Texture & Properties of Oak Wood

Written by erik devaney
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Texture & Properties of Oak Wood
Notice the parallel grains of this oak wood. (Oak Wood Grain Detail Close Up image by James Phelps from Fotolia.com)

According to Robinson's Woodcrafts, over 80 different species of oak exist in the United States, with the most populous---and popular amongst woodworkers---being white and red oak. Several features make oak wood an excellent choice of lumber, specifically when it comes to its texture and its physical properties.

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Oak is a coarse wood, according to the Urban Forest Ecosystem Institute, and has straight grains, which means all of its fibres are in a parallel orientation. In addition, the surface of oak wood is open-pored, meaning it has a number of small holes that can trap paint and stain and create interesting colour contrasts in the wood. The grains of oak wood also have other tiny irregularities on their surfaces that reflect light at different angles. Many different textural patterns can emerge due to this effect, such as pinstripes and flakes.


In general, oak wood is dense, stiff and resistant to wear and decay. The most durable types of oak are not specific species, but instead are the fastest grown. According the American Hardwood Export Council, the wood from quickly-grown oaks tends to be heavier and harder than the wood from a slow-grown variety. For example, white oak and southern red oak are typically stronger than their northern counterparts, because their warmer climate allows them to grow faster.


The appearance of oak wood depends largely on the species from which it comes. While white oak produces a creamy white outer wood that turns to a darker, greyish-brown in its centre, red oak produces a nearly white or light brown outer wood that gradually becomes pinkish or reddish-brown as you get closer to its heartwood. You can always modify the appearance of your oak by using a stain, paint or some other coating. The porosity and grain alignment of oak wood make it particularly well-suited for receiving and maintaining finishes.

Working Properties

Oak wood is an excellent construction material that machines well, meaning you can easily saw, cut and carve it into the sizes and shapes you need. In addition, oak works well with glues, nails and screws. However, due to its hardness, you will likely want to pre-drill or pre-bore some holes in your oak wood before inserting screws. Also, oak wood reacts with iron and causes it to rust, so you should try to use galvanised nails whenever possible. According to the American Hardwood Export Council, the one major drawback to oak wood is that it is particularly susceptible to shrinkage. This means that once an oak tree is cut down, it takes a long time for the wood to dry out, and during this process it shrinks considerably. This shrinkage can sometimes cause oak wood to warp and develop splits.

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