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What Is The Difference? Red Oak VS White Oak

wine barrels made of oak

Table of Contents

Oak is a trendy furniture wood online and offline. In China, besides the low-priced pine, oak is the most popular.

The sales of oak furniture account for at least half of all solid wood furniture, or even more.

If you know well about oak furniture, you are entering the field of solid wood furniture.

1. The difference between red oak and white oak.

Red and white oak are very like each other. But they still have some differences. We mainly distinguish from the following aspects:

  • The two are classified differently.
  • White oak is more waterproof than red oak.
  • White oak is much denser than red oak.
  • The pith rays of white oak are longer and less pronounced than red oak.
  • The white oak color difference is more prominent than red oak.
  • White oak is darker than red oak.
  • White oak is more expensive than red oak.

1.1. The two are classified differently.

comparison between white and red oak

Red and white oak are commercial names, not individual oak species. They refer to various oaks with similar properties.

Strictly speaking, it should be more appropriate to call the red oak and white oak groups.

红橡组Red Oak Group白橡组White Oak Group
美洲红栎 Red Oak(Quercus rubra)美洲白栎 White Oak(Quercus alba)
美洲黑栎 Black Oak(Q. velutina)大果栎Bur Oak(Q. macrocarpa)
加州黑栎 California Black Oak(Q. kelloggii)栗栎 Chestnut Oak(Q. prinus)
樱皮镰状栎 Cherry bark oak(Q. pagoda)欧洲栎木 English Oak(Q. robur)
桂叶栎 Laurel Oak(Q. laurifolia)琴叶栎 Over cup Oak(Q. lyrata)
针栎 Pin Oak(Q. palustris)星毛栎 Post Oak(Q. Stellata)
深红栎 Scarlet Oak(Q. coccinea)无梗花栎 Sessile Oak(Q. petraea)
南方红栎 Southern Red Oak(Q. falcata)沼生栗栎 Swamp Chestnut Oak(Q. michauxii)
水栎 Water Oak(Q. nigra)沼生白栎 Swamp White Oak(Q. bicolor)
柳栎 Willow Oak(Q. phellos)俄(勒冈)州栎 Orgon White Oak(Q. garryana)

The leader of this classification is the National Hardwood Lumber Association (NHLA).

Thus, the Mongolian oak, the English oak, and other oaks from Europe and Asia should be white oak.

1.2. White oak is more waterproof.

The white oak conduits are filled with tyloses, so it is waterproof. It can be applied to wine barrels, boats, and outdoor construction materials. Yet red oak cannot. 

The conduit of red oak is hollow, so it absorbs moisture quickly. If there is water on the red oak unpainted, the water will easily penetrate, and the red oak will turn dark.

It is the main difference between the two. 

Performance comparisonWhite Oak (Origin:
The northeastern U.S.)
Red Oak (Origin: The northeastern U.S.)
specific gravity(when water content is 12%)0.680.63
average weight(when water content is 12%),Kg/m37693kg/m37053kg/m3
average volume shrinkage:(from wet wood to 6% moisture content)%12.27%6.60%
modulus of rupture, MPa104.8MPa98.6MPa
Elastic Modulus, MPa12273MPa12549MPa
Compressive strength (with grain) ,MPa51.30MPa46.61MPa
Hardness,N6049N5738N

As we all know, trees absorb water and inorganic salts from the ground through conduits.

The tiny pores near the annual rings are conduits.

The white oak has tyloses inside the pores. It is water resistant even if it is not painted. So the white oak can be used for shipbuilding and wine barrels.

Yet, there is no filler inside the red oak pores. The pores are hollow and easily leak when red oak containers contain water or wine.

Red oak with hollow pores, end grain 10X
▲Red oak with hollow pores, end grain 10X
White oak with tyloses in the pores, end grain 10X
▲White oak with tyloses in the pores, end grain 10X

1.3. white oak is denser than red oak.

The picture above shows that the white oak’s conduit is filled with tyloses. It makes white oak denser and heavier than red oak.

