White Oak Versus Red Oak for Outdoor Exposures

      The key difference is that White Oak has a closed-cell pore structure and is therefore more weather-resistant. November 23, 2012

I am from Australia so we donít get much white oak here to work with. How suitable is kiln dried white oak for a curved timber handrail? Is it ok for a front door if the door is undercover and not exposed to weather?

Forum Responses
(Architectural Woodworking Forum)
From contributor D:
White oak has excellent exterior properties and is great to work with and takes a finish so much better then red oak and is much harder.

From contributor C:
Having worked with both white and red oaks, I would disagree that white oak is "much" harder. I have discerned no great difference in hardness between the two.

From contributor D:
I am referring to Eastern white oak, not sure what type you mean? White is heavier and harder and closed grain compared to red.

From contributor L:
I also prefer white to red oak. The color is somewhat more uniform, it is more weather resistant, and it finishes a bit better. We are just finishing up a good sized job with it. It ran nicely into lots of moldings.

From contributor A:
It's fine for a handrail. It will not rot outside. We often use it for exterior door thresholds. The only problem with making an exterior door is the yellow factor. It will turn yellow if you clear coat it.

From contributor O:
I have used a lot of oak, and I can attest that red oak is often white, white oak is often red and the difference between the two is usually grain pattern. I don't know why, perhaps the size of the harvested trees. Either is fine for a handrail. Although bending oak can be a pain it can be done with a steambath or other methods, depending on the arch you need (I would have to see the handrail).

From contributor B:
White or red has nothing to do with color but about cell structure and as far as that is concerned, there is a big difference. The most important consideration is that white oak has a "closed" cellular structure where red is open. White oak will not readily absorb moisture whereas red oak is a sponge. This made all the difference in the world to conscientious craftsmen living before the age of interior climate control. Red oak was disdained and avoided where ever possible. As far as I'm concerned, white oak is still the best option for flooring and stair treads.

From contributor L:
"How suitable is kiln dried white oak for a curved timber handrail?" If you are sawing it out it is fine. Bent laminating will also work - if you intend to steam bend it: kiln dried doesn't work very well! White oak is pretty stiff!

From contributor O:
I would have to agree, it isn't the best wood for bending. I would go with something else if possible, but if it is ripped into laminate, that is a better bet.
Thanks for the tip above about cell structure, I didn't know that! Learn something new every day. I know color is almost impossible to distinguish sometimes; I will stick with white oak from now on!

From contributor I:
Agree with Contributor D. I find the density of white oak significantly higher than red oak. It also appears to be much lower in tannins, which makes it exceptional for weather exposed use. I use white oak almost exclusively for entry door thresholds.

Would you like to add information to this article?
Interested in writing or submitting an article?
Have a question about this article?

Have you reviewed the related Knowledge Base areas below?
  • KnowledgeBase: Knowledge Base

  • KnowledgeBase: Architectural Millwork

  • KnowledgeBase: Architectural Millwork: General

  • KnowledgeBase: Wood Engineering

  • KnowledgeBase: Wood Engineering: Wood Properties

    Would you like to add information to this article? ... Click Here

    If you have a question regarding a Knowledge Base article, your best chance at uncovering an answer is to search the entire Knowledge Base for related articles or to post your question at the appropriate WOODWEB Forum. Before posting your message, be sure to
    review our Forum Guidelines.

    Questions entered in the Knowledge Base Article comment form will not generate responses! A list of WOODWEB Forums can be found at WOODWEB's Site Map.

    When you post your question at the Forum, be sure to include references to the Knowledge Base article that inspired your question. The more information you provide with your question, the better your chances are of receiving responses.

    Return to beginning of article.

    Refer a Friend || Read This Important Information || Site Map || Privacy Policy || Site User Agreement

    Letters, questions or comments? E-Mail us and let us know what you think. Be sure to review our Frequently Asked Questions page.

    Contact us to discuss advertising or to report problems with this site.

    To report a problem, send an e-mail to our Webmaster

    Copyright © 1996-2021 - Woodweb.com
    All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any manner without permission of the Editor.
    Review Woodweb.com's Copyright Policy.

    The editors, writers, and staff at Woodweb.com try to promote safe practices. What is safe for one woodworker under certain conditions may not be safe for others in different circumstances. Readers should undertake the use of materials and methods discussed at Woodweb.com after considerate evaluation, and at their own risk.

    865 Troxel Road
    Lansdale, PA 19446

    Contact Us

  • WOODWEB - the leading resource for professional woodworkers

      Home » Knowledge Base » Knowledge Base Article