Hardwood floors are the new rave. And oak wood had gone up in popularity right alongside hardwood floors. Oak is ideal for hardwood floors because it ticks boxes like strength, durability and easy installation.
In the same vein, Oak has two major sub-species known as red and white oak. And it can be hard to tell the difference between the two subspecies.
That’s why we’re writing this article. Here, we want to help you — the average homeowner — tell the difference between red and white oak floors. This way, you can make more informed decisions for your home improvement project.
We’ll start with a bit of background information on both flooring options. Let’s get into it.
Quick Background on White and Red Oak
A major difference between white and red oak flooring is their source location. Red oak majorly comes from southeastern Canada and northeastern United States. Here at LV Flooring, our online flooring store is home to red oak from the rich forests of Vermont and New Hampshire. The cold winters in these regions foster a slow growth for red oak trees. This slow growth makes for trees that produce planks with consistent graining.
On the other hand, white oak trees are present in Eastern USA. White oak from New York and the Ohio River Valley have tightly grouped growth rings. This distinct feature makes the resultant wood planks highly resistant to rot and moisture.
How to tell the Differences between Red and White Oak
Differentiating between red and white oak starts with knowing what to look for. Here, we’ll highlight the key area where red and white oak floors have differing characteristics.
The two wood species under discussion get their names from different colours. Therefore, it was always likely that their colours would be a key talking point.
Colour is a major difference between red and white oak. Red oak has a pinkish tint that’s far lighter than its white counterpart. Conversely, white oak is browner, yellow and darker. And both flooring options absorb stains in different manners.
In fact, the colour difference between red and white oak is more noticeable when you stain them. Dark stains mean you’ll see less of the yellow or pink undertones. And lighter stains will still retain some of red oak flooring’s pinkish hue.
Often, we find that homeowners ask about the difference between red and white oak flooring for different reasons. You may want to exercise caution before staining the floors if your reason is to make repairs. It’s better to match the existing red or white oak floor. Otherwise, the entire floor will look shabby and inconsistent.
Another difference between red and white oak flooring is in their graining style. Red oak has stronger graining compared to white oak. The graining pattern in white oak flooring is less significant and makes for a smoother texture.
Of course, the graining pattern can help you choose the best between red and white oak flooring. Red oak’s strong grain pattern will help you hide dents and scratches in your flooring. It also has a rugged, traditional appeal. Conversely, white oak may be the best option if you want a less busy look for your flooring.
The graining pattern clearly indicates that white and red oak flooring are not the same. Although, we agree that it can be challenging for the untrained eye to spot the differences between both flooring options.
It’s all about looking closely. Keen observation shows the grains in white oak floors are straighter, tightly grouped and longer. They also have less swirly patterns compared to red oak flooring.
Conversely, red oak has shorter, wider grains that form wavy patterns. White oak’s graining system is far more consistent and will help your space look put together.
Their rating on the Janka scale is another difference between red and white oak flooring. White oak flooring has a Janka rating of 1360, with red oak coming in at 1290. Here, white oak flooring has a slight edge.
This slight difference means white oak is harder, more resilient and stronger. It makes white oak the better choice for outdoor flooring needs.
The above isn’t proof that red oak flooring is brittle. Red oak flooring is durable and can stay resistant to minimal seasonal changes. It’s just that white oak is better in both regards.
Water-resistance is an important consideration if you want your hardwood floors to last longer. Thanks to its ray pattern and tightly grouped graining, white oak flooring has better water resistance than red oak.
Essentially, white oak wood is closed-grain wood. And it’s impervious to water. Furthermore, the pores present in white oak flooring are full of tyloses. This natural feature makes white oak flooring resistant to possible rot and decay.
As such, we recommend using white oak flooring in areas of your home that may see plenty of moisture. White oak flooring is useful in your kitchen or bathroom.
Compatibility with Other Design Elements
Choosing to install either red oak or white oak flooring in your home is a matter of design appeal. Basically, you want your space to look better than before. That’s why it’s important to consider compatibility with other decor pieces when discussing differences between red and white oak.
Red oak is a common fixture in railings, stair treads and other transitions. Basically, if you already have oak fixtures in your home, the chances are high that it’s red oak.
Home decor is all about uniformity. Therefore, it’s better to install red oak flooring because they’re more compatible.
Cost is another difference that exists between white and red oak flooring. Mostly, white oak flooring is more expensive than red oak.
But you’ve also got to remember that white and red oak are both commodities. Therefore, their prices will change from time to time. In rare instances, red oak may cost more depending on the season and market condition.
White oak is more expensive under standard market conditions. This is especially evident when you consider that white oak planks are wider. Plus, red oak trees are more abundant and cost less to procure.
How to Differentiate between White And Red Oak
Red and white oak are the major subspecies of oak trees. Both red and white oak also have multiple existing subspecies thanks to mutation and evolution. Therefore, it can be hard to tell whether you’re working with red or white oak.
The good news is science has given us alternative routes to tell the difference between red and white oak. Specialists in the woodworking industry are the ones who primarily use these scientific tests.
But, you can also leverage these tests to differentiate between white and red oak.
You’ll need a clean wood sample showing the end grain. A close inspection of this sample will show the wood pores. The pores in red oak are usually open. Conversely, the pores in white oak are full of tyloses.
Tyloses are an outgrowth present in a white oak tree’s xylem vessel. It’s the component responsible for white oak’s resistance to rot and moisture.
There’s a caveat to using the end-grain test to identify the difference between red and white oak. The test is only valid if the wood sample comes from the heartwood section. The pores in both red and white oak will be open if it’s a sapwood section.
