With its warm, rich tones, Red Oak wood is a popular option for various woodworking projects. Known to be a popular flooring material for its hardness, Red Oak has a solidified its position in all aspects of interior projects including wall paneling, interior joinery and general woodenware. Native Americans also used Red Oak for medicines to treat a variety of ailments! There are over 600 Oak species around the world, with 60 species housed in the United States, so how much can you really know about the Red Oak wood species? Read on to learn about this incredible wood type, from root to crown!
Red Oak wood growth
Native to the eastern North America, the Red Oak tree has a geographic growth area that spans north to Canada, south to Georgia and west towards but rarely past Missouri. The Red Oak tree grows relatively quickly, growing up to 24 inches per year and reaching a mature height of 60 feet to 90 feet. Red Oak trees thrive in sunlight, with seedlings unable to sprout in the shade and requiring a gap in the canopy in order to grow to maturity. A lesser-known fact about Red Oak trees is not only do they produce seedlings from their acorns but they can reproduce through root sprouts!
Are Red Oak trees hardwood trees?
Hardwood species are classified by the seeds the tree produces. Each hardwood tree species has a coating that takes the shape of a fruit or a shell that becomes a flowering plant. These flowering seeds are known as angiosperm, which translates in Greek to “vessel seed.” Additionally, hardwood trees lose and regrow their leaves annually, making them deciduous trees.
Hardwood trees differ from softwood trees, as trees classified as softwood’s seeds do not have a coating and are instead dropped to the ground to deal with the elements. Examples of softwood tree seeds are needles and cones that are dubbed gymnosperm, meaning “naked seed.” Except for the Larch tree species, all softwood trees retain their needles year-round, making them evergreen trees.
Red Oak trees are hardwood trees, falling into the angiosperm group with their acorn seedlings. These leafy green trees are deciduous trees, lending further to their hardwood distinction.
With an abundance of Oak trees comes an abundance of acorns, the seed of the Oak tree. Not only are these shell covered seeds essential for further Oak tree growth, but many animals depend on these seeds for food. A mature Oak tree will produce between 25 pounds and 30 pounds of acorns per year, with some one day becoming new trees while others become food for foxes, squirrels, deer, hogs, turkeys, and other woodland creatures.
The acorn is rich in Vitamin C, magnesium, and calcium, making it not only a fantastic fuel source for animals but humans as well! Hunter-gatherers relied on acorns as a fuel source thousands of years ago and they are still brought into modern day kitchens, where they are used to make flour and trail mix.
Red Oak acorns mature slower than White Oak acorns, taking two seasons to mature versus the one season it takes White Oaks acorns. Red Oak acorns are larger and heavier than White Oak acorns.
How hard is Red Oak hardwood?
The Janka Hardness Scale is used to determine the relative hardness for domestic wood species, like Red Oak wood. The test measures the amount of force that is required to embed a 11.28 mm steel ball halfway into a piece of wood. While the Janka Hardness test is traditionally used to determine whether a wood species is suitable for flooring, it is a good measure of determining a wood species resistance to wear and its overall durability. Wood species with a higher number rating are harder than wood species with a lower rating. The data from the Janka Hardness Scale is expressed in pound-force, or lbf.
On the Janka Hardness Scale, the ranking for Red Oak hardwood hardness is 1120 lbf. The Janka Hardness Scale is indicative of Red Oak woods strength and workability in contrast with other woods, as its 1120 lbf is stronger than Walnut wood (1010 lbf) and Cherry wood (950 lbf). Red Oak wood is not as strong as White Oak wood that is ranked at 1360 lbf, nor is it as strong as Ash wood with a Janka Hardness Scale ranking on 1320 lbf. Alas, Red Oak is a strong and durable wood species, making it a go to option for all projects from hardwood flooring to custom furniture and more.
Different kinds of Oak wood
There are more than 600 types of Oak trees growing around the world, with the United States being home to upwards of 60 different types. Oak wood is classified in the two groups of Red Oak and White Oak trees, with each tree type falling into a respective group based on distinct characteristics, regardless if they are the true Quercus alba or Quercus rubra. This makes it so that the Red Oak wood you are buying at the store may not truly be Quercus rubra but one of the “Red Oak” woods that are group in the category!
