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When you’re looking for a good quality wood for your next workpiece, there are loads to choose from. However, the better the quality of the wood, the more exclusive it is, and when something’s exclusive, it usually means that it’s pretty expensive too. Although, if you have the means and you’re looking for a really good-looking wood species that won’t only look great but last you a lifetime, the two options you’ll often be faced with are oak and walnut wood. This being said, let’s have a look at both these wood species, including their characteristics, where they’re found, how they look, what they can be used for, and which one is best.
Table of Contents
- 1 Oak vs. Walnut: What Makes These Woods Special?
- 2 What Are the Best Applications for Oak and Walnut Wood?
- 3 What to Consider When Choosing Between Oak and Walnut
- 4 Frequently Asked Questions
Oak vs. Walnut: What Makes These Woods Special?
In the oak vs. walnut debate, there are many points to make both for and against both wood species, but they both have their place in the crafting and woodworking industries. Often, it comes down to the preference of the crafter and the application the wood will be used when making a final decision, but in the interest of being comprehensive let’s have a look at where each wood can be found and what makes them the cream of the crop among hardwood species, to begin with.
Oak wood is pretty cool. It comes in two varieties, namely white and red which are used in the construction of flooring and various other furnishings. Oak is a really sought-after and moderately expensive wood species that is grown nearly exclusively in the United States and it is used for pretty much any application that requires a high-quality, good-looking wood.
Red Oak Wood
Red oak is the one that’s used most commonly as it’s the most user-friendly out of the two subspecies of oak. Red oak is characterized as being extremely strong, hard-wearing, and quite heavy thanks to its dense wood grain. This makes red oak virtually impervious to things like rot, insect infestation, and splitting, which are ideal characteristics for furnishings and flooring.
What does red oak look like? Red oak is beautiful and provides a sophisticated, cozy look to any space it’s found in. Red oak’s color tends to be a light brown in the sapwood and warm, red/pink in the heartwood, with these two colors intermingling where the two layers meet. This wood is noticeably straighter grained than its white oak counterpart.
White Oak Wood
White oak, on the other hand, is the difficult-to-handle sibling of red oak. White oak is found primarily in the eastern United States and some parts of Canada too. It is because of this exclusivity that it’s a bit more expensive than red oak, and this in combination with the fact that it’s significantly more challenging to cut than red oak means that it’s used less often than the aforementioned.
White oak wood is prone to have more “imperfections” like burls, knots, and swirls embedded in its wood grain which is what makes it more challenging to work with in comparison. Its rays often stretch further too, and its grain is even tighter than red oak which is what makes it slightly heavier than its counterpart in most instances.
What does white oak look like? White oak has a light brown color to it that tends to fade into something that closely resembles beige in appearance. This color combination darkens from the sapwood into the heartwood, and even though it isn’t used quite as commonly as red oak, you can find incredible examples of this wood being used in the creation of furnishings and construction applications.
Walnut is one of the most highly rated wood species on the face of the planet. It is also one of the most expensive wood species out there thanks to its exclusivity, which is why many high-end custom design studios use it in the construction of various furnishings and trim pieces. There are many species of walnut that can be found all over the world, but the ones that are most commonly used in the crafting industry are English walnut and black walnut, the latter of which we’ll be having a look at here.
Walnut wood grain has a relatively straight grain to it with some instances having noticeable waves in the grain. Walnut wood grain in combination with its dark brown color is instantly recognizable to those in the wood crafting industry, and it is often seen as something of a status symbol for those who own furnishings crafted from this wood species.
What does walnut wood look like overall, though? Walnut is a deep brown in color, which gives it a sort of visual weight that transfers to anything you make from it. It has a really smooth texture which in combination with its predominantly straight grain makes for an impactful aesthetic in any space you place it in. What does walnut wood look like in comparison to red oak? Well, walnut is deep brown, while red oak has a light to deep reddish hue to it, making them easily distinguishable in most instances.
|Walnut Wood Characteristics||Oak Wood Characteristics|
|Dark brown/ Yellow color||Reddish-pink/light brown color|
|Highly durable||Highly durable|
|Resistant to rot and insect infestation||Resistant to rot and insect infestation|
|Janka hardness of 1000||Janka hardness of +/- 1300|
|Requires semi-regular maintenance||Requires semi-regular maintenance|
|Expensive||Moderately priced depending on availability|
|Easy to work with||Easy to work with|
|Not suitable for exterior use||Can be treated for exterior use|
|Found in the Americas, Europe, and Asia||Found almost exclusively in the United States|
|Dense wood grain||Dense wood grain|
What Are the Best Applications for Oak and Walnut Wood?
The discussion of oak vs. walnut color often raises the question as to which one is best, but at the end of the day oak vs. walnut color (and the oak vs. walnut discussion in general) often comes down to what they’re used for. These woods give off vaguely similar but ultimately totally different aesthetics, and it’s rare that one would be used in place of the other so let’s have a look at what applications suit each best.
