What Is Oak Wood? The Complete Guide To Solid Oak Wood

November 12, 2021

Beauty, durability, character, heft, style—it’s hard not to love the look and feel of solid wood.

Oak is one of the most popular wood species—with good reason. If you’d like to use this hardwood to enhance your home, first take a moment to learn more about its properties and characteristics.

What Is Oak Wood?

Oak is a highly durable hardwood used for thousands of years. It has a unique grain pattern derived from the rings of the oak tree.

Oak trees are one of the most common species of trees found in the Northern Hemisphere. There are hundreds of oak wood species; some are deciduous (with leaves that drop), and others are evergreen (maintaining green foliage year-round). However, there are two main types: white and red.

All oaks produce acorns and generally grow from 60 to 100 feet tall. Although the average lifespan is 150-250 years, some oaks live well past 1,000 years.

Characteristics of Oak Wood

Compared to other wood species, oak is quite dense, making it strong, heavy and durable. Oak is also remarkably water, insect and fungi resistant.

The wood from an oak tree is naturally light in colour and features a prominent grain pattern with an uneven texture. It is commonly used for furniture and flooring and is one of the best wood species for interior and exterior doors

Types of Oak Wood

Of the many species of oak, white and red are the most popular. While they are both hardwood and share several properties, there are some key differences to take note of.

White Oak

White oaks (also referred to as Quercus alba) are found in the Northern Hemisphere. Specifically, oak forests exist in Eastern North America, Europe and Asia. The English Oak tree (Quercus robur) also belongs to the white oak group.

Oddly, white oak is considered to be the darker of the two main types. The wood from white oak trees appears beige or brown and has long grain rays running throughout it. It is well suited for all stains, especially those with a grey or white hue.

White oak is slightly hardier than red, with exceptional rot and water resistance properties.

Red Oak

Red oak (Quercus rubra), also known as northern red oak, is abundant across the Northeastern United States and Southeastern Canada. Other species, Spanish or pin oak, for example, grow further south.

When compared to white oak, its red counterpart reveals hints of salmon and pink throughout the wood. In addition, red oak is marginally more prone to dents than white but remains a highly resilient hardwood. As a result, it is one of the most common wood species, used for just about everything from furniture to railroad ties.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Oak Wood

Most would agree that the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages. Nevertheless, here are some things to consider if you plan an oak wood purchase or project, such as adding interior and exterior doors.

Advantages

Due to its strength, natural beauty and versatility, woodworkers often choose to use oak. A few key advantages include:

Appearance

Oak is very desirable due to its attractive appearance. All species of oak have a beautiful natural light colour and a distinct grain that intensifies when stained. When adequately sanded, the natural finish is hard and very smooth.

If you acquire quarter-sawn oak lumber, you’ll be pleased to see a different, highly desirable pattern. Substantial flecks appear because the boards created from red or white oak trees have been cut at a 60-90 degree angle, displaying the rays and rings differently.

Durability

An oak tree contains high levels of tannins, allowing the wood to resist insects, mould, and fungus naturally. By avoiding these problems, the trees remain strong and live for a very long time.

In addition, oak pieces are dense. Oak trees grow slowly, so the rings are tightly concentrated, increasing the strength of the wood. And, when this hardwood is quarter sawn, it becomes even more structurally sound—it also expands and contracts less and, thus, resists warping.

Low Maintenance

Oak, fortunately, requires minimal maintenance. With some simple cleaning and polishing, it’ll continue to look like new. But, if it needs additional attention, or you want to change the colour, it is very forgiving; you can sand and refinish it several times without issue. 

It’s important to note, though, that all wood requires care to help it look its best and last longer, especially if it is kept outside. So be sure you fully understand how to properly maintain exterior wood doors and other items that are exposed to the elements.

Water Resistant

When researching different species or wood types, you’ll find that some are naturally water-resistant. White oak is a perfect example; its closed grain and small pores provide excellent protection from moisture. Red oak is not as naturally resistant to water.

Suppose your wood is properly treated with a sealant. In that case, you can confidently use any oak for custom solid wood exterior doors or anything else that may become exposed to water.

Disadvantages

Oak wood isn’t perfect for every project. Following are some disadvantages to consider.

Familiar Wood

Oak is one of the most common species of hardwood found in the northern hemisphere, and its classic appearance leads to extensive use for a variety of projects. To achieve a unique look with oak, ask for a rift cut. This involves milling perpendicular to the log’s growth rings and creates a lovely, well-defined linear pattern. Alternatively, for a more pronounced or unique wood grain, you might consider choosing another species, such as walnut or mahogany. 

Darkens

Oak darkens over time. Although darkening happens gradually, it takes on an amber hue, and the grain may become more prominent as time progresses. This doesn’t pose a problem for most, but if you are looking to repair an item with a new piece of wood or add to an existing oak furniture set, you will see a difference.

Heaviness

The density and durability of oakwood cause it to be extremely heavy (up to 40% heavier than other popular woods). Its weight can be a drawback for some, making the wood difficult to work with.

Reacts Poorly To Oil Finishes

Finishing oak wood takes patience and the proper sanding process. 

Some species, like red oak, have larger pores, and oil will sometimes bleed from the pores. Wipe away these deposits when you see them and allow adequate time (several days) for your project to absorb the finish and dry thoroughly. If you want to attain a glass-like appearance, consider adding a pore filler to your finishing regimen.

For a stunning finish every time, hire a professional finisher. The experienced custom wood finishers at Madawaska use a superior 4-step process that ensures a gorgeous colour and lasting beauty.

Handmade Solid Oak Doors

Madawaska Door and Trim use solid oak and other premium natural woods to build custom wood doors. Each interior and exterior door is hand-made in Canada according to your specifications. Speak to a team member today about creating a unique door for your home or business.

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