What’s the Difference Between White Oak and Red Oak Flooring?

Red oak vs white oak

There are certain situations in which red oak is more appropriate to use than white oak, and vice versa. You have to be able to tell the difference between white oak and red oak hardwood floors to ensure that you’re installing the most appropriate material for the job. So, how do you tell the difference?

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What are the differences between white oak and red oak?

Before selecting which species to use in a project, you’ve got to understand the different qualities of these two oak floor varieties.

White oak is more stable and dense than red oak, and has longer medullary ray lines, giving white floors more prominent “flecking” effect when the growth rings are cut at a 90 degree angle.

White oak accepts stains like WOCA penetrating oil more evenly than red oak, and its Janka hardness rating is a bit higher than red oak’s rating, meaning white oak is a bit more durable..

Although the names might suggest otherwise, red and white oak hardwood floors can’t be reliably distinguished based on color alone. But you can easily tell the two species of wood apart with a couple of different techniques.

Telling white oak and red oak apart: Check the endgrain

One of the simplest tests you can do to distinguish between red and white oak is to examine the pores in the endgrain of the wood. As long as the wood isn’t painted or sealed and doesn’t have rough-cut edges, you can use this method to find out which kind of oak you have.

wood endgrain

If you look at the endgrain and see that the pores are open and uncovered, it’s red oak.

The pores in white oak are filled with tyloses, which are outgrowths of the tree’s xylem vessels. The pores of red oak lack this outgrowth, which makes them appear to be open.

This is why white oak is frequently used in outdoor applications––the tyloses render this species particularly resistant to bugs and water.

When you perform this test, make sure to blow out any dust trapped in the pores to avoid getting a false positive for white oak.

Perform a chemical identification test

Spraying the wood with a 10 percent solution of sodium nitrite or purchasing a test kit are two other ways of distinguishing white from red oak.

Sodium nitrite is usually only sold in bulk quantities, so this is not a very cost-effective method to use. But if you do have access to a 10 percent sodium nitrite solution, brush or spray it onto the raw wood and monitor the results. White oak will turn dark green, purple, or black, whereas red oak will turn slightly darker than its normal appearance.

Or, if you’re using a white oak test kit like this one, you can simply mix wood shavings into the solution and monitor the change in color.

The benefits of oak flooring

Laying oak as hardwood floors is more environmentally friendly than installing exotic species because of oak’s abundance in the continental United States. Moving oak from forest to distributor has a smaller carbon footprint since there’s less transportation involved.

White oak bark

Oak is also, quite simply, a beautiful wood. It lends warmth to the room in which it’s installed.

Whether you choose to install white or red oak, you’ll end up with a beautiful floor if the job is done correctly. But white oak is particularly good to use if you’re planning to stain your floors, install them in an area where water is likely to drip on them, or you’re simply going for a certain look.

If you need wood for your flooring project, browse our extensive selection of white oak and red oak unfinished hardwood flooring.

Not an oak fan? No worries. Whatever kind of hardwood flooring you need, we’ve probably got it. We stock residential, commercial, and sport flooring from suppliers like Century, Aacer, Springcreek, and more.

Take a look at our complete inventory of hardwood flooring. We stock a variety of our prefinished solid, prefinished engineered, unfinished solid, and unfinished engineered hardwood floors.

For more information, call us at 800-737-1786 or email info@cityfloorsupply.com.

4 thoughts on “What’s the Difference Between White Oak and Red Oak Flooring?

  1. Katie Hallock

    I have an eighty plus year old house. I recently took a wall out and now need to weave wood in to blend. Then refinish with poly. No color. What would your recommendation be on determining if it is red or white oak? Would it show much of a difference if I got the wrong color?

      1. Trish

        Hi – I have two questions
        My oak floors are stained already. Will the above referenced test work on already stained floors?

        I wish to whitewash all my oaK flooring. I read on a blog white oak is better for whitewashing. Does this mean Red oak will not work/look terrible?

        thank you!

        1. City Floor Supply Post author

          If the floor is stained, it will be harder to tell white oak apart from red oak. When “white washing,” the red tones of the red oak will show through as a pinkish undertone.


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