Green and vibrant oak trees stand in a row

What Is Oak Wood: Defining Traits of This Popular Hardwood


Oak wood is an excellent timber. With its stunning beauty, rich color, and unique grain pattern, it’s no wonder this hardwood is so popular. But that’s not all—oak is also incredibly versatile, and you can use it for practically any purpose. From building furniture to home construction, even barrels and boats, oak is the true king of adaptability.

Learn more about oak wood as a furniture material in this article.

Types of Oak Wood

Within the vast Quercus genus, species of oak can be placed into two categories: red oak or white oak.

In the US, oak wood sold under “red oak” and “white oak” may not necessarily be the specific species, Quercus rubra and Quercus alba, respectively, but rather a variety of oaks within those groups.

Black oak, also known as Quercus velutina, is classified as red oak, while the English Oak, or Quercus robur, is categorized as white oak.

Defining Traits of Oak Wood

What does oak wood look like? Living oak trees are often tall and have thick trunks. Many species have spirally arranged leaves with lobate margins. Some have serrated leaves, and others have smooth margins.

When cut, oak typically has a narrow and yellowish-white sapwood, while its heartwood varies from light to dark brown. The grain displays a consistent pattern and structure with visible annual rings. Oak timber comes in several hues, but its grain pattern is unique, making it one of the easier species to recognize.


What color is oak wood? Natural oak, as timber, may take on a range of colors, falling from light beige to light red. Generally, white oak appears beige or a subtle olive to medium brown, and red oak appears rosier or subtle red.

Expect natural oak to change its colors slightly over time. Oak can darken gradually with age, acquiring more golden or amber tones. Color change naturally occurs in oak and other hardwood due to oxygen and UV light exposure. But the color shift in oak wood is more subtle than others.


Oak is a hardwood, which means it comes from angiosperm or flowering plants that are not monocots. Other trees in the same category include maple, walnut, cherry, and teak.

As a hardwood, oak is also dense, measured through the Janka hardness test. White oak has a Janka hardness rating of 1360 out of 4000, whereas red oak has a grade of 1290. But these figures are so close, and both can perform similarly, even equally, when used to create furniture. This means that oak has a relatively high resistance and is durable enough to resist wear.

Grain Pattern

Oak normally has a straight grain with a coarse or uneven texture. But there are also distinguishable traits between red oak and white oak.

Red oak may have an elaborate or wavier pattern (sometimes slightly zig-zag). It is also broad-grained, allowing the stain to sink into open pores and highlighting the grain even more. White oak has a tighter grain pattern and is straighter. Because the stain can not easily penetrate the grain, the staining of white oak is more consistent.

Oak Wood FAQs

Learn more about oak wood with our answers to some of the web’s most-asked questions. 

Is Oakwood Strong

Oak is a strong hardwood that is dense and stable, making it a popular choice for long-lasting flooring and furniture.

White oak is more resistant to decay and is ideal for water-resistant crafts such as boats, barrels, and outdoor furniture. Red oak, which is less dense and has a more porous and open grain, is better suited for interior use such as cabinets, indoor furniture, and flooring.

Why Is Oak Wood So Expensive

Oak tends to be expensive, as in other types of natural solid wood. However, its numerous advantages easily offset the expense. Because oak is a slow-growing wood compared to other trees, it takes a long time to mature, at which point it can be cut and utilized for lumber.

What Can Oak Wood Be Used For

Oak has been used for its strength and durability in various applications like construction and architecture. It has also been used to produce ink and medicine and has historical significance in the military and shipbuilding industry.

In the United States, oak is one of the most sought-after hardwoods for furniture and flooring. It’s also one of the preferred choices of material for traditional furniture, like Mission and Shaker.

Will Oak Wood Rot

Oak is described as rot-resistant because it lasts for a very long time, withstanding moisture and insects. But resistance to decay is also influenced by the environment. When used outdoors, oak may deteriorate but take many years, especially if well-maintained.

Even among other hardwoods, oak has fantastic qualities, with a long lifespan, great fungus resistance, and exceptional durability. Oak’s naturally high tannin content is responsible for these features. 

Oak is an excellent material for outdoor furniture largely because of its tannin content. Without it, the furniture wouldn’t be as sturdy and survive nearly as long as it does.

Can Oak Wood Be Used Outside

Yes, oak is a good material for outdoor use. We’re specifically referring to white oak. Red oak is more suitable for indoor use.

White oak is not entirely waterproof, but quite close. Because it resists rotting longer than other hardwoods, it’s suitable for outdoor use like garden furniture and decking.

While oak is strong enough, it’s not entirely impervious. But it can still last many years, especially when the finish is high-quality, and the treatment is maintained.


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First published on May 4, 2022. This article has been updated.

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