- White Oak (Quercus alba): the White Oak tree is native to the eastern United States and grows to a mature height between 50 feet and 80 feet tall. Unlike the Red Oak tree, with its warm, red undertones, the White Oak tree's color is more reminiscent of wheat with cooler undertones. Learn more about the White Oak wood offered by Forest 2 Home by reading Species Highlight: White Oak Wood.
- Black Oak (Quercus velutina): similarly to the White Oak and Red Oak trees, the Black Oak tree is native to the eastern United States and has a coarse texture. The Black Oak tree’s wood is pale red to brown in color (not black!). Black Oak trees reach a mature height of 65 feet to 80 feet. The Black Oak tree falls into the Red Oak category.
- California Black Oak (Quercus kelloggii): native to the western United States, the California Black Oak is a popular option for flooring and furniture making. Like the Black Oak tree on the east, the California Black Oak grows to be 65 feet to 80 feet at a mature height. It also falls into the Red Oak category.
- Cherrybark Oak (Quercus pagoda): growing to a mature height of 80 feet to 100 feet tall, the Cherrybark Oak is one of the strongest types of Red Oak in the United States. The Cherrybark Oak is native to the eastern United States and features medium red-brown color with coarse grain.
- Scarlet Oak (Quercus coccinea): dubbed the Scarlet Oak for its firey crown as the leaves change color, this Red Oak tree is native to the eastern United States. More specifically, the Scarlet Oak grows from Maine down to South Carolina and Georgia. Due to its large pores, the Scarlet Oak has low rot resistance.
How to tell the difference between Red Oak and White Oak
It can be challenging to distinguish between Red Oak wood and White Oak wood on just color alone. Despite being from the same wood species, their differences are numerous. Among several ways to distinguish White Oak from Red Oak, here are our five top options:
- Color: Red Oak wood is lighter and warmer in color than White Oak wood and features red to salmon pink undertones. White Oak wood color can be described as being similar to wheat in color with cooler undertones.
- Hardness and workability: When it comes to hardness and workability, Red Oak wood is slightly easier to work with than White Oak wood. Red Oak wood has a Janka Hardness Scale rating of 1120 lbf, White Oak wood has a Janka Hardness Scale rating of 1360 lbf. While this may not seem like a very large gap, the higher rating from White Oak proves itself against potential dents and scratches, while also being more challenging to work with in the workshop.
- Grain pattern: White Oak wood has a very mild, straight grain pattern with a perceived coarse, uneven texture even when planed down. Red Oak woods grain can be described similarly but its large and open pores make the grain pattern more distinct and dramatic.
- Water resistance: Red Oak wood is far less water resistant than White Oak wood, that has closed wood grain thanks to the wood pores being lugged by tyloses. While White Oak is a wood often used in outdoor projects and ship building, Red Oak wood is far more susceptible to mold and rot and best when kept for indoor projects.
- Leaves: when identifying Oak trees by their leaves instead of the appearance of their wood, an important item to examine is the tip of their leaves. Red Oak leaves generally have a pointed tip while White Oak leaves usually have a rounded tip.
Forest 2 Home Red Oak woodworking projects
Small woodworking projects
Custom wooden whiskey box made with Forest 2 Home Red Oak hardwood
(created by @jdbomar on Instagram)
Custom cutting board made with Forest 2 Home Red Oak wood, Walnut wood and Hard Maple wood
(built by @a_mano_woodworking on Instagram)
Cutting board kits
Many of the Forest 2 Home Cutting Board Kits feature Red Oak wood. Each cutting board kit allows you to create a custom cutting board, whether you are following the F2H pattern or creating one that is uniquely yours! Each cutting board kit comes with a variety of premeasured wood pieces so that you can DIY the perfect cutting board-you can even combine two Cutting Board Kits to create even more customized cutting boards in the workshop!
Large woodworking project inspiration
Custom table created with Forest 2 Home Red Oak wood
(built by the @dailydiyer on Instagram)
Rolling workshop shelving unit created with Forest 2 Home Red Oak hardwood
(built by @paulpeaty on Instagram)
DIY coffee table kit built with Forest 2 Home Red Oak wood, Hard Maple wood, Poplar wood, Epoxy Resin and Stainless Steel
(made by @thebuildwithethan on Instagram)