Oak is one of the most common hardwood flooring choices in the United States. As different hardwood flooring trends come and go, the supremacy of domestic hardwoods remains constant. Oak comes in two varieties that might look similar at first glance: red oak and white oak. Both of them have a pretty tight and straight grain pattern. If you walk into a random home in the United States and look down at the floor, it’s likely an oak floor. There are differences between red and white oak, though. The differences, however, don’t have much to do with the names.
Is Red Oak Red?
Red oak is not red, but it’s redder than white oak. It tends to be somewhat pinkish, especially at the heartwood. The sapwood tends towards white. The undertones of red oak are subtly reddish, though, which gives the wood its name. White oak, on the other hand, tends to have yellowish undertones. The heartwood is grayish, and the sapwood is yellowish white.
That will be hard to differentiate in most installed hardwood floors, though. Most hardwood floors are stained and then finished. Stained hardwood floors can be any color ranging from white to sky blue to true black. Furthermore, oil-based polyurethane tends to yellow over time. So, a red oak can look amber if it was finished a few years ago. A white oak can look reddish if it was stained that color.
So, What’s The Difference?
There are several differences but the two main differences between red and white oak are the hardness and the growth rate. Red oak is not as hard as white oak. On the janka hardness scale, red oak is a 1290. White oak is a 1360. That difference won’t be terribly pronounced unless you have dogs. Dogs and cats can scratch a softer wood more easily. If you’re choosing woods based on hardness, white oak is the clear winner.
White oak also grows much slower than red oak, which means that white oak is going to cost more money. However, it also means that white oak will have more heartwood. Heartwood is the wood that is densest, hardest, and contains the deepest color.
If you find antique furniture or flooring that is made from oak, it is likely made from white oak. It has long been more coveted than red oak. In terms of workability, red oak is easier to work with. White oak is the more premium wood, though.