When you look at these two trees determining the difference from the outside is difficult. Once the timber becomes lumber it becomes easier but not as dramatic as you might think. Contrary to what the name suggests, White Oak is a darker wood than Red Oak. The color of White Oak is a mix of browns and tans ranging from dark brown to beige, while Red Oak is a lighter wood that ranges from almost white to a soft amber color.
Compared to red oak, on the average, white oak is heavier, stronger, and frequently darker in color. Much of the native white oak lumber is exported to Japan and Europe. When properly aged, white oak makes excellent barrels for wine–probably the best oak wine barrels in the world. Whiskey barrels are another excellent use for oak, with small batch whiskey and the explosion of small labels skewing demand in today’s market.
Grain patters provide the most notable variance between White and Red Oak flooring. Red Oak grain patterns are more unique than White Oak. The grain in White Oak runs straighter and tighter than Red Oak, with fewer swirls, circles, or deviations. Red oak wide grain runs in zigzag patterns and wavy lines that not found in White Oak.
Durability, Stability and Hardness
If the grain is the most notable, the least notable but most important may be the stability and hardness. White Oak flooring is also more stable and harder than Red Oak. Furthermore, Red Oak is rated as non-durable perishable, with little resistance to insects. White Oak has been known to have been used for hundreds of years in the building of boats, truck beds, wooden wagon wheels and wine barrels because of its structural integrity.
More about White Oak
White oaks are just one of many types of more than 450 species of oaks which live around the world. Considered a keystone species, oaks support our planet’s ecosystem like very few other tree species do. These stately trees are fundamental to the health of our forests, providing critical food, habitat and shelter for animals, birds, and insects, and have the highest amount of biomass compared to any other tree species in the forest, working harder to clean our air than many of their fellow tree species.
Why White Oak for whiskey barrels?
When you heat White Oak, it becomes easy to manipulate while adding unique flavors and aroma to the whiskey. Today our demand for bourbon far outpaces our supply of barrels. The United States has more than 600 small batch bourbon brands and the number is growing every month. As a result of historic demand an oak barrel sells for $250, up from $150 just years ago. But wait, do not blame Jack Daniels. Large manufactures have their own Oaks and can satisfy their own demand internally. Finally, federal law requires that whiskey distillers in the U.S. use new oak barrels for every new batch of bourbon putting more strain on our supply.
More about Red Oak?
Red Oak is often used in furniture, for construction timbers and for finished flooring in homes and commercial buildings. It is one of our most widely used hardwood species now that the supply of White Oak has diminished. The species has the designation of being the most “vinyl” copied species as laminate and other single use products have become more popular in the last decade.
White Oak Flooring
- Common Name(s): White Oak
- Scientific Name: Quercus alba
- Distribution: Eastern United States
- Tree Size: 65-85 ft (20-25 m) tall, 3-4 ft (1-1.2 m) trunk diameter
- Average Dried Weight: 47 lbs/ft3 (755 kg/m3)
- Specific Gravity (Basic, 12% MC): .60, .75
- Janka Hardness: 1,350 lbf (5,990 N)
- Shrinkage: Radial: 5.6%, Tangential: 10.5%, Volumetric: 16.3%, T/R Ratio: 1.9
Red Oak Flooring
- Common Name(s): Red Oak
- Scientific Name: Quercus rubra
- Distribution: Northeastern United States and Southeastern Canada
- Tree Size: 80-115 ft (25-35 m) tall, 3-6 ft (1-2 m) trunk diameter
- Average Dried Weight: 44 lbs/ft3 (700 kg/m3)
- Specific Gravity (Basic, 12% MC): .56, .70
- Janka Hardness: 1,220 lbf (5,430 N)
- Shrinkage: Radial: 4.0%, Tangential: 8.6%, Volumetric: 13.7%, T/R Ratio: 2.2