Red Oak – Versatile, Budget Friendly, and Beautiful

Red Oak, at least in the US, is one of those woods that we tend to take for granted. We find it used in everything from flooring to cabinets to furniture. Hard, strong, and moderately priced, red oak presents an exceptional value to woodworkers—which explains why it is so widely used.

Both red and white oak are the most popular wood used to craft American and English country designs. It is also used for Gothic and William & Mary reproductions, as well as many transitional and contemporary pieces.

red oak organRed oak is a heavy and strong wood, with medium bending strength and stiffness, with a high crushing strength. It was great wear-resistance and is very good for steam bending. Prominent rings and large pores give oak a course texture and prominent grain. Sapwood ranges from white to light brown in color and the heartwood is a pinkish reddish brown.

Hand tools and machine tools work fine with red oak and it responds well to steam-bending. It glues, stains, and finishes easily. It has none of the blotching problems that are associated with birch or maple. The open pores absorb more stain, so the grain pattern becomes quite evident when a dark stain is applied to red oak. An almost clear or honey color stain can be applied to highlight the cathedral grain pattern.

Woodworker Tips for Red Oak

You can achieve a near glass like top coat appearance with red oak by using a pore filler. For effect, try top coating a couple of times and then tint the pore filler a contrasting color, fill the pores, sand and then top coat again. The effect is quite fascinating.

Red oak reacts with water and iron and can cause staining and discoloration. Always be sure to wipe up water promptly and wipe away excess glue before it dries, especially if using metal clamps.


Oak is full of tannic acid and in fact the tannic acid in the bark was used for tanning animal hides for centuries. When the tannic acid mixes with the iron in our water it creates a chemical blue dye.

In the days when animal hides were tanned weekly, oak bark was more valuable than the wood!