Oak is extremely popular for furniture and flooring in the U.S. and several countries worldwide. It is a favorite among traditional artisans and woodworkers, especially with the Amish, who are famous for making classic furniture.
Many different types of oak grow in different parts of the United States and across the world. Here, we look at the different types of oak and their uses. After reading this post, you should know what to expect when you need to procure some of this renowned wood for your woodworking projects.
Oak makes good firewood because it has a high BTU content. But the main attraction of this wood is its attractive appearance. It comes in several hues with a distinctive grain pattern, making it one of the simpler woods to identify.
In the United States, oak also has a long history that goes back to the pre-colonial era. As a result, it is as popular today as it was way back then. Oak is a durable wood and easy to work with. It looks good with all types of finish – stained or clear.
Types of Oak
The number of oak species is huge, but broadly speaking, there are two primary groups – red oak and white oak. Each of the two categories is divided into several species.
Red oak (Quercus Rubra) yields some of the commonest oak forms, most of what we find in North America. It has a straight grain pattern with a coarse texture. Red oak has a pinkish-red hue and is relatively hard with a Janka hardness rating of 1,260 lbf.
The wood is extremely stable in most environments. Due to its strength and durability, red oak is well-known for making shelves, furniture, cabinets, and various wooden items.
Here are the main species that fall under red oak:
- California Black Oak (Quercus kelloggii)
- Laurel Oak (Quercus laurifolia)
- Scarlet Oak (Quercus coccinea)
- Southern Red Oak (Quercus falcata)
- Willow Oak (Quercus phellos)
- Black Oak (Quercus velutina)
- Cherrybark Oak (Quercus pagoda)
- Pin Oak (Quercus palustris)
- Shumard Oak (Quercus shumardii)
- Water Oak (Quercus nigra)
White Oak (Quercus alba)
Like red oak, you will find white oak abundantly all over North America. White oak also has a straight grain with a coarse texture. It plays a prominent role in construction and flooring.
The longer grain rays of white oak make it a better blocker of moisture than red oak. White oak has a slightly higher hardness rating than red oak, with a Janka hardness rating of 1,360 lbf .
Here are the major categories of white oak that you may find on the market:
- Chestnut Oak (Quercus prinus)
- Holm Oak (Quercus ilex)
- Overcup Oak (Quercus lyrata)
- Sessile Oak (Quercus petraea)
- Swamp White Oak (Quercus bicolor)
- Bur Oak (Quercus macrocarpa)
- English Oak (Quercus robur)
- White Oak (Quercus garryana)
- Post Oak (Quercus stellata)
- Swamp Chestnut Oak (Quercus michauxii)
The color variation and texture of the various type of oak don’t just depend on the species to which they belong. It also depends on the growing conditions, and can vary from tree to tree.
You cannot identify each type of oak solely based on its color. Instead, you need to consider the features and characteristics of each variety of wood. So, let’s get into the heart of the matter!
We have identified nine commonly-used types of oak – here they are:
Black Oak (Quercus velutina)
We also refer to black oak as eastern black oak, as it is native to the eastern region of North America. It is light to medium reddish-brown, but there are sometimes color variations.
The wood has a coarse and grainy texture with medium to coarse pores. Black oak trees grow up to 80 feet and have trunk diameters up to 5 feet.
Black oak has a characteristic smell which many find appealing. It is moderately hard with a Janka rating of 1,210 lbf. Black oak is a fairly easy wood to work with and we use it for flooring, furniture, interior trim, and manufacturing wood veneer.
Cherry bark Oak
You will find cherry bark oak growing abundantly in the eastern United States. The trees grow tall to a height of 100 feet, with the diameter of the trunks as much as 5 feet.
Cherry bark oak is medium, reddish-brown, but you can get some color variations as well. The wood has medium to large pores with a coarse grain structure.
Cherry bark oak has low resistance to rot, but we consider it as high quality and among the strongest of oaks due to its other qualities. Uses of this wood include flooring, furniture, and cabinetry.
