The Vikings used oak to build their longships back in the fourth century BC.1 Throughout time, items that needed to stand up to tough use, like railroad ties and wagon wheels, have been made using it. Oak has long been recognized for its durability and beauty. It is no wonder that oak currently is, and traditionally has been, the most popular wood flooring in the United States.2 The two most popular species of oak are red oak and white oak.

Red and white oak hardwood flooring are both desirable for a number of reasons.

More than half of the hardwood harvested domestically is oak that is grown in states from New England to the Midwest.3 Since it is readily available in the United States, oak is one of the most economical hardwood flooring choices. If you are trying to match existing flooring, stair treads, posts or other wood in your home it is a good bet that your existing flooring and other wood accents are oak, usually red oak.

Oak is also dense and strong. Northern red oak measures 1290 on the Janka wood hardness scale, while white oak measures 1360.4 Oak also has a high tannin content, which makes it more resistant to both insects and fungal attacks and white oak is waterproof, which is why they often use it in shipbuilding.5 Oak also absorbs stain well so you can select any color of stain from light colors to dark colors and can change the total look of the floor when you refinish it.

Oak is also a very stable hardwood which means that it won’t expand and contract as much when exposed to moisture. White oak is the best choice for areas that can get wet, as its closed wood grain resists moisture. This also makes white oak resistant to decay and rot. White oak is the ideal hardwood for front door jambs and other areas that are frequently exposed to nature. If moisture is a major issue, consider an engineered oak hardwood floor, as engineered flooring is more stable than solid hardwood flooring.

Red oak and white oak each have unique characteristics that should be taken into consideration when making a decision on flooring. Red oak is used for hardwood flooring more frequently than white oak.6

Both red and white oak are named due to the color of their bark, not the color of their wood. However, red oak does have a rosy or pinkish undertone. White oak is darker with heartwood (from the inner part of a tree) having a light brown or grayish cast and sapwood (from the soft outer layers of a tree) having a white to cream undertone.

The darker you stain red oak and white oak the more the color difference between the two species decreases.

Graining is an important variable, as the more graining a wood species has the better is its ability to mask scratches, dents and other imperfections. The grain of red oak is classified as medium to heavy. Red oak’s grain is open and slightly coarser and more porous than white oak. The grain of white oak accepts stain more smoothly and evenly because it is more linear and has longer rays than red oak. White oak looks “less busy” than red oak and projects a more contemporary look.

The decision on which oak to choose – white or red – really comes down to which oak will match any existing wood structures in your home. If you don’t have to match oak to existing woods, such as stair treads, then it becomes a simple matter of choosing the style you prefer. No matter which oak is chosen an oak hardwood floor is a great investment for your home.

If you need help with your flooring project, Cameron the Sandman has the experience and expertise to help you make the right choice for the perfect hardwood floors for your home. As hardwood flooring professionals, we will manage the project and guide you every step of the way, so you are worry free! Our services include wood flooring sales, installation, floor repair and restoration, and more!

We are a family owned business serving Michigan since 1936 and have been beautifying homes with the highest quality workmanship in the industry. Call us today for a consult and to learn more about our hardwood flooring services!