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Red Oak vs White Oak Flooring

Published on 04/10/2019, by Roy Akirov
White Oak Grain

White Oak Grain

When considering red oak vs white oak flooring, it would be easy to imagine they are much the same. Except, perhaps for a slight difference in the lumber colouring.

In fact, the differences are significant. These difference can affect the cost of your hardwood floor, and how well the finished result copes. This includes such things as heavy foot traffic and moisture. Also, they impact the level of pattern work you can incorporate into your floor.

So, what are the relative merits of red oak vs white oak flooring?

Can you tell them apart visually?

The easy answer would be that you can indeed tell the difference between the two by the colour of the grain. On close inspection red oak does have a pinkish tone. Although, this can be a soft amber rather than a “red”. White oak tends to be almost grey or caramel in its most natural form.

However, the difference in colour can vary. This is according to where and how long the original trees were cultivated, and the specific species. There are a wide range of species of trees that come under the titles of “red oak” and “white oak”. Quercus alba is the usual white lumber used, and Quercus rubra is the red.

This colour variation provides the reason why they are named as they are. Although, it is only really visually significant when the wood is in its basic form. Once it has been prepared and finished for flooring use – including staining – this slight colour variation can actually be lost.

Grain effects in red oak vs white oak flooring

On first glance, the grain patterns in red and white oak can look similar. However, if you look closer you can see that the longer growth span endows white oak with straighter and tighter gains. Red oak would feature more swirls, zig zags or deviations in its grain.

Which looks best, white or red oak? That decision is all about personal preference. As always, it also comes down to the skill used in both harvesting and cutting the hardwood variants to take maximum advantage of the character within each section.

Grain in any wood is also a truly unique feature.

Perhaps the biggest difference between white and red oak comes not from what it looks like, but from how it grows.

Red Oak Grain

Red Oak Grain

Different growth rates, different properties

The most important difference between red oak and white oak is that their different timescales to reach maturity bring different practical features.

Red oak grows more swiftly and is therefore a popular type of hardwood to cultivate. This relatively quick growth creates a smooth and pliable material for cutting out hardwood flooring. The lower cultivation and production costs also makes the price lower.

White oak, on the other hand, grows over a longer period of time. This is the basic reason why wood density and workability varies between the two.

Red oak tends to be more readily available and pliable, so it offers a quick turnaround and cost-effective wooden flooring for patterns. White oak is less available and needs highly skilled preparation, but it provides a much tougher finished result.

Clearly, both types of oak are extremely hard. However, as white grows slower it is particularly strong and resilient. In fact, it is probably only beaten by maple in terms of inherent hardness.

Cutting machinery 

This makes it important that the supplier uses the right machinery to cut and finish white oak, as many standard saws would not get a clean enough line. With the wrong blade, white oak can splint and break. This means it needs to be prepared by a skilled professional.

This tends to make it too tricky and expensive to use for elaborately patterned wood floors, such as the chevron and herringbone flooring Rhodium often supplies using French oak as a basis.

However, for the custom-made flooring Rhodium crafts for its customers, white oak can be the perfect solution. The end result would be an incredibly resilient floor for areas of heavy foot traffic, for example. Yet it still has inherent beauty and style.

Clearly then, the biggest difference between red and white oak is their relative properties as building materials, especially for tough but beautiful flooring.

Which is best, red or white oak?

When considering red oak vs white oak flooring, which one is best depends on what you’re looking for from this valued construction material.

White oak has a higher resistance to rot, which is one of the reasons why it has been used for outdoor projects and boat building. If your floor is in a kitchen or another room with lots of moisture, having this level of resistance can be very reassuring. Though of course all quality hardwood flooring is sealed and laid to offer a reliable degree of moisture resistance.

Much of the appeal of white over red also comes down to strength. Due to its resilience and aesthetic appeal, white oak has been a much sought after building material for many years. This makes it an ideal choice for reclaimed wood flooring. In the right hands, white oak can be recut and refinished to create flawless antique flooring.

Clearly, white oak’s slower growth and specialist cutting requirements mean it tends to attract a higher price point than red oak, but its benefits can outweigh this consideration.

Which best suits your project?

The final decision when looking at red oak vs white oak flooring comes down to the location of your hardwood flooring, your lifestyle or business operations and how long you need the hardwood flooring to last. Price could also be a factor, as red oak is still fabulously hardwearing but comes in cheaper for most flooring projects.

Call us at Rhodium Floors, or request a call back, and we can chat about your individual needs in more detail. This way we can help you make the ultimate choice between red oak vs white oak flooring.

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