When it comes down to it, red oak and white oak are two different species of plants.
But let’s not get lost in the weeds. When it comes to woodworking, the differences are mainly cosmetic.
We made the video above to hit on the parts that might be important to a person looking to build a project out of oak. So give it a spin to get a little more info on:
Why choose one over the other?
Are there reasons to avoid either type of oak?
Is red oak better than white oak?
What should I know about using either one in my projects?
Don’t be fooled by their names – red oak and white oak are the names of the trees. The red oak name comes form the color of its autumn leaves, and white oak is so named for the light gray color of the bark.
Nevertheless, red and white oak do look different in color.
White oak is darker and more brown-tan than red oak, while somewhat more rugged looking.
Red oak is more of a wheat color, sometimes (and coincidentally) with a tinge of pink.
Both take stains really well, thanks to their open grain, but not equally. So don’t mix the two types of woods unless you’re deliberate about that choice.
Why Pick One Over The Other?
Both are hard, tough and durable. White oak more so than red, but in woodworking the difference hardly matters. Both work great for furniture and flooring.
White oak wins for outdoor projects, though. In quick terms, white oak contains a couple of properties that allow it to repel water and resist rotting way better than red oak.
Red oak is generally cheaper, and since it takes stains and dyes so easily, you can make it any color. So if you’re okay with how it looks, it’ll be a good, bold, and economical wood to use.
These days white oak has a lot of traction among designers – it has an earthier color and it’s more frequently sawn for rift or quarter sawn boards.
Project Pictures – Inspiration
Here are a few of our favorite projects using red or white oak:
Red oak will contrast well with many other woods like mahogany as shown here. oak-mahogany-box
White oak is the wood of choice for aging barrels for American-made spirits. This is a remnant from a used wine barrel. barrel-oak-platter2
While white oak is the choice for wine barrels, once they're used some woodworkers get their hands on the remnants and use the wood for projects. Like this serving platter by Nick Hauck barrel-oak-platter
Red oak works in highly decorative projects like this little tray by Walter Riordan oak-tray-exotic-wood
White oak, especially quartersawn material, goes well with walnut as in this beautiful jewelry box. white-oak-jewelry-box
Choose the grain carefully and you can isolate grain such as this super-straight-grain found in this box lid by Floyd Berthiaume oak-walnut-box
When fumed with ammonia, white oak takes on a bronze-brown color that's hard to beat, as in this wine-serving table by Joe Gross white-oak-wine-table
Don Krug used reclaimed white oak barrel staves for table legs, and capped it off with a red oak table top. red-oak-barrel-table
Red oak box by Bill Butler red-oak-box
Charles Spitzer used red oak, walnut and gorgeous blue glass to make this table red-oak-glass-table
Alex Foster chose to inlay purple heart strips into this lathe-turned red oak platter red-oak-platter
A nod to the Fibonacci sequence, Matthew Ogden designed and made this trivet from red oak. red-oak-trivet
Mike McKovich used reclaimed wine cases to make the stool seat, and made his own replica white oak barrel staves to bring this project together. white-oak-barrel-stool
Not all white oak need be clear-coated. Mark Hammond performed a bit of Shou Sugi Ban (wood charring by torch) to create the blackened color of white oak. And it's contrasted with kick-ass chechem in the tray table. white-oak-chechem-platter
White oak stool by Robert Zicafoose white-oak-sitting-chair
Vice President of Operations – Woodworkers Source
We’re a family-owned lumber & woodworking supply retailer with 3 delightful stores in Arizona, and 35 friendly employees.
Mark oversees the company and creates tutorials on wood finishing and woodworking tips for hardwood lumber.
Woodworkers Source is a division of MacBeath Hardwood Co.