10 Questions About Oak Wood Furniture

Beth Rice 04/05/2023

Solid oak wood furniture is a top performer. Oak wood is strong, natural and wears a spirited wood grain pattern. Oak wood continues to be the number one choice for solid wood furniture made in America. What makes oak wood a top pick? How does it perform and how does it compare to other hardwoods? We’re breaking down the top ten questions we get about America’s most popular wood choice for furniture.

With all the different types of oak trees, what types of oak wood are used to build furniture?

There are over 500 varieties of oak trees to be found around the world. North America offers the largest number of oak species, with over 60 growing in the United States. Our Amish woodworkers use oak that is regionally sourced. Oak trees can generally be divided into two groups: red oaks and white oaks. White oaks grow anywhere from 60 to 100 feet high, and the trunk of a white oak can blossom up to four feet wide. Red oaks reach heights between 50 and 80 feet, and their trunks can expand two to three feet wide. Red and white oak woods are popular picks for crafting solid wood furniture. Our Amish oak furniture is made with red oak, and our quarter sawn oak furniture is made with white oak wood.

Amish Lee Bent Feather Bow Back Chair
Amish Lee Bent Feather Bow Back Chair in oak wood with golden honey stain.

What color is oak wood?

Oak wood is primarily a light-colored wood. Red oak actually has lighter shades than white oak wood.

White oak heartwood (wood located toward the center of the log) is light to medium brown, with some medium and dark brown and tan shades with a little yellow mixed in. Red oak wood colors range from white to soft brown with both heartwood and sapwood (wood located in the outer rings of the log) showcasing a pinkish hue.

Amish Shaker Hall Table
Amish Shaker Hall Table in oak wood with harvest stain.

What is oak wood’s grain pattern like?

Oak wood grain pattern is one of the most outspoken, free-flowing grain patterns you can find. Oak makes no apologies for its prominent grain pattern, and it’s a factor that makes oak wood easier to identify. On a piece of oak wood furniture you’ll find long curving arches and loops that are compressed into thin, parallel lines in some areas. The grain is deep and rugged. Oak wood will have some knots that add to its character as well as the texture of the wood.

How strong is oak wood compared to other woods?

Oak wood for furniture scores big when it comes to strength. A reliable measure of a wood type’s strength is the Janka Hardness Test. This test is considered the industry standard for comparing the relative hardness of different wood species. The Janka Hardness Test measures the force needed to embed a .444 inch (11.28 millimeters) tiny steel ball to half its diameter into a piece of wood. The test exposes the wood’s ability to handle wear or denting. The higher the number score, the harder the wood is.

White oak wood has a Janka rating of 1360, while red oak scores a 1290. Oak is harder than most woods used to make furniture. In comparison, cherry wood has a Janka rating of 950 and walnut wood has 1010. Oak wood is a sturdy, durable choice for furniture. Its strength and hardness make it a fine candidate for furniture used daily.

Amish Grand Calumet Short Chest Quick Ship
Amish Grand Calumet Short Chest Quick Ship in oak wood with Bel Air stain.

An interesting contributing factor that makes oak such a durable wood type can be found in the endgrain of oak heartwood, particularly white oak. Red oak’s endgrain has open and porous growth rings. White oaks’ endgrain includes growth rings and pores full of tyloses, and tyloses help contribute to making white oak even more resistant to rot and decay.

Is stain or paint better for oak furniture?

Oak furniture displays stain nicely and can be finished in a variety of stain colors. Stained oak wood furniture makes for a beautiful look in any room. One of the reasons our Amish woodworkers like to work with oak wood is because it takes stain well.  Paint however, is not as friendly to oak. Perhaps it’s not the paint that’s not friendly, but oak’s dynamic wood grain. Oak’s course texture and prominent grain will continue to noticeable under paint.

What is oak wood used for?

Oak wood is, of course, popular for wood furniture, particularly pieces that need to endure heavy use. With the durability and function it offers, oak wood is also used for cabinets and flooring, and it is popular for use in boats since it offers some resistance to rot and decay. You may find oak used for trim inside homes too.

