white oak

What’s the difference between red oak flooring and white oak flooring?

Oak flooring is the most popular hardwood floor species in use for hardwood flooring. And with good reason – oak is readily available, affordable, durable and beautiful. What many don’t realize is there are two different species of oak flooring commonly available – red oak and white oak.

If you are installing new hardwood flooring, either species will likely work for your application. Which wood you choose will likely depend on the style and color you are looking for. Both are durable and rank well on the Janka hardness chart. The exact difference between the prices on red oak flooring and white oak flooring vary with the markets but prices are typically close to the same – unless you are interested in rift or quarter-sawn flooring (learn more about rift and quarter-sawn wood).

So, what are the differences between red oak flooring and white oak flooring?

  1. Color. With a natural finish, red oak tends to have a pinkish tint and is a bit brighter than white oak. White oak is more of a warm brown tone and is darker. When stained, red oak will continue to have a red undertone with lighter stains, while white oak will maintain a brown undertone. Dark stains cause the differences between the 2 species to decrease.
  2. Grain. Red oak can have a stronger grain pattern, with more variation. White oak has a bit of a smoother, more uniform look. Some people prefer the strong graining of red oak – both for the look and because the strong graining helps hide scratches and dents. Others prefer the slightly less busy look of white oak.
  3. Matching Existing Stairs. If you are trying to match existing stairs, knowing what wood they are should be important to your decision. Typically, you want to match any flooring to the stairs they will be butted into. Red oak is more common in stair treads, saddles, banisters and other transitions. If you already have oak stairs, they may be red oak. If you are building or replacing your stair treads, choose whichever oak species appeals to you.

Red oak or white oak, they’re both beautiful. When you look at a piece of oak the warmth and beauty just draws you in. 

What is the difference between Quarter Sawn, Rift Sawn and Plain Sawn Lumber?

When lumber is cut from logs, it is typically cut in one of three ways: quarter sawn, rift sawn or plain sawn. Each type of lumber is dependent on how the log is oriented and cut at the sawmill. The result is a particular orientation of the growth rings on the end grain of the board and is what defines the type of lumber.  The type of cut also determines the figure in a piece of wood and the wood’s mechanical properties.

Sound too confusing? This graphic will help…

Most common, least expensive
Plain sawn, also commonly called flat sawn, is the most common lumber you will find. This is the most inexpensive way to manufacture logs into lumber. Plain sawn lumber is the most common type of cut. The annular rings are generally 30 degrees or less to the face of the board; this is often referred to as tangential grain. The resulting wood displays a cathedral pattern on the face of the board.  See pictures here.

More expensive than plain sawn material
Quarter sawn wood has an amazing straight grain pattern that lends itself to design. Quarter sawn lumber is defined as wood where the annular growth rings intersect the face of the board at a 60 to 90 degree angle. When cutting this lumber at the sawmill, each log is sawed at a radial angle into four quarters, hence the name. Dramatic flecking is also present in red oak and white oak.  Find out more.


Comparison of typical cutting methods for each type of lumber

Most expensive, least common
Rift sawn wood can be manufactured either as a compliment to quarter sawn lumber or logs can be cut specifically as rift sawn. In rift sawn lumber the annual rings are typically between 30-60 degrees, with 45 degrees being optimum. Manufactured by milling perpendicular to the log’s growth rings producing a linear grain pattern with no flecking. This method produces the most waste, increasing the cost of this lumber. Rift sawn lumber is very dimensionally stable and has a unique linear appearance.  Refer to additional pictures.

Types of Wood: Comparing American Hardwoods, Softwoods and Tropical Hardwoods

Wood products are known for their natural beauty, but when selecting a type of wood for your next cabinetry, flooring, furniture or millwork project, it is important to also consider the level of durability by understanding the difference between wood types. Each type and species of wood has an individual cellular structure that creates unique physical properties that determine suitability for different uses. For example, the hardness of woods varies widely, so certain hardwood species are not recommended for flooring because they are not hard enough to withstand heavy wear and tear.

The following offers a brief comparison of American hardwoods, softwoods and tropical hardwoods and their appropriate applications:

American Hardwoods
Hardwoods are deciduous trees that have broad leaves, produce a fruit or nut and generally go dormant in the winter. North America’s forests grow hundreds of varieties that thrive in temperate climates, including red oak, white oak, ash, cherry, hard maple, hickory and poplar.  For a more detailed list of commercially available woods in the United States, refer to our species guide. Each species can be crafted into durable, long-lasting furniture, cabinetry, flooring, millwork and more. Each offers unique markings with variation in grain pattern, texture and color.

Softwoods or conifers, from the Latin word meaning “cone-bearing,” have needles rather than leaves. Widely available U.S. softwood trees include cedar, fir, hemlock, pine, redwood and spruce. In a home, softwoods primarily are used as structural lumber such as 2x4s and 2x6s, with limited decorative applications. Woods such as white pine and cypress do break those rules and are treated in the lumber industry similar to hardwoods.

Tropical Hardwoods
Tropical Hardwoods, including mahogany, rosewood, teak and cocobolo, are not native to North America. They grow in the tropical forests of the world and are imported for use in the United States. Many tropical hardwoods are used for exterior applications where outdoor durability is important. However, many tropical hardwoods are also be used for interior applications, including flooring and woodworking projects. The color, grain pattern, hardness and luster of many imported woods differ from those of American hardwoods.

Visit the Species Comparison Guide to determine what woods would best suit your project needs.

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