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Oak

French Oak vs American Oak Flooring: 7 Questions

by Roy Akirov
July, 2021

When researching options for statement flooring for your home, you’ll likely come up against the French Oak vs American Oak question.

In many cultures, the oak tree represents wisdom, loyalty, strength and endurance. More than that, oak is a favoured type of lumber used in various industries, from flooring to shipbuilding, wine ageing, drum making, and even the medical industry.

It is generally known as hard and strong wood, highly resistant to insects and fungus. In terms of interior design, it’s a timeless classic. When it comes to flooring, you can’t make a better decision than oak. However, which one? French Oak or American Oak? Let’s take a look.

French Oak vs American Oak – All the Main Differences

To the uninitiated, it might sound like oak is oak. Nevertheless, you know how they say, the devil is in the details.

The French oak vs. American oak differences can have a huge impact on interior design. So, let’s see which one could complement your lifestyle and design ideas better.

Section of Oak Growth Rings

And if you’re in for another glorious hardwood battle, how about Walnut Flooring vs Oak Flooring?

What is French Oak Flooring?

French oak is hard, heavy and strong and lends itself well to finish. It captures the eye due to its characteristic texture, grain and striking appearance. Each French oak plank has that specific “cathedral” type of grain that’s really unmistakable. French Oak logs should be live sawn to capture this type of grain, marks, and knots though.

French Oak is usually characterised by light brown to dark brown colors and a specific yellowish amber shade. That makes it so warm and comfy for interiors. Overall, it is considered to be more durable than the American type. It is less likely to expand and contract, so splits, or cracks are rare.

French Oak

It’s sought after because of its balance of durability and good looks. And because the sapwood is quite thin, long lengths and wide widths are usually available.

What is American Oak Flooring?

American Oak is probably one of the most versatile building materials out there. It is popular for its stiffness and overall strength which make it a good match as structural timber as well.

It is an excellent choice for fine, high-quality flooring. The American Oak is also revered for its specific large grain structure, and it has a slightly lighter colour.

American White Oak Unfinished

American Oak is much larger as a tree, so the growth rings are much wider than in the case of European oaks. So, if you’re planning of using American Oak flooring in a small room, you should know that those growth rings could dominate the whole place.

You can make these grain patterns even more interesting through quartersawing. What is more, American oak has also got high workability. You can use it for beautiful furniture, like desks, or tables, and also for your flooring.

Where do French and American Oak come from?

Europe, America, and China are the main exporters of oak.

American oak is sourced mainly from North America. It is either red or white. French oak comes from France, England and Germany. Yes, it’s not just “French”. The fact is, these three countries provide the mild climate that helps oak trees flourish.

One of the most common types of American oaks is the Quercus alba. It doesn’t grow as tall as its European counterpart, but it is certainly broader. So, it is easier to come across American oak wide flooring planks. Width is important, and we’ll look into it later in this article.

What about the Moisture Content?

Moisture content can vary wildly. If a board is dried down to lower than 8% moisture content, which can often be the case with vacuum kiln-dried American oak, you might run into problems. If you live in an area with damp air, there’s the danger that they may warp. To avoid this problem, look out for boards with an approximate 10% level of moisture content.

French oak flooring is usually superior to American Oak when it comes to areas where there is likely to be more moisture. So, if you want to use wood in your bathroom or kitchens, then go for French oak.

What is the width, thickness and length?

The best way to display the luxury tone of an oak floor is to have longboards. For the best finishing aesthetic, try to stick to 2 meters or longer.

You should also pay close attention to how wide the boards are. Often considered to be a case of personal preference, you’ll find a great range of widths available to you. Very slim boards, like 85mm are not too “sexy”.

The bigger the room, the thicker the oak boards should be. If you’re laying a new floor in a large area, it’s best to go for thick pieces of around 200mm. Smaller rooms can get away with having thinner boards of around 120mm. And if you’re not sure? Stick to a width of around 170mm.

For the best structural setup, we recommend sticking to a thickness of 20mm. However, if you’re laying your new flooring on a wooden sub-floor, you’ll be able to get away with 14mm.

What about French Oak vs American Oak Finishes?

So, the differences between French Oak and American Oak Floors are also very apparent when it comes to finishes.

Generally speaking, American oak is treated with a polyurethane finish. That’s more high-maintenance. In time, you’ll need to touch it up and refinish it. You will need to sand off the original layers of polyurethane and reapply. This is a bit time-consuming and costly.

French oak, on the other side, has a natural oil finish. This penetrates the fibers of the wood, making it tougher without compromising the wood’s natural beauty. As a consequence, French oak is lower-maintenance than its American counterpart. However, for timeless, shiny French oak flooring, you will also need to reapply a maintenance oil from time to time.

What is the Oak Grain?

There are more than 60 varieties of oak growing in the United States alone. It comes in a wide variety of hues, but the oak grain pattern is quite unique, and recognisable. It is almost like someone took a pencil and drew all sorts of lines across it.

The European Oak grain is wavier, while the American type tends to have a straighter pattern.

Conclusion

Overall, oak is a hardwood due to its tough structure and durability. Both French and American oak are durable and long-lasting. They boast a familiar and nice-looking wood grain that looks great now, and it will continue to look awesome in a thousand years really.

Generally, French oak might be easier to maintain and has that warm amber shade. The American oak is a bit lighter in colour, but its extensive grain pattern makes it perfect for larger rooms.

As you can see, there are pros and cons to using either one of these hardwood materials for your flooring. In the end, it all comes down to your preferences, and the type of interior design that you want to go with. So, which one should it be? American Oak or French Oak?

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