Amish Ridgemont Oak Wood Hope Chest
Amish Ridgemont Oak Wood Hope Chest with provincial finish.

How does the cost of oak wood compare to other hardwoods?

Oak is one of the two least expensive woods used for furniture, adding to its appeal. White oak costs a bit more than red oak, offering added resistance to rot and decay and a little more hardness and stability than red oak wood.

Are regular oak wood and quarter sawn oak wood different wood types?

“Regular” or “plain sawn” oak and quarter sawn oak are both oak woods. The difference that exists between them is the way in which they are cut and the look of the wood grain pattern.

Oak wood for furniture is most commonly cut using the plain or flat sawn method. Plain sawing means cutting the wood parallel through the log where growth rings intersect the face of the board at no bigger than a 30 degree angle. More of the log can be used with the plain sawn method and it costs less than quarter sawing the wood. Plain sawn oak wood will show the prominent grain pattern characteristic of oak wood.

Quarter sawn oak wood involves rotating the oak log after each cut. The growth rings intersect the face of the board at a 90 degree angle. The log is cut in quarters, then the quarters are turned and cut again. These little turns produce an incredible result that’s reflected in the unique look produced. The quarter sawing method creates a straighter grain pattern for oak that’s not as thick as its plan sawn pattern. Quarter sawing also adds to the stability of the wood and its resistance to warping and cupping.

Here at DutchCrafters, our Amish woodworkers use red oak for oak furniture and white oak for quarter sawn oak furniture.

How does oak wood compare to cherry wood?

Oak wood and cherry wood both make fine candidates for solid wood furniture. They are both hardwoods, but cherry is known to be a softer hardwood. While you want to take exceptional care of all solid wood furniture, cherry has more of a “handle with care” nature than oak. Oak wood comes out ahead with a higher Janka rating of 1360 versus cherry’s 950.

When it comes to wood grain patterns, oak and cherry are polar opposites. Oak’s wood grain can be all over the place and is never shy, whereas cherry wood grain is fine, straight, simple and smooth. Cherry’s wood grain has a smooth texture overall, with some occasional pith flecks (brown streaks caused by worm tracks), gum pockets and mineral deposits present.

Amish Ripple Back Server
Amish Ripple Back Server in cherry wood.

Both are good woods to work with for crafting wood furniture. Cherry colors differ from oak in that they include shades from blond to reddish brown, whereas oak contains more browns and tans. Cherry wood also has the unique trait of darkening over time with exposure to light.

Cherry wood will cost more than oak. Cherry is in high demand and not as readily available as oak, which drives up the cost.

How does oak wood compare to brown maple wood?

Brown maple wood has been compared to cherry wood due to its smooth wood grain and distinguished look. In terms of strength and hardness, oak comes out ahead with that Janka rate of 1390 compared to brown maple’s 950, the same hardness rating as cherry wood.

Oak’s wood grain pattern is more active than brown maples. Brown maple wood has a smooth, uniform wood grain. It’s this characteristic that contributes to brown maple wood being a fine candidate for a painted finish. Another characteristic to note about brown maple is that it can contain mineral streaks (a natural occurrence in the wood). Because of these streaks, darker stains and paints are often recommended when finishing brown maple furniture, whereas oak wood furniture shines beautifully in both light stains and dark ones.

Amish Home Office Spring Valley Desk
Amish Home Office Spring Valley Desk with brown maple base.

Both oak and brown maple can be crafted into a variety of solid wood furniture styles. Oak wood and brown maple wood are the two least expensive wood selections for fine wood furniture, so they’re tied in that department.

Oak wood furniture is a favorite. Of all the hardwoods used to make furniture, it has the most prominent grain pattern. Oak wood cannot be described as dull or ordinary, it’s too active and dynamic for that. Oak wood furniture is warm and inviting, strong and durable with a genuine natural beauty.

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