People have used oak wood for centuries, but rubberwood is a relative newcomer to the lumber market. The wood of each tree has similarities with respect to strength, durability and how the lumber is used. The two types of wood look very different from one another and the trees they come from inhabit different parts of the world.
Oak, a member of the beech family, is a deciduous tree that grows 60 to 80 feet tall. Its range in North America is from Oklahoma to Minnesota, eastward to New Brunswick and from Ontario to southern Georgia. Oaks produce acorns, which are an important food source for deer, turkeys, squirrels and other wild animals. Rubberwood comes from the rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis), which is the world's primary source of natural latex. Trees grow to 75 feet with straight trunks that can reach 3 feet in diameter. Rubberwood trees are tapped for latex for about 30 years before they are no longer viable producers. A member of the maple family, rubberwood is native to Brazil and grows in tropical regions of Asia, Africa and South America.
Woodworkers have used oak almost as long as people have made things from wood. Builders have used it extensively in building construction and as panels in the interiors of regal structures like the British House of Commons. European shipmakers favored oak for its toughness and durability, producing large sailing vessels from oak until the 19th century. Once its useful life as a producer of latex was spent, people formerly cut down rubberwood trees and often used them as firewood. Since the 1980s, producers have marketed wood from rubber trees as an alternative to other, often more expensive, lumbers.
Oak is a very heavy hardwood species with close, porous grain and prominent rings that give the wood a coarse texture. White oak is pale with a slight greenish cast while red oak, the more favored variety, has a reddish-brown tint. Rubberwood has a similar coarse texture, but with a symmetrical, straight grain that is tighter than the rings in oak. Its appearance has been more likened to teak. Rubberwood is white or cream to yellow in color.
Woodworkers use oak in furniture, veneers, kitchen cabinets, flooring and interior finishing. It takes stains well, is durable, and is bendable with steam. Its toughness means that nails and screws often require pre-drilled holes. A high concentration of tannin makes oak wood resistant to insect and fungal attacks. Rubberwood is mostly a component of furniture, but appears in flooring and in general construction. Very tough and durable, rubberwood is resistant to molds, fungus and bacteria. Rubberwood has very little shrinkage, an important factor to furniture builders who prize wood that exhibits little movement. Rubberwood takes stains well.
Since rubberwood comes from trees that would have ended up as waste, it is considered an eco-friendly source of lumber versus trees like oak that are grown and felled only for lumber.