mostly in various parts of the US and Canada. The growth rate of white oak is slower as compared to red oak thus the former one is much more valuable in its fully grown form. Graining is strong in red oak and it can easily hide scratches and stains but white oak gives a smooth appearance. 

References

  1. https://esajournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1890/0012-9658(1998)079[0065:RONROP]2.0.CO;2
  2. https://academic.oup.com/bioscience/article-abstract/53/10/927/254898
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