Red Oak vs White Oak: What’s the Difference?

Oak trees are some of the most common trees in North America. The two main types, red oak, and white oak have many differences between them. Oak is a type of tree that is used for logs, furniture, flooring, and more – so knowing the difference can be very important.

This blog post will discuss the key differences between red oak vs white oak so you can make an informed decision on what type of wood to use for your project or purchase.

What is Oak?

Oak is a versatile hardwood that is used in furniture, wine barrels, cabinetry, flooring, and other applications. Oak is a hardwood that comes from oak trees. Oak trees belong to the genus Quercus, which contains about 300 species of oaks. 

It has a beautiful and distinct grain, and many people consider it aesthetically pleasing. There are several varieties of oak trees, so the color, grain, and texture can vary somewhat from tree to tree. 

Some oaks are light in color, while others are dark. The grain can also be straight or wavy, depending on the variety. Some oaks are known to have stunning figured grain patterns, including curly or burl figures. 

Oak is also relatively affordable and can be stained to a wide range of colors. They have an extensive root system and can grow in a variety of soils and wetness levels, reddish-white oaks generally prefer moist soil. These trees are classified into two major groups, red oaks, and white oaks.

Let’s explore every aspect of both and find the key differences between red oak and white oak.

What is a Red Oak?

Red oaks are indigenous to North America. They are open-grown and usually have a reddish hue and their wood is used for a variety of purposes, including furniture, flooring, and cabinetry.

Red oaks are known for their straight grain and relatively even texture. They are also considered to be one of the more affordable types of oak. Their heights can vary from 60 to 82 feet in normal climates, and they typically have a lifespan of around 300 years. 

Red oaks grow in the eastern and central regions of North America, as well as parts of Mexico and Canada. They can also be found in Europe, North Africa, and Asia.

How to Recognize a Red Oak?

If you are a novice, it can be difficult to recognize a red oak. Look for these specifications to recognize it: 

  • Red oak has more pointed leaves pointed than white oak. 
  • Red Oak bark has shining stripes ridges that form more like a net.

Check this image of Red Oak:

  • The sapwood of red oak is whitish to light-colored and the heart
  • The catkins on red oaks shed their pollen in the springtime, which results in them having a reddish hue.
  • Its branches grow at the right angle, as opposed to white oaks upward branches. 
  • If you see it, you can recognize it with its bark. Red Oak bark has shining stripes ridges that form more like a net. 

Check this image of Red Oak Bark:

Interesting Facts about Red Oaks

According to Illinois State Museum, the following table talks about the interesting facts about Red Oaks:

CriteriaInteresting Facts
Reproduction with Seeds and RootsWhat distinguishes red oaks from other trees is their ability to reproduce with seeds and root sprouts as well.
Prefer MoistRed oak trees prefer moist soil conditions, so they may not be the best choice for areas with low rainfall.
Tolerates Harsh WeatherRed oak trees are more tolerant of harsh weather conditions than white oak trees, making them a better choice in urban weather conditions.
Have Longer Time SpanThere are between 160 and 200 species of red oaks in the world. These trees can live for up to 300 years, and they reach full maturity in about 80 years.
Reach the 9 Feet HeightRed oaks can reach heights of up to 80 feet, and their trunks are typically around 2 feet in diameter. Though red oaks grow in their native area of North America, they can grow to their full height (i.e., 90 feet).
They Grow FastThe latest research by the University of Florida extension about red oaks claims that they grow with rapid growth.
Sensitive to ShadowRed oak seedlings will not survive in too much shadows; they need a gap in the canopy to get adequate sunlight.

Pros
  • Red oaks are a strong and durable type of hardwood.
  • They have a straight grain and relatively even texture, which makes them ideal for many applications.
  • They are considered to be one of the more affordable hardwoods available.
Cons
  • Red oaks typically do not have as much figure as other types of oak.
  • They can be somewhat difficult to work with due to their density.
  • They are not as common as some other types of oak so they may be difficult to find at times.

What is a White Oak?

White oak is a medium to a large deciduous tree that can grow up to 100 feet tall with an average life span of 600 years. 

They are originated from areas of North America, South Canada, and Florida and are known for their beautiful figure and texture, often featuring a wavy or curly grain pattern.

