Of all the smart-looking but useful woods in the world, oak and Douglas fir are probably the most unlikely candidates. On their own, you would accept their beauty and utility, although both types of wood are different in so many ways.
Among the most widely-used woods in the world are oak and Douglas fir. Although one is a hardwood and the other a softwood, both share a single common feature which is good looks. The knowledge of either type of wood is something that every woodworker should have.
Oak vs Douglas Fir
There are over 600 species of oak in the world. The seeds of oak trees are acorns, poisonous to humans, but edible to certain animals like squirrels. Oak comes from a hardwood tree that is deciduous, meaning that the trees shed their leaves during winter.
The other name of Douglas fir is Doug-fir. It is one of the commonest lumber in the United States. The wood enjoys popularity by engineers and architects because it is so dimensionally stable.
It also has an excellent strength-to-weight ratio and has a high level of durability. Douglas fir takes nails and screws nicely and the wood is significantly weather-resistant.
Oak is a species characterized by an extremely long growing time – sometimes over 100 years! It makes it difficult to find enough trees ready to harvest which tends to make it a costly affair.
Oak is synonymous with strength and solidity. The main attraction of oak is its beautiful wood grain patterns. To retain the natural beauty of this wood, you need to apply a transparent or semi-transparent finish.
Although oak imparts a classic, solemn look to its surroundings, some may not appreciate it that much. They may be looking for a modernistic and chic look. They will prefer a lighter variety of wood.
Oak makes solid and durable furniture. It has a fair degree of durability in terms of resistance to moisture and humidity and makes classic flooring as well. But you will seldom find oak being used for outdoor applications. See our list of best outdoor woods here.
Douglas Fir: Background
With Douglas fir, you will see something of a rough, uncut diamond as compared to oak, but a diamond nonetheless. It may not have the dignity of oak, but here, you get a highly durable and robust type of wood.
We favor Douglas fir as a versatile and economical building material. The grain pattern exhibits a straight, long pattern that best suits building material. It also makes great doors, windows, flooring, panels, and trim. Another interesting thing to note about Douglas fir is that it makes cheap but robust and attractive plywood.
Oak vs Douglas Fir: Appearance
Oak comes in myriad colors and hues. It is best known for its beautiful grain patterns. Each board of oak lumber has a unique pattern. The variation in the appearance allows woodworkers to be creative with this wood. The beauty of the wood is further enhanced by its natural golden hue.
Douglas fir also comes in various colors. The light sapwood creates a contrasting effect against the yellow to reddish-brown heartwood. There is a striking difference between the growth rings as well, which further adds to the variety. All this, combined with the straight, non-porous grain adds to the good looks of Douglas fir.
Oak vs Douglas Fir: Durability
Oak takes a hundred years to grow, and in the process, produces a highly-durable form of lumber. If you apply a suitable wood sealer and poly, you can further add to its durability.
Douglas fir absorbs moisture less readily and exhibits a high degree of flexibility. It is dimensionally stable which means that it won’t warp or twist easily when exposed to extreme temperatures or moisture. It resists rot but does not hold out against insects. You can treat the wood to use it for outdoor applications.
Oak vs Douglas Fir: Maintenance
You will find oak an easy-to-maintain wood. Just cleaning it with soapy water will suffice most of the time. Sometimes you will have to strip it down to the bare wood, removing any finish that may coat the surface. Applying a new finish to oak gives it a new lease of life.
Scratches show up regularly on Douglas fir and if left outdoors, it forms a patina over the surface. It imparts a distressed look that some find appealing. If you are not OK with this look, you can sand down the surface of the wood to reapply the finish.
Oak vs Douglas Fir: Workability and Uses
Oak reacts with iron when exposed to it, especially in the presence of water. It causes unsightly rust stains that are impossible to remove. If your wood has iron fasteners, screws, nails, and iron rivets, you need to keep it away from moisture.
You can perform steam bending quite easily on oak, and it takes stain, glues, and finishes quite well.
The best uses for oak are in making veneer, flooring, interior trim, cabinets, and high-end furniture. Oak also finds extensive use for making whiskey barrels. It also plays a prominent role in the tannery industry, which uses tannin produced by this wood.
Douglas fir is a strong and durable wood with a high level of workability. It dries in an incredibly short time and is quite dimensionally stable. It glues well and holds screws and nails well. You can also add a good finish to Douglas fir.
We use Douglas fir to make furniture, flooring, plywood, paper pulp, marine structures, and railroad ties.
Oak vs Douglas Fir: Price
Many factors push up the price of oak. It is a slow-growing tree that takes up to 100 years to be ready for harvesting. The result is that there are not enough harvestable trees to go around at a given time.
Many species of oak are imported by the United States. All this makes it an expensive wood, particularly if you are using imported wood.
Douglas is significantly cheaper than oak. It is much more readily available, and it makes good plywood which is one of the cheaper, versatile, and yet good-looking forms of plywood.
Oak vs Douglas Fir: Sustainability
Oak is a sustainable wood if grown and harvested in a controlled manner. Alas, many countries do not follow this practice. If you buy imported wood from Britain or a European country, ensure that it comes with an FSC certificate.
Douglas fir has no such issues. It grows rapidly, allowing cultivators to replenish the harvested lumber frequently.
Oak vs Douglas fir: Any Other Characteristics
Oak makes good whiskey barrels due to the distinct flavor it adds to the whiskey stored within. The tanning industry uses the tannin from oak in its manufacturing process.
Other than making good plywood, Douglas fir doesn’t possess any special properties.
Oak vs Douglas Fir: Comparison Table
|Botanical name||Quercus rubra||Pseudotsuga menziesii|
|Color||Light to medium brown with a reddish tint||Light brown tinted with red or yellow|
|Durability||Highly durable||More durable than Oak|
|Hardness (Janka Scale)||1,220 lbf.||620 lbf.|
|Maintenance||Less maintenance than Douglas fir||Needs extra care|
|Price||Expensive to highly expensive||Cheaper than Oak|
|Suitability for outdoors||No||Yes, if treated|
|Suitability for wood carving||Yes||Yes|
|Workability||Yes||Cuts and machines well but tends to make blades blunt|
|Smell||Characteristic odor||Distinct, resinous odor when being worked|
|Availability||Abundantly available||Readily available|
|Special features if any||Used in the tannery and brewery industries||No unique characteristics|
In many ways, Oak and Douglas Fir are two intrinsically different kinds of wood. But when we look at the similarities and benefits of both these types of wood, we see that either one can be a good choice – it’s just a matter of knowing which one to use where. With the information provided here, you can decide which one to use for a particular project. For your next woodworking project, you can use oak or Douglas fir and get spectacular results!