Iroko lumber comes from the wood of the Iroko tree, which originates from the west coast of Africa. The wood has high durability and is used for outdoor gates and other similar structures. Oak, on the other hand, needs no introduction. It is a strong wood, with properties similar to iroko but infinitely more expensive.
Comparisons are often made between iroko and oak due to their similar properties. However, it may not always be possible to procure oak, and even when it is available, budget constraints may prevent you from using this strong but expensive wood. It is at times like this that it is worthwhile to know the differences between iroko vs. oak.
Iroko (Milicia excelsa)
Iroko trees grow in tropical Africa, and the trees are tall, growing up to 130 feet with a tree trunk up to 5 feet in diameter. It is a very popular type of wood for making wooden flooring. In addition, iroko is often used as a cost-effective substitute to teak or oak.
Iroko has a yellow to golden-brown heartwood, which darkens over time. The sapwood is pale yellow, and there is a clear distinction between both regions. The wood has a medium to coarse texture with an interlocked grain structure.
Iroko is an extremely durable wood and exhibits a fair degree of resistance to insect attack and rot. Due to this high durability, we often use this wood as an alternative to teak and oak.
Iroko is easy to work with except for the instances where the interlocking of grains occurs. The result could be tearout while planing, which can be remedied with fine sanding. Calcium carbonate occasionally occurs, which can also have a negative impact. The wood finishes and glues well.
Price and Availability
Although imported, iroko comes at a moderate price. In addition, the wood is widely available all across the United States. You can also get iroko veneers which are also easily available.
Iroko is not part of the CITES Appendices but finds a place on the IUCN Red List. It is considered vulnerable because its population has reduced by 20% over three generations.
We use iroko for turned items, boatbuilding, cabinets, furniture, flooring, and small specialty wood items.
Oak, American White (Quercus alba)
Oak covers a wide variety of trees, and you can find it growing in many European countries and North America. Two of the most well-known species of oak in the world are European Oak and American White Oak. In the United States, oak grows in the eastern regions. The trees are moderately tall at 85 feet and the trunks grow up to a diameter of 4 feet.
The color of oak varies from region to region and differs according to the species. For example, European oak is renowned for its golden-brown shades, whereas the American variety is paler to light brown.
The heartwood of oak is light brown and has an olive cast. The paler sapwood may not be sharply demarcated from the darker heartwood. If quartersawn, you may see prominent ray fleck patterns. Oak has a straight grain with an uneven, coarse texture on the surface of the wood.
Oak has a high degree of durability, and you can use it for indoor furniture and outdoor applications. It also occupies a prominent place in the boatbuilding industry, and a variety of outdoor applications like decks, railings, and fences.
The wood is quite hard and has a Janka hardness rating of 1,350 lbf. It is easy to work with using hand and machine tools. The wood has less tendency to shrink, maintaining adequate dimensional stability, especially with flatsawn lumber.
Oak may react with iron when wet, so take care to ensure that the regions holding nails and screws remain as dry as possible. A good feature of oak is that you can perform steam bending quite easily.
Availability and Price
You can get various types of oak throughout the United States. Certain species may be more abundant than others. Oak can be moderately-priced to quite expensive, depending on the type and grade you get. The thicker and quartersawn lumber tends to be more expensive.
Oak is not listed on the CITES Appendices and is not highlighted by the IUCN.
We use oak to make furniture, cabinets, barrels, interior trim, flooring, boats, and veneer. Oak plays a prominent role in interior furnishings, and it is particularly well-known for making oak panels on walls and doors. Oak imparts a timeless solidity to the interior of a room like no other wood can, not even teak.
The desk in the Oval Office in the Whitehouse consists of oak timbers from the British ship H.M.S. Resolute. Queen Victoria gifted it to President Rutherford Hayes in 1880. It is known as the “Resolute Desk.”
Iroko Vs. Oak: Comparison Table
|Botanical name||Milicia excelsa||Quercus alba|
|Color||Golden brown||Golden to light brown|
|Durability||Extremely durable||Fairly durable|
|Hardness (Janka Scale)||1,260 lbf.||1,350 lbf.|
|Strength||Moderately strong||Extremely strong|
|Maintenance||Low Maintenance||Low Maintenance|
|Price||Moderately priced||Can be very expensive|
|Suitable for outdoors||Yes||Yes|
|Suitable for wood carving||Yes||Yes|
|Workability||Mostly easy to work with||Always easy to work with|
|Smell||Distinct smell while being worked||Odorless|
|Availability||Easily available||Easily available|
Both iroko and oak species have value based on their good looks, strength, and durability. Many factors affect the color to give you a wide range of colors with these two types of wood.
Which one do you choose? The conclusion of this discussion of iroko vs. oak is a neck-to-neck battle between two very similar kinds of wood. You may choose the richer and unique brown shades of Iroko or the golden-brown straight-grained beauty of oak.
Ultimately, you may find both kinds of wood similarly-priced, and with both of them available at your local hardware shop. In such a case, you can follow your instincts and select the wood that best suits your project – either choice will be a good one.