White oak is known for having a straight and even growth pattern, with an interlocked grain, which produces a very tight texture and a beautiful figure. The heartwood of white oak is a light tan to reddish-brown, while the sapwood is a paler white. 

It’s often used for furniture, flooring, and cabinetry. The wood is resistant to decay and insects, making it a popular choice for these applications.

White oaks can be somewhat difficult to work with, and the wood is known for staining unevenly. 

However, the end results are often worth the extra effort. White oak trees can grow to be up to 100 feet tall and live for up to 600 years.

How to Recognize White Oak?

Follow this information to recognize a white oak:

  • White oak color ranges from light tan to reddish-brown, and their wood has a rich, appealing look. 
  • The leaves of the white oak are lobed and deciduous, meaning they fall off the tree in the winter. 
  • White oak has larger leaves (i.e., at least 5 inches long and 3.5 inches wide). Each leaf has almost eight to nine round-ended lobes.
  • It has two main colors; the upper side with shades of blue-green and underneath it’s green. 
  • The wood of the white oak is known for its wavy or twisty grain pattern. It has a coarse texture and attractive rays.

Interesting Facts About White Oaks

The following table showcases some interesting facts about White Oak that you didn’t know. 

CriteriaInteresting Facts
Slow Growth RateWhite oak trees have a slower growth rate than red oak trees. From one to two feet per year.
Produces Two Flower TypesWhite oak produces male and female flowers. The male flowers (named catkins and are 4 inches) and the female flowers.
Produces Both Flowers and AcornsWhite oak both produce flowers and acorns. The acorns of the white oak are a valuable food source for wildlife such as squirrels.
High Tannin LevelsWhite oak has higher levels of tannin than red oak, making it a better choice for food purposes.
Attracts BirdsWhite oak trees have branches, leaves, and acorns that attract birds more readily than red oak trees.
Larger LeavesWhite oak trees have larger leaves than red oak trees.

Now you know how to identify a red or white oak. You know interesting facts about each species. Let’s talk about what features make them different and why you might want one for your landscape.

Most Common Types of White and Red Oak

White Oak GroupRed Oak Group
Chestnut OakSawtooth Oak
Burr OakPin Oak
 Swamp WhiteSpanish oak 
Bear ClawShumard Oak
Chinkapin OakWillow Oak
English OakLive Oak

Check this image of White Oak:

Pros
  • They typically get better height than red oaks (i.e., 80 to 100 feet).
  • The leaves of the white oak are lobed and deciduous, meaning they fall off the tree in the winter.
  • The bark of the white oak tree is very thick and great for climbing or sitting on.
  • The acorns of the white oak are a valuable food source for wildlife.
  • White oak tree has one of the densest levels of wood fiber among oaks.
Cons
  • White oaks have a moderate growth rate.
  • The wood is known for staining unevenly.

Red Oak vs White Oak – What’s the Difference?

Oak flooring is a popular choice for many homeowners because of its natural beauty and durability. Though both white and red oaks come to belong to the same genus but are somehow different based on their features and appearance.

So, what are the key differences between red oaks and white oaks?

Leaves

As far as appearance is concerned both red and white oaks are utterly different. Be its shape, size, or color. Where white oak has larger leaves, red oak has smaller leaves. For example, red oaks leave are at least 1.5 inches long and 1 inch wide. 

White oak’s leaves are usually 5 inches long and 3.5 inches wide. Each leaf has almost eight to nine round-ended lobes. White oak’s leave is soft and rounded shape whereas red oak has a more pointed shape.

Tannin

The tannin content is also different in both oaks. White oak has low levels of tannin as compared to red oak, making it less desirable for use in the production of furniture, paper, and other products. Red oak has high and bitter levels of tannin, making it better for use in the production of paper or furniture.

Durability

Red oak is considered to be a more robust and hardy tree than white oak. This makes it better suited for areas that experience harsh and extreme weather. Red oak, however, is also more prone to damage from rot and insects when compared with white oak.

Bark

The bark of red oak is also different from the bark of white oak. Red oak has a scaly, red-brown bark that is deeply furrowed. White oak’s bark is gray and has V-shaped ridges. It can also have mottled or smooth areas. White oak bark is totally opposite to its leaves.

For instance, check out this video for better understanding: 

Size

Red oaks are typically smaller than white oaks. While white oaks can grow to be over 100 feet tall, red oaks usually only grow between 50 and 80 feet tall when they grow in their native soil (i.e., North America).