Oak Wood Applications
Oak is a pretty versatile wood species that has been used for hundreds of years all over the world. The oak grain pattern has played a big part in its use, this is because while it still remains aesthetically pleasing, it’s not entirely distracting to the viewer which makes it the ideal wood for construction applications such as staircase railings, flooring, staircases themselves, and even roofing panels.
The oak grain pattern isn’t the only thing that makes this wood a great material to work with though. Oak’s dense grain and resistance to external forces are two of the many reasons that make it the ideal material for joinery, cabinetry, furniture making, boats, and even weaponry! Oak wood’s price makes it the go-to high-end wood for basically any wood-crafting endeavor.
- Ornate weaponry
Walnut Wood Applications
Walnut wood characteristics make it arguably just as versatile as oak is, but its price and availability make it inaccessible for the everyday crafter. This has relegated walnut wood to being used in rather high-end furnishings which tend to cost a pretty penny, especially in the US. This being said, walnut furnishings are often really well crafted, well finished, and need to be maintained regularly to retain their value and aesthetic impact.
What exactly is walnut wood used for though? Walnut is usually used for custom-made furniture rather than mass-produced ones, although there are exceptions. Walnut is used to create trim for high-end automobiles, cabinets, flooring, bed frames, kitchen countertops, stocks for firearms, bedside tables, and even sculptures!
- Ornate cabinetry
- Wood carving
- Trim pieces
- Bedside tables
What to Consider When Choosing Between Oak and Walnut
Knowing the properties of each wood is all well and good but there are more factors you should consider when choosing between these two wood species. Below are a few of the most commonly asked questions when considering either oak or walnut wood for a workpiece.
Which Wood Stains Better?
Even though these wood species have tightly packed wood grain they actually stain pretty well compared to other hardwood species in their class. It is pretty rare to see either of these wood species being stained though as their natural colors are stunning to begin with, plus you probably chose them for their natural aesthetic and feel, both of which will be altered when introduced to wood stain.
When stained with a conventional oil-based stain, both of these wood’s become darker in color, but this does depend on what color stain you choose to use. We wouldn’t recommend saturating these woods with stain either as they have a tendency to botch if too much stain is added at one time. Instead, stain these woods in stages, allowing each coat to dry before adding the next.
Which Wood Is Cheaper?
Oak is cheaper than walnut by quite a large margin. Oak is found in abundance in the United States, and each genus of the oak tree is grown and harvested for various applications in both the woodworking and construction industries, which is why it’s so cheap. Oak trees are typically bigger than walnut trees too which means you get a lot more board from one tree.
Walnut wood on the other hand can be really expensive, especially if you’re trying to get your hands on a really rare genus of oak. This is why it isn’t used as liberally as woods like oak and pine, which tend to fall in the same price range (more or less). To give you an idea of how much of a premium wood walnut is, it is often used to create trim pieces in vehicles like Rolls Royce and Bentley.
Which Wood Is Easier to Clean?
When choosing a wood for your next workpiece it’s easy to get caught up in what different boards look like, while completely forgetting that you’ll have to both clean and maintain these surfaces at some point in the future. This being said, which one of these woods is easier to clean and maintain in the long run?
Considering that both oak and walnut wood is tightly grained and pretty smooth in texture, they are fairly easy to maintain. While most owners of oak and/or walnut furnishings tend not to seal them to keep their texture, it can greatly reduce the frequency of which your furnishings need to be cleaned and/or maintained.
Now that you know what oak and walnut wood are, what they are used for, some of their strengths and weaknesses, as well as which is cheaper and which is easier to clean/maintain, it’s time for you to get out there and put your newfound knowledge to the test. Remember to choose carefully and to consider your application as well as your desired aesthetic when making your choice.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Should I Consider When Choosing Walnut vs. Black Walnut Wood?
When people talk about walnut vs. black walnut wood, they’re really talking about English walnut and back walnut. These wood species are the most commonly used species of walnut around, and while they have some distinctions their characteristics and tolerances are pretty much the same.
What Is the Natural Walnut Wood Color?
What is the natural walnut wood color? There are many species of walnut wood around the world, but the most commonly used species of wood is black walnut wood. Black walnut wood has a dark brown heartwood with a lighter sapwood. This wood is nearly always straight-grained and can be used to be visually stunning furniture.
Is Oak a Good Wood?
Oak wood is objectively a good wood in the context of the application it is normally used in. Oak wood is a tightly grained wood which makes it strong, durable, heavy, and resistant to things like moisture, rot, insect infestation, and mold.
I was born in 1984 and have been into woodworking since 2005 and woodturning since 2011. Because of my love for wood and woodworking, I started woodhappen.com to teach other enthusiasts about how to finish and seal wood, the best woodworking tools, the different types of wood, and everything else related to wood! See my full profile