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Oak Wood Characteristics: The Total Guide to Oak Hardwood – 2021

Oak wood is among the most common wood species in building furniture, flooring, and more. When it comes to hand-made, artisanal, and Amish-made furniture, oak is, traditionally, the material of choice. Oak stands the test of time, as demonstrated through its continuous use in the United States, dating back to Colonial times. 

So, why is oak wood so widely used and what are its characteristics? Learn everything you need to know about the properties, aesthetics, and characteristics of oak wood for your home, office, or property. And, find out the benefits and drawbacks of choosing oak furniture and flooring in your home. 

Oak Wood Total Guide – What are the Characteristics of Oak?

Not only does oak wood feature strong durability and a distinct aesthetic, but it also is among the lower-priced hardwoods in North America. Up to 60 different varieties of oak trees grow wild and abundantly across the Eastern United States and along the Pacific coast. As far back as the 17th-century, with colonial settlers first stepping foot on American sand, the mighty oak tree was the foremost timber used in construction and carpentry.

The long-lasting, widespread use of oak wood in the Americas is one of the reasons it looks to be traditional in style. The most common varieties of oak in the United States for furniture, floors, cabinets – and more – are white oak and red oak. Both varieties are excellent for custom building or refurbishing the existing oak wood in your home. 

The Colors and Aesthetic of Oak Tree Wood

The color of oak wood varies, depending on the variety of oak trees from which the wood is derived. In general, the wood from an oak tree has a light tan to medium-brown hue, and can sometimes take on red coloration. Oaks can produce dark brown wood that resembles walnut, while also producing areas of white and red coloration – in the same tree. 

Oaks’ natural coloration varies, throughout, which is ideal for a rustic aesthetic. If you desire a more refined look, oak is versatile to color alterations, like a wood stain. Unlike other varieties of hardwood, oak takes very well to different types of wood stain and colorants, enabling you to stain oak any color – from bleached white, to black walnut, and everything in-between. 

Aesthetic Pros and Cons to Stained Oak vs Natural Oak

There are some benefits to staining oak if you are looking for uniform color and aesthetic to the wood. Staining oak produces an even color through the wood, easily soaking-up multiple coats of wood stain. The result is a uniform color, despite the natural color variations in the oak timber. 

Natural oak wood can significantly vary in color, depending on which part of the tree your timbers are cut. The heartwood of the oak, near the center, can sometimes take on a darker orange hue, while the outermost sapwood takes a much lighter pale-beige color. One of the benefits of leaving oak it’s natural color is that, as the wood ages, the color can change. 

Natural Oak Changes Color Over Time

As it ages, the wood of oak becomes darker, becoming almost amber. When oak wood is exposed to oxygen and ultraviolet light from the sun, it naturally changes, over time. This can present a challenge if you are trying to match a set of furniture made of natural oak. 

Since the hue of natural oak changes over time, it is harder to be sure that a new oak piece will match your older oak pieces. If you are intent on maintaining a uniform aesthetic, it means you have to be very intentional in choosing timbers with the right coloration, or you have to match the natural color of your oak with wood stain. If you are happy with a more natural and rustic look, enjoy watching the subtle color alteration take place over the life of your oak.  

The Grain Pattern and Density of Wood from Oak Trees

Oak trees produce wood that is straight-grained and uneven to the touch. The uneven texture of oak is in part due to the porous nature of the grain, which is also responsible for the natural water-resistant attribute of white oak. Red oak, on the other hand, does not feature the same porous grain structure or the water-resistant characteristics of white oak. 

When it comes to density, oak is a very hard wood, comparatively to other hardwood species. Regardless of the oak variety – it has more compressive strength than that of walnut or cherry, with a score of over 1,300 pounds of force on the Janka Scale. Sugar maple comes-in stronger, however, with a Janka Scale score of over 1,400 pounds of force. 

When is Oak Wood a Good Choice?

Whether you are looking for outdoor or indoor furniture, oak is strong and wear-resistant enough to outlive you. It has high durability, making it ideal for use in high-activity areas, or weight-bearing furniture, like rocking chairs. And, white oak offers natural water-resistance, making it ideal for outdoor furniture and decking.

If you are looking for a reliable, affordable, and attractive hardwood, oak checks all the boxes. And, it remains in vogue for homeowners all over the world, thanks to its aesthetic versatility to take stain and other wood colorants. If you want information on maintaining, refurbishing, or choosing oak wood, talk to a carpenter for a free consultation.