Walnut vs. Oak (Comparing Wood – Pros & Cons)


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Walnut and oak occupy a prominent place in the list of wood that you can use for woodworking. Both of these woods are classy, expensive and not always readily available.

You can use walnut wood or oak wood in any home or office space to make to add a stylish or vintage touch to the area.

Although both of these types of wood are so expensive, woodworkers still hold them in high esteem for their projects. Here we look at the various aspects of walnut and oak and try to understand why these two types of wood have become so precious.

Walnut Vs. Oak

Oak is a grainy hardwood and comes in two main varieties – red oak and white oak. Red oak has a pinkish-red to light brown coloration and a swirling, waterlike grain pattern. The grain of white oak is marked with tiger stripes in shades of yellow. Oak is commonly used to make art pieces.

Oak is a durable wood and resistant to warping, depending on the way it is cut. If finished correctly, the wood grain will “pop” out nicely. However, oak is susceptible to staining so that you may end up with a two-toned wood surface.

Walnut has a straight grain, and the color can range from yellow to chocolate-brown depending on where it is taken from the tree. Walnut needs to be oiled to accentuate its color. It is used for making classic furniture, headboards, and mantels. Walnut is strong and stable and suitable for carving as well. However, it is much more expensive than oak. Moreover, some people are not in favor of the stark contrast of dark and light of this wood.

Walnut

Wood texture background

The main things that walnut has going for it are its rich, deep color and tight grain. It takes polish quite well, and you can stain it in different shades and hues. The color of the wood also varies a lot, which gives you a wide range of shades to choose from when you want it to blend into the surroundings.

Walnut comes in many different varieties, but the primary type of walnut prevalent in the US is eastern black walnut, which is the preferred choice of most woodworkers for their projects.

Oak

oak-wood-cut

This hardwood comes from the oak tree which is commonly found across the northern hemisphere. There are about 600 oak species, and they come in both deciduous and evergreen varieties. The majority of these trees grow in North America, and they have been used as timber for thousands of years.

For an oak tree to be ready to be harvested for construction, it can take up to 150 years. Oak is a strong, heavy, and durable, light-colored wood that people favor due to its longevity.

Walnut Vs. Oak: Appearance

walnut wood grain
Image Credit: Martin Lorenz via Creative Commons

You can easily make out the difference between walnut and oak due to the difference in color between the two types of wood. Further, walnut has a much tighter grain than oak. The grain pattern of walnut is more subtle than oak, which has some very prominent swirls and whirls.

Oak Texture
Image Credit: William Warby via Creative Commons

The prominent grain pattern allows oak to hide daily wear and tear much better than walnut or other types of wood. It also helps to make oak the preferred choice for flooring, whereas walnut serves better to make furniture, shelves, and kitchen and bathroom cabinets.

Walnut Vs. Oak: Durability

Oak is harder than walnut, therefore less susceptible to dents, scratches and abrasion. However, walnut tends to discolor when exposed to sunlight for prolonged periods. Consequently, it would be best if you considered the presence of the sun when you use walnut in a room.

Both walnut and Oak respond well to staining and oiling, and you actually do have to apply a finish to them. Once applied, a finish will impart a smart appearance to the wood surface, enhancing the life of the wood.

Walnut Vs. Oak: Maintenance

Hardwood floor manteinance

You will find oak relatively easy to maintain. Occasional refurbishing every six months to a year by re-applying a suitable finish will make the wood last longer. But It needs to be cleaned regularly. Daily brushing should get rid of dust and dirt that could scratch the surface of the wood. For washing and wiping, you should choose your cleaning agents carefully. You can get some natural soaps specifically meant for oak.

In the case of walnut, you will see that there isn’t much difference in the maintenance requirements. However, because walnut is a softer wood, you would do well to take a bit of extra care while cleaning it. If you have walnut flooring, then avoiding wearing stilettos and using rugs on high wear areas can help to keep the wood intact.

Walnut Vs. Oak: Price

Between oak and walnut, oak is usually easier to source because it grows in the US.  Oak tends to be cheaper than walnut and thus the more commonly used.

Both kinds of wood are much more expensive than many other types of wood and certainly more than engineered wood. But despite the high price of walnut and oak, people still buy them because of the value that they can add to a property and the long life of both these types of wood.

Walnut Vs. Oak: Sustainability

Walnut is much rarer than teak but is harvested in a responsible manner across the United States. Black walnut takes only five to eight years to start bearing fruit but 50 years to use as timber.

Oak grows abundantly in Britain, Europe, the USA and Australia. It would be best if you were careful about oak sourced specific regions and countries. Whether you use walnut or oak, check for a relevant certificate as proof that the wood is sustainable.

Walnut Vs. Oak: Comparison Table

Parameter Walnut Oak
Botanical Names Juglans nigra Quercus alba and Quercus rubra
Appearance Yellow to chocolate-brown Pinkish-red, light brown or yellow with stripes
Durability Fairly durable Fairly durable
Hardness (Janka Scale) 1,000 1,260 to 1,360
Maintenance Needs regular Maintenance Needs regular Maintenance
Price Expensive Expensive but cheaper than Walnut
Suitability for outdoors No Yes, if suitably treated
Suitability for wood carving Yes Yes
Workability Easy for straight-grained wood Responds well to machine and hand tools
Smell No distinct odor No distinct odor

Conclusion

Whether you use oak or walnut in a woodworking project, it is more of a personal preference rather than which one is better. Both of these types of wood have their unique characteristics. You need to take into account the way the wood will look in its final location.

Now that you have a better awareness of the difference between these two types of wood and their benefits, you can make a choice. But whatever your final decision is, ensure that you buy wood from a reliable source and that you have evidence of its sustainability.

Happy woodworking!