1.4. The pith rays of white oak are longer and less pronounced than red oak.

White oak’s pith rays are “long and inconspicuous,” and that of red oak is “short and distinct.”

The medullary rays are different between the two due to the difference in the conduit.

Red oak has shorter pith rays around 1cm long
▲Red oak has shorter pith rays around 1cm long
White oak has longer pith rays around 2cm long
▲White oak has longer pith rays around 2cm long
Red oak with clear pith rays
▲Red oak with clear pith rays

1.5. The color difference of white oak is more prominent.

Even FAS-grade white oak-sawn timber will have severe chromatic aberration. The quality of white oak has dropped sharply. The color difference is more prominent than before.

Therefore, if the color of oak furniture is gray, and the color difference is noticeable, it must be white oak.

Red Oak wouldn’t be so bad.

The color difference between white oak is more evident than red oak.
▲The color difference between white oak is more evident than red oak.

1.6. White oak is darker than red oak.

White oak is a little olive, while red oak is light brown or a little red.

White oak is darker than red oak.

1.7. White oak is more expensive.

The reserves of white oak are less, so the price of white oak is higher.

2. Difference Between Oak and Rubberwood

In China, there is only a one-word difference between the two in Chinese. In the past 20 years, many manufacturers have used rubber wood to pretend to be oak.

The two have a lot of differences.

oak vs rubberwood
OakRubberwood
SubjectsFagaceaeEuphorbiaceae
OriginNorth AmericaSoutheast Asia
TextureClear and BeautifulBlur, with mottle
Growth ringsclearno growth rings
Densityhighlow
Weighthighlow
maturity≧50years15-25years
Characterrigid and scratch-resisitantsoft
PriceExpensiveCheap

2.1 Subjects are different.

Oak is a member of the Fagaceae.

Rubberwood belongs to the family Euphorbiaceae.

The physical distance between the two is probably from dog to cow. The two have nothing to do with each other.

The physical distance between the oak and rubberwood is probably from dog to cow.

2.2 The origin area is different.

Oak grows in temperate and subarctic zones. Rubber trees grow in the tropics.

2.3 The texture is different.

Oak Texture
▲Oak Texture
Rubber wood has no texture.
▲ Rubber wood has no texture.

1) The rubberwood surface will need to be painted thick to cover its disadvantages ;

2) The painting is generally not good. It is not scratch and bump resistant and easy to fall off ;

3) Finger-jointed materials are generally used (because they are cheap).

(In the picture below, the circles are the characteristics of the finger joint. There is a lot of paint peeling around)

finger joint and paint peeling on rubberwood furniture

2.4 annual rings, the density, and hardness are not the same.

Oak has evident annual rings, high density, high hardness, and is heavy.

Oak has evident annual rings, high density, high hardness, and is heavy.

The rubber wood has no annual ring pattern, and its density is not high.

The rubber wood has no annual ring pattern, and its density is not high.

This confusion between the two is common in China’s offline furniture market.

You won’t be fooled if you know a little about oak.

3. The oak tree’s status: the forest king.

Oka trees grow in the temperate and subarctic zones of the northern hemisphere. (insert Wikipedia)

Features: Widely distributed, luxuriant, long life, hardwood.

Oak was not famous in China in the past, but it was trendy in other countries. 

In Europe, oak trees were regarded as sacred or sacred trees.

In Europe, oak trees were regarded as sacred or sacred trees.

The Greeks said that the creator first created the oak tree and that man emerged from the oak tree.

The oak tree is described more than 30 times in the Bible. And the appearance of the oak tree is generally related to the worship of gods and idols.

he oak tree is described more than 30 times in the Bible. And the appearance of the oak tree is generally related to the worship of gods and idols.

In England and Germany, people believe that walking around an oak tree would cure disease.

In England and Germany, people believe that walking around an oak tree would cure disease.

Carrying acorns brings good luck and prevents disease.

