Common Name(s): Red oak
Scientific Name: Quercus rubra
Distribution: Northeastern United States and Southeastern Canada
Tree Size: 80-115 ft (25-35 m) tall,
3-6 ft (1-2 m) trunk diameter
Average Dried Weight: 44 lbs/ft3 (700 kg/m3)
Specific Gravity (Basic, 12% MC): 0.56, 0.7
Janka Hardness: 1,220 lbf (5,430 N)
Modulus of Rupture: 14,380 lbf/in2 (99.2 MPa)
Elastic Modulus: 1,761,000 lbf/in2 (12.14 GPa)
Crushing Strength: 6,780 lbf/in2 (46.8 MPa)
Shrinkage: Radial: 4%, Tangential: 8.6%,
Volumetric: 13.7%, T/R Ratio: 2.2
Color/Appearance: Heartwood is a light to medium brown, commonly with a reddish cast. Paler sapwood is not always sharply demarcated from the heartwood. Quartersawn sections display prominent ray fleck patterns (see images below). White oak (Quercus alba) tends to have a slightly more olive cast (as opposed to red), but color alone isn’t always a reliable method of determining the type of oak.
Grain/Texture: Grain is straight, with a coarse, uneven texture. The pores are so large and open that it is said that a person can blow into one end of the wood, and air will come out the other end: provided that the grain runs straight enough. (See the video below.)
Rot Resistance: Rated as non-durable to perishable, with poor insect resistance. Can become discolored and stained when in contact with water, particularly in the porous growth ring areas. Red oak does not have the level of decay and rot resistance that white oak possesses.
Workability: Produces good results with hand and machine tools. Has moderately high shrinkage values, resulting in mediocre dimensional stability, especially in flatsawn boards. Can react with iron (particularly when wet) and cause staining and discoloration. Responds well to steam-bending. Glues, stains, and finishes well.
Odor: Has a tell-tale smell that is common to most oaks. Most find it appealing.
Allergies/Toxicity: Although severe reactions are quite uncommon, oak has been reported as a sensitizer. Usually most common reactions simply include eye and skin irritation, as well as asthma-like symptoms. See the articles Wood Allergies and Toxicity and Wood Dust Safety for more information.
Pricing/Availability: Abundant availability in a good range of widths and thicknesses, both as flatsawn and quartersawn lumber. Usually slightly less expensive than White Oak, prices are moderate for a domestic hardwood, though thicker planks or quartersawn boards are slightly more expensive.
Sustainability: This wood species is not listed in the CITES Appendices, and is reported by the IUCN as being a species of least concern.
Common Uses: Cabinetry, furniture, interior trim, flooring, and veneer.
Comments: Arguably the most popular hardwood in the United States, red oak is a ubiquitous sight in many homes. Even many vinyl/imitation wood surfaces are printed to look like red oak. Handsome, strong, and moderately priced, Red Oak presents an exceptional value to woodworkers—which explains why it is so widely used in cabinet and furniture making.
Images: Drag the slider up/down to toggle between raw and finished wood. There is also a second quartersawn sample to help show the ray fleck pattern.
Porosity: ring porous
Arrangement: exclusively solitary earlywood pores in rows of two to four, latewood pores in radial/dendritic arrangement
Vessels: very large in earlywood, small in latewood; tyloses absent or scarce
Rays: narrow and very wide, normal spacing
Lookalikes/Substitutes: Besides being confused with white oak (see notes below), oak species in general are sometimes confused with other ring-porous hardwoods like chestnut (Castanea genus) and ash (Fraxinus genus). But oak species have very wide rays which make them easy to separate from other ring-porous woods, which generally have narrower rays.
Notes: Red oak heartwood lacks tyloses (small, bubble-like structures), while species of white oak have abundant tyloses that can be seen in the large earlywood pores. Additionally, ray height, when viewed on the face grain, tends to be shorter on red oak (rarely exceeding one inch in length). See the article on distinguishing red and white oak for more details.