The alternative method to telling the difference between red and white oak is a chemical test. The chemical identification test works regardless of whether you’re working with a sapwood or heartwood section.
You’ll need a sodium nitrate solution for this test. Mix 4 tablespoons of sodium nitrate in 1 cup of water. Then, apply this solution to the hardwood section.
After about 25 minutes, white oak will take on a dark greenish-purple colour. For red oak, the tester section will take on a darker skin tone compared to the rest of the wood.
Related Article: Red Oak Flooring Guide
How to Pick the Best Option Between White and Red Oak
All the questions you have about the difference between white and red oak are likely because you’re wondering which is the better option. There’s no outright better option. Instead, it all depends on your unique situation and needs.
Below are the factors that should guide the choice between white and red oak flooring:
The grain pattern impacts your hardwood floor’s design. The way the hardwood is cut will determine the grain pattern present on the wood planks. Here’s what we mean:
- Plain Sawn: The most common cut for oak hardwood floors. It’ll leave your flooring with traditional grain patterns, also known as cathedrals.
- Rift Sawn: Leaves your hardwood floor with long, consistent grains. Rift sawn flooring is usually more expensive than the other available options.
- Quarter Sawn: This woodcut is quite similar to rift sawn wood. It has irregular specifications that create a unique, 3D-like pattern.
There’s always room for customization with hardwood floors. You can choose to buy oak flooring that combines all three grain patterns.
Board width is one of the key differences between white oak and red oak. Therefore, it’s one of the factors to consider before making a flooring decision.
Typically, hardwood flooring comes in different sizes to meet varying needs. Narrow hardwood planks have a 2-3 inch width. Conversely, white oak tends to be wider, with some planks reaching 6-7 inches in width.
Choosing white oak over red oak means opting for planks with wider widths. Doing so will give your home a luxurious feel as it means fewer seams in your flooring.
But, it’s also important to know that wider seams will come with a higher upfront cost. Plus, you’ll spend more on maintenance needs due to possible wood expansion.
The installation method should inform your choice of hardwood, plank width and thickness. You may want to go with less complicated hardwood designs if you’re going the DIY route. The best part is your flooring will likely come with instructions to make the installation job simpler. We also recommend gathering tools like a drill, saw, bar and nail gun beforehand.
It can be complicated to do the job smoothly, even with a comprehensive manual describing the installation. And remember, hardwood planks are a huge investment. Therefore, you want to ensure you install them properly and in one try. That’s why we recommend contracting an expert flooring company to do the job. They have the skill, experience and equipment to install your oak floor smoothly.
The above paragraph is something to think about when choosing between white and red oak floors. The cost of installing white oak flooring is higher. Therefore, it may be better to go with red oak flooring if you have a limited budget.
Your oak flooring’s finish will dictate their maintenance routine. It’ll also influence your choice of installation method. The first decision where finishing is concerned is the choice between prefinished and unfinished flooring.
Prefinished oak flooring will come with a top coat and a stain. This option means you’ll know what your floor will look like from the very beginning. You can even take floor samples to your home to check whether it complements existing decor.
Unfinished hardwood planks will arrive at your house in their raw state. Therefore, you’ll need to apply the finishing layer after installing the floor. Unfinished hardwood floors allow you to customize the stain and sheen on your flooring to your exact taste. These hardwood floors are the best option to match your new floors to an already existing floor.
The choice of finishing for unfinished hardwood floors is not limited. However, oil and polyurethane are the common options in Ontario. Oil finish will penetrate deep into oak hardwood floor, giving it a soft outlook. But it also makes your floor susceptible to scratches and stains. Hardwood floors with an oil finish are easy to install. Plus, you can always refinish them periodically to cover stains.
Polyurethane finish will create a tough exterior coat on the uppermost layer of your flooring. This exterior coat makes your oak flooring more durable and resistant to wear. Although we should mention that it can be hard to repair floors with a polyurethane finish. You may have to recoat or repair the entire damaged section of your floor.
Finishes for your oak hardwood floor can have a gloss effect or a distressed look. You can also consider hand-scraped or wire-brush finishes. It all depends on your taste and personal references.
How much you spend on installing a new hardwood depends on your flooring choice. The type of finish and installation expenses are other factors that determine overall flooring costs. For instance, solid prefinished hardwood planks can cost up to $12 for every square foot. Engineered prefinished planks are more affordable, costing about $8 for every square foot.
We recommend choosing the harder one if you have pets or kids and are wondering whether to choose red or white oak flooring. Red oak can withstand wear and tear pretty well. But white oak is harder and offers the highest level of resilience.
You should also be conscious of the choice between solid and engineered hardwood floors. Ideally, you should have a contractor assess the subfloor and installation location before making a choice.
And just like above, we recommend solid hardwood if you have pets and kids in your home. Solid hardwood planks mean you can easily sand out scratches from a kitty’s claw or dings from your toddler’s toy.
Key Points for Choosing Between Red and White Oak Hardwood Floors
Here are the top highlights:
- Choose white oak floors if you have kids and pets
- Wood with lighter tints will make small spaces appear bigger.
- The finish and texture make a huge difference in how appealing the final results look
- Cut your coat according to your budget
- Engineered hardwood is more durable
Related Article: How to Refinish Red Oak Flooring
In the End
The major difference between white and red oak is their colour. Red oak flooring has a pinkish tint, while white oak flooring has darker tones.
We’ve got you whether you’re looking to install red or white oak flooring in your home. Our online store at LV Flooring is home to high-quality oak hardwood designs that’ll remain in good condition for a long time. Look through our online store today!