Carrying acorns brings good luck and prevents disease.

As a Celtic priest, Druid’s original meaning is the person familiar with the oak tree.

The royals used oaks for furniture and even thrones.

the royals used oaks for furniture and even thrones.

Oak trees appear on the coins of many countries.

Oak trees appear on the coins of many countries.
Oak trees appear on the coins of many countries.

Oak leaves are made into various patterns.

Oak leaves are made into various patterns.

Acorns, even if you haven’t eaten them, you must have seen them.

Acorns

Thus, the oak tree has always been the forest king in European and America, especially in the UK, Germany, and the U.S.

4. Characteristics of oak:

  • High hardness.
  • Strong corrosion resistance

4.1. High hardness.

wine barrels made of oak

The reason why oak trees are highly praised has a lot to do with their hardness and corrosion resistance.

Among typical temperate hardwood, oak ranks among the top for hardness.

wood speciesspecific gravity(when water content is 12%)average weight(when water content is 12%),Kg/m3average volume shrinkage:(from wet wood to 6% moisture content)%modulus of rupture, MPaElastic Modulus, MPaCompressive strength (with grain) ,MPaHardness,
N
red birch0.41 44910.1 67,571 9,515 40,129 2624
ash0.60 6736.2 103,425 11,997 51,092 5871
white poplar0.38 4179.2 57,918 8,136 29,304 1557
basswood0.37 41712.6 59,987 10,067 32,613 1824
beech0.64 72113.0 102,736 11,859 50,334 5782
yellow birch0.62 68913.4 114,457 13,859 56,332 5604
cherry wood0.50 5619.2 84,809 10,274 49,023 4226
poplar0.40 44911.3 58,608 9,466 33,854 1913
elm0.53 59311.0 89,635 10,274 43,852 3825
eucalyptus0.52 54512.0 86,188 11,308 43,576 3781
magnolia0.53 59313.5 76,535 8,205 37,509 3914
walnut0.75 83314.3 138,590 15,583 63,365 N/A
pecan0.66 737N/A94,482 11,928 54,126 8095
hard maple0.63 70511.9 108,941 12,618 53,988 6450
soft maple
safflower maple0.54 60910.5 92,393 11,308 45,093 4225
Pacific Coast/
Big Leaf Maple
0.48 5459.3 73,777 9,998 41,025 3780
red oak
Quercus rubra0.63 7056.6 98,599 12,549 46,610 5738
Quercus falcata0.68 753N/A75,156 10,274 41,991 4715
white oak0.68 76912.6 104,804 12,273 51,299 6049
sycamore wood0.49 54511.4 68,950 9,791 37,095 3425
goosefoot wood0.42 4499.8 69,640 10,891 38,198 2402
black walnut0.55 60910.2 100,677 11,584 52,264 4492
willow wood0.39 41711.5 53,800 6,960 28,300 N/A
Please see data of Quercus rubra, Quercus falcata, white oak

There is a proverb in German: A palm cannot push down an oak tree. It means that a strong person will not be easily knocked down.

4.2. Strong corrosion resistance.

European oak is also resistant to decay and can last hundreds of years as a wine barrel.

It can be used as a roadbed sleeper without any preservative treatment.

oak can be used as a roadbed sleeper without any preservative treatment.

Oak trees are inflexible and long-lived before sawing. And it is rigid and preservative after being sawn into the wood.

So people consider it a sacred tree and believe it can cure diseases.

people consider oak a sacred tree and believe it can cure diseases.

4.3. Notes.

1) It is corrosive to iron. Thus, when buying white oak furniture, you should ensure no iron hardware is inside.

2 ) Oak is likely to deform and crack, especially in dry places.

So oak is not suitable to be a whole large board (such as cabinet doors). It is better to be multi-layered.

3), After buying oak furniture, it is recommended to use beeswax for more maintenance when it is dry in your area.

5. Oak furniture pictures

oak bed
5. Oak bed
oak wardrobe
oak table and chairs

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