Growth

White aks grow at a moderate rate of 1 to 2 feet per year whereas red oaks can grow at a fast rate – almost 4 to 5 feet per year. White oaks can live up to 600 years, and red oaks usually only live for 200 years.

The Wood

The wood of white oak is often much more prized than that of red oak. This is because the wood of white oak can be finely grained and is less likely to warp, twist or shrink. Also, the wood of red oak is less likely to be attacked by insects or rot.

Durability and Appearance

White oak flooring is known to be more durable than red oak. It is less sensitive to humidity and absorbs less moisture, which makes it a better choice for humid climates. Basically, the graining is different under magnification. This is where the white oak gets its unique character. 

For instance, red oak is usually considered more vibrant and has a more rugged appearance, while white oak has smaller and tighter grain lines, making it appear smoother, thus offering a more modern design aesthetic. 

Red oak easily hides scratches and dents that may occur over time because of its strong graining, making it the perfect choice for busy households with small kids, dogs, and guests with high traffic.

Color

Based on color, people often think red oak must be darker than white oak. This isn’t the case though – both colors can range anywhere from a very light tan to a deep brownish-red.

The deciding factor is: White oaks have more brown and tan while red oaks have more red, pink, and some undertone colors. If you arent professional you can’t differentiate the colors very easily.

Hardness

Janka hardness scale rates white oak at 1360 and red oak at 1290. Though this may not seem like much of a difference, it is important to note that the Janka hardness scale measures the amount of pressure needed to embed a steel ball halfway into the wood. 

With white oak, this amount of pressure is higher than red oak. This means that white oak is less likely to dent or scratch than red oak.

Water Resistance

Though no wood is truly 100% waterproof, white oak is known to be more resistant to water than red oak. This is because the closed-grain of white oak helps to prevent water from seeping into the wood. 

FAQs

Is White Oak or Red Oak More Expensive?

White oaks tend to be more expensive than red oaks. This is due to the soft and highly-figured wood of white oak, which makes it prized for use in furniture production.

Can You Mix Red Oak and White Oak Flooring?

Yes, you can mix red oak and white oak flooring in your home. In fact, many people do this in order to get the best of both worlds. You can have the appearance of red oak flooring in areas where you want a more rustic or traditional look, and then use white oak in areas where you want a more formal or contemporary look.

What is Red Oak Good For?

Red oak is an excellent choice for any area of your home. It’s durable and attractive, but not too hard to dent or scratch. Red oak is also resistant to rot and insects, making it a good choice for areas that are exposed to the elements.

How Do You Keep White Oak Floors From Turning Yellow?

One way to keep your white oak floors from turning yellow is to apply a coat of polyurethane or another sealant every few years. This will help to protect the wood from moisture and prevent it from turning yellow over time.

Which Oak is Best for Firewood?

Red oak is the better choice for firewood, as it has a higher heat output than white oak. This means that it will burn longer and generate more heat than white oak.

Is Red Oak Good for Furniture Making?

Red oak is a good choice for furniture making. It’s not as highly prized as white oak. This is because the wood of red oak is more likely to warp, twist or shrink. It is also less resistant to rot and insects.

Should I Stain My White Oak Floors?

No, you should not stain your white oak floors. The natural color of white oak is a light honey brown, and this will be enhanced by the natural oils in the wood. Stains will change this color and can also cause buckling, cupping, or warping of your planks.

Is White Oak or Red Oak Better for Furniture?

White oak is generally considered to be the better choice for furniture making. This is because the wood of white oak is more highly grained and less likely to warp, twist or shrink. It is also less likely to be attacked by insects or rot.

How Do I Identify Red Oak?

Red oak is most easily identified by its leaves. The leaves of red oak are typically 1.5 to 3 inches long with pointed edges. They are red on the top and pink on the bottom and have a deep red color in the fall. The bark of red oak is also distinctive – it’s dark gray with narrow ridges.

Conclusion

The difference between red oaks & white oaks is their leaves, bark & wood.  Also, red oaks are more suitable for firewood than white oaks. Also, you can mix red oak & white oak flooring in your home.

Which hardwood you prefer depends on your personal taste. Where you live will also play a role in which hardwood is most appropriate for your home. So, pick the hardwood of your preference!