California Black Oak (Quercus kelloggii)
We also call this species Kellogg oak, and it grows in the western region of the United States. The trees grow to a height of 80 feet, and the trunks to a diameter of 4 feet.
The wood has a brownish-red color of different shades. The grain structure of California black oak consists of medium to large pores with a coarse grain structure. As a result, the wood is softer than many other oak species, with a Janka hardness rating of 1,090 lbf.
California black oak has a medium resistance to rot, but woodworkers hold it in high esteem as it is a softer form of oak. This wood makes cabinets and furniture.
Willow Oak (Quercus phellos)
You can find Willow oak growing in the eastern and central United States. The willow-like leaves of these oaks give them their name. The trees grow as high as 100 feet with tree trunks of diameters up to 5 feet.
Willow oak has a fine grain pattern with very fine pores. It plays a prominent role in making paper pulp and occasionally for lumber as it is fairly hard with a Janka rating of 1,460 lbf.
The wood chips and bark of willow oak serve as an analgesic and treat diarrhea and hemorrhages.
Pin Oak (Quercus palustris)
Pin oak also goes by swamp Spanish oak and grows in the Eastern part of the United States. It is one of the commonest forms of oak available. The trees grow up to a height of 75 feet with trunk diameters of up to 4 feet.
Traders sell pin oak as red oak, but it is slightly inferior to other oaks. It has a higher frequency of knots, and the wood is rather hard with a Janka hardness of 1,500 lbf. So, pin oak only finds use as firewood or general construction.
Bur Oak (Quercus macrocarpa)
Bur oak comes from the white oak family, and we also call it mossycup oak. It grows predominantly in the eastern and mid-western regions of the United States, but you will also find it in south-central America and Canada.
The trees of bur oak grow to a height of 100 feet. The trunks grow to diameters up to 5 feet and even 10 feet in some cases. It is among the largest of oaks in America, and it is quite rugged.
Some of the finest quality of oak lumber comes from bur oak, and it is extremely durable. Bur oak is moderately hard with a Janka hardness of 1,360 lbf. As a result, it plays a prominent role in making hardwood flooring, cabinetry, fence posts, and barrels.
Native Americans treated various ailments like broken bones, diarrhea, and heart ailments and used them as an astringent for closing bleeding wounds.
English Oak (Quercus robur)
You will find this variety of oak all across Europe and also in North Africa and Asia Minor. The trees of English oak grow to a height of 115 feet, and the trunks to a diameter of 5 feet.
English oak is medium to light brown with an olive-green hue. The grain pattern is straight, with a few aberrations and a coarse texture.
It is moderately hard with a Janka hardness rating of 1,120 lbf, making it somewhat easy to work with. This wood is sought after for making fine furniture and interior work.
Chestnut Oak (Quercus prinus)
You will find chestnut oak growing in the Eastern region of the United States. We often call this type of oak “rock oak” as it grows in rocky, mountainous terrain. Chestnut oak trees grow as high as 70 feet with trunk diameters up to 4 feet.
This wood is dark brown, extremely heavy, tough, and hard. It has a Janka hardness rating of 1,130 lbf. But woodworkers do not prefer to use chestnut oak much as the tree trunks are twisted, and the trees are typically branched low. We use this wood for making railway ties and fencing and also as fuel.
Water Oak (Quercus nigra)
This variety of oak is native to the eastern region of the United States. The trees are rather tall and grow up to 80 feet with tree trunk sizes of up to 3 feet in diameter.
Water oak has a light, reddish-brown color, but variations do occur. It has medium to large pores and is not very resistant to rot and decay. But with a moderate hardness of 1,190 lbf. Water oak is comfortable to work with.
The wood glues easily and takes stain and varnish quite well. We use water oak in cabinetry, furniture, interior trim, flooring, and veneer.
With so many varieties of oak to choose from, it’s an impossible task to feature them all. So, we identified nine varieties of what we feel are the most popular types of oak available in the United States.
As a woodworker, you will probably come across quite a few of the varieties mentioned here. Or you may find a variety that is not featured in this list. Whatever the case, you can rest assured that using any type of oak in your woodworking project is bound to bring you success.