Oak is one of the oldest woods in nature. It is a strong and durable hardwood that is prized for its beautiful appearance which makes it a wonderful choice for making both classic and contemporary furniture. Oak is also commonly used in flooring and cabinetry.
There are almost 500 species of oak out there, according to many resources. However, only a few true species of oak are actually popular and useful. Different species of oak are native to different parts of the world, including America, Asia, Europe, and Africa.
If you are considering oak wood for your next project, you must have a basic idea of the different oak species to be able to find out the right type of oak wood for your application.
About Oak Wood
Oak is a hardwood that is famous for its stunning appearance coupled with unmatched strength. Some species of oak are durable enough for use in outdoor applications including boatbuilding.
Oak comes in many varieties with colours ranging from almost white to yellow and dark reddish-brown. In other words, oak can be found in many hues to fit whatever styling requirements one may have. Moreover, the grain pattern of oak is quite distinct and unlike any other wood, which makes it very easy to identify.
Oak is easy to work with, hard and durable and will last many decades with little maintenance. Though it looks great in its natural hue, oak is also easy to stain and finish. Oak is easily and widely available and can be purchased at a moderate price for imported wood (in the UK and other parts where it doesn’t grow naturally).
Types of Oak Wood
All popular species of oak can be broadly categorised into the following two types:
- Red Oak
- White Oak
1. Red Oak (Quercus Rubra)
The most common and popular species of oak are called red oak. These types of oak are commonly found in the Northeastern United States and Southeastern Canada. The trees are about 80-115 ft (25-35 m) tall and with a 3-6 ft (1-2 m) trunk diameter.
Red oak is a heavy timber with an average dried weight of 700 kg/m3. It is also very hard with a Janka rating of 1,220 lbf.
The oak heartwood is light to medium brown and has a reddish cast (which is why the name). The sapwood is a little lighter but not clearly distinguishable. Oak has a straight grain with a coarse and uneven texture and large pores.
Red oak species are practically non-durable and are also prone to attack by insects. The wood might lose its colour or get blotches when in contact with water.
Red oak is easy to work with both hand and machine tools. It has only moderate dimensional stability due to high shrinkage. Contact with iron can lead to discolouring or staining. It is easy to glue, stain, finish and bend (steam bending).
Red oak is easily available and moderately priced. It is commonly used in furniture, flooring, interior trim and millwork, cabinetry, and veneer. It is not suitable for outdoor use.
As a strong and easily available, low-cost hardwood, oak is the most favoured timber option for people in many countries, including the Americas. Some popular species of red oak include California Black Oak, Southern Red Oak, Willow Oak, black oak, cherry bark oak, pin oak, and water oak.
1.1 Black Oak (Quercus velutina)
Commonly found in eastern North America, black oak is a medium reddish-brown hardwood. The texture is grainy and coarse and the pores are medium to big. The trees are about 80 ft tall and have a maximum trunk diameter of 5 ft. It is a hard and non-durable wood with a 1,210 lbf Janka rating. It is quite easy to work with and used in furniture, flooring, cabinetry, veneers, and interior trim.
1.2 Cherrybark Oak (Quercus pagoda)
Cherry bark oak grows mainly in the eastern United States and is exported to other parts of the world. The trees are about 100 ft tall and achieve a maximum trunk diameter of 5 ft. The wood colour is medium, reddish-brown and the texture is coarse with large pores. Cherry bark oak wood is not durable or resistant to rot. It is however very strong and easy to work with for uses such as flooring and furniture.
1.3 California Black Oak (Quercus kelloggii)
Also known as Kellogg oak, this wood is sourced from the western United States. It is brownish-red with a straight grain, coarse texture and medium to large pores. The wood is not very durable but it is strong enough for use in cabinetry and furniture.
1.4 Southern Red Oak (Quercus falcata)
Also called Spanish oak, this oak type is native to the Southeastern United States. It is strong and heavy but not durable. The light-medium brown wood is easy to work with and considered suitable for cabinetry, flooring and furniture making.
1.5 Willow Oak (Quercus phellos)
Willow oak is commonly found in the eastern and central U.S. It is a very hard and strong wood with fine grain and pores. It is used in many applications including furniture, veneers, etc.
1.6 Pin Oak (Quercus palustris)
Found in the Eastern U.S Pin oak is harder than most oak wood types but it is not durable. It also has multiple knots on its body. It is most commonly used as firewood and in low-quality construction.
1.7 Water Oak (Quercus nigra)
Water oak is native to Eastern U.S. It is a hard and heavy but non-durable wood. The medium reddish-brown heartwood has a coarse grain and large pores. It is easy to work with and used commonly for cabinetry and furniture making.
2. White Oak (Quercus alba)
White oak is commonly found in the Eastern United States and North American regions. It is light-coloured but stronger and more durable than red oak species.
White oak trees are about 65-85 ft (20-25 m) tall with a 3-4 ft (1-1.2 m) trunk diameter. This wood is heavier than red oak with a 755 kg/m3 average dried weight. It is also harder with a 1,350 lbf Janka hardness rating.
The heartwood of white oak is light to medium brown and generally has an olive cast as opposed to the reddish cast of red oak. The wood grain is straight and the texture is coarse and uneven.
Unlike red oak, white oak is a very durable hardwood with natural resistance to rot and moisture thanks to its longer grain rays. It is often used in boatbuilding and other outdoor applications. The wood is also easy to work with both machine and hand tools. It has average dimensional stability due to higher shrinkage values. Contact with iron can result in staining and discolouring. It is easy to glue, stain and finish and bend (steam bending).
It is easily and widely available. It has more demand than red oak, which means white oak is slightly more expensive. Uses include furniture, boatbuilding, cabinetry, flooring, barrels (for wine), interior trim, and veneers.
The only major difference between red oak and white oak is durability. As a strong, durable and beautiful wood, white oak is used extensively for flooring and furniture making.
Some popular types of white oak include bur oak, English oak, and chestnut oak.
2.1 Bur Oak (Quercus macrocarpa)
Bur oak is a type of white oak that grows in the eastern and mid-western U.S. and south-central Canada. It is a popular oak species. It is a light to medium brown wood with a coarse grain and medium or large pores. The wood is very durable in terms of resistance to decay. It is used in boatbuilding, barrels, veneers, cabinetry, and furniture making.
2.2 English Oak (Quercus robur)
Also known as European oak, English oak is a popular oak species found in Europe, Asia, and North Africa. It is light or medium brown with an olive cast. The grain is straight and the texture is even and coarse. It is considered very durable and is resistant to decay and water. English oak is easy to work with, glue, finish and bend. It is used for flooring, furniture making, cabinetry, veneers, barrels, and interior trim.
2.3 Chestnut Oak (Quercus prinus)
Native to the Eastern United States, chestnut oak is a white oak species. It has light to medium brown heartwood with a coarse grain and medium-large pores. The wood is considered very durable in terms of resistance to decay. It is easy to work with, glue and bend. Common uses include furniture making, flooring, boatbuilding, cabinetry, barrels, veneers, and interior trim.
With so many types of oak wood out there, it can be difficult to choose the right one for your project. If you need professional help selecting the right oak type, contact White Knight Consulting Ltd for expert wood consulting services.
White Knight Consulting Ltd is a top seller, manufacturer and exporter of oak hardwood that supplies wood in many countries, including Canada, Poland, Australia, Africa, Malaysia, and others. Contact for enquiry and best price.