Oak is among the most attractive and sturdiest of hardwoods. Its rich tones and steel-like structure make it a favorite material of carpenters, furniture makers and professional and amateur woodworkers. Different oak types bear a variety of patterns and grains that accent the wood.
Among the most common oak wood types is that produced by the red oak tree. Straight-grained with a coarse texture, this oak type grows commonly in North America. The wood takes on a pinkish-red hue and is a popular material for furniture, shelving and other home fixtures.
In the wild, red oak trees sport broad, lobed leaves that come to a point on each lobe. These trees tend to be equally stable in woodland and city environments, because red oaks withstand city pollutants better than many trees.
Like red oak, white oak also is abundant in North America. Straight-grained with a medium-to-coarse texture, white oak wood is popular for construction and flooring. White oak tends to have longer grain rays than red oak and allows for little water penetration.
In the wild, white oak trees have broad leaves with rounded lobes and provide overarching shade.
European oak, also commonly referred to as English oak, is known for its steel-like consistency. Like other oaks, this type is course and straight grained. Pale brown in color, the many uses of English oak include ship building and outdoor woodwork.
Other variations of oak wood are named for their grain appearance. Tiger oak has a brown stripy hue. Pippy oak shows a grain that makes patterns similar to cat paws, and burr oak is known for its density.
Bog oak, a very rare wood, is naturally treated by soaking in peat bogs for several hundred years. Its rich dark colors and rarity make it an expensive wood.
Other Uses of Oak
Like nearly all hardwoods and fruit- or acorn-bearing trees, oak makes popular fuel wood for grilling, smoking and fire roasting. It often is the basis for natural lump charcoal and can be combined with hickory, apple and other hardwoods for flavor variations.
Oak also is the preferred wood for whiskey casks, with the richness of the wood actually contributing to the flavor. Scotch whiskey, for example, is not considered to be true Scotch until it has matured for at least three years in oak casks. Oak barrels also are used in wine making, affecting the taste, color and character of the final product.