Red Oak Flooring vs. White Oak Flooring

Here in the Northeast, hardwood flooring is a classic flooring option that is elegant in design, timeless, has a great return on investment, and oh so ever popular. It doesn’t seem like its popularity is diminishing either. Within the last few years, there’s been an uprising trend in adding hardwood to the kitchen and bathrooms to match the rest of the home.  The two most popular hardwood flooring used is White Oak and Red Oak. Let’s discuss the difference between them…

It’s easy to assume the red oak flooring is red and white oak flooring is white, (and for good reason). However, there is quite a difference between the two, more than having to do with color.  Red oak does have a “pinkish” undertone. Often in the unfinished form, you’re able to clearly see the pink graining. Depending on which stain you choose, the red/pink tones will be less noticeable. Don’t forget that the darker you go, the more that red undertone will drown out. However, if you’re going to keep a natural finish, (meaning only polyurethane will be applied) the red will show through much more. White oak is darker; yes, it’s actually a bit darker than red oak. Who would’ve thought, right? White Oak often has a yellow and brown undertone.

The graining of each is very different as well. Usually, when a professional is trying to decipher whether a hardwood floor is red or white oak and it has been stained, they will look at the graining to decide.

Red Oak select is much grainier in nature. Because of this, it is much more porous. The grains of red oak are more prominent than white oak. White oak has a smoother and cleaner look. The grains of white are finer and not as “wild” as red oak. Because of this, white oak is denser. On the Janka scale, red oak has a hardness of 1290 while white oak has a hardness of 1360.  However, because red oak has a more pronounced grain pattern, it tends to hide scratches and dents better than white oak.

When installing brand new hardwood throughout the house, the option you choose really depends on aesthetics. But if you need to match hardwoods, that’s a whole other story and a bit more complicated.

White Oak Flooring
Unfinished White Oak Select Hardwood Flooring
Red Oak Flooring Natural
Finished Red Oak Flooring Natural

   The flooring consumer’s NEXT big decision : Now that you’ve chosen the species of hardwood for your home, which grade will you chose, and does the grade effect the quality?  

Didn’t know there were different grades?  Don’t worry, that’s what this Blog’s for!  I went straight to the source for this information…  (The NWFA/NOFMA Grading Standards)  That’s right, look no further… NOFMA has been around for over 100 years and here’s what they have to say about their standard grades:

Lets start from the top.  “Clear”

“A mostly heartwood flooring product (heartwood is the dense inner part of a tree trunk, yielding the hardest timber) that allows all the natural heartwood color variations with minimal character marks and limited color variation.  This combination features the infinitely variable grain patterns with the minimal distraction from character marks and color variation.”

What the “clear grade” means is that there is the least amount of  variation among the planks, like color, graining, and the least amount of blemishes, marks or defects.  This grade isn’t normally used for solid hardwood flooring, basically because it comes from a very small percentage from the tree and, in turn, isn’t very cost effective.  You’ll find the clear grade more in manufactured hardwood products.

Ok, next we have “Select”

“The Select grade contains all the variations in coloration produced by the contrasting differences of heartwood and sapwood.  Also included are minimal character marks, such as small knots, worm holes, and mineral streaks, as well as slightly open characters.  The combination creates a floor where the light sapwood and dark heartwood are combined with small characters and other small color interruptions.”

Basically, what they’re trying to explain is that the “select grade” is your best choice if your looking for flooring that has consistent tones throughout the planks.  This grade has the least amount of variation and the least amount of waste in each bundle.  Being very “clean” in appearance with very few natural blemishes like knots, dark marks and wormholes.  This is the grade that we recommend installing in all our customers’ homes.

So, to sum it up…. choosing between red oak and white is mostly aesthetic.  If you know that you want a more uniform looking floor, then you should definitely choose the white oak.  On the other hand, if you’re looking for those beautiful swirly patterns and a bit more wild grain lines, than your choice should be the red oak.  Either way, we always recommend the select grade of both, to ensure the least amount of surprises.  Look throughout the gallery to see even more examples of each species to further assist you in deciding what your beautiful new hardwood floor will look like.

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