Illustration by Mike Del Rizzo
With over 250 species of oak worldwide, Northern red oak is North America’s most widely used and available hardwoods, and with good reason. Northern red oak grows from south eastern Ontario all the way out to the Maritimes, trees usually measuring 60-80 feet with a diameter of about 3 feet. Red oak belongs to the beech family(Fagaceae).
Straight grain and prominent rays define this classic wood, although the rays are usually shorter and darker in colour than white oak. The sapwood is almost white, usually measuring no more than two inches thick, while the heartwood is a light reddish brown. Red oak has a coarse texture and is extremely porous.
Typically red oak machines quite well but watch out for splintering and chipping. If possible, avoid cutting across the grain. Not the most fun to work by hand although it turns and steam bends fairly well. Because of its large pores, consider using pore filler before attempting to stain or finish the wood. Pre-drilling for installing screws is also recommended, due to the woods density.
Red oak is a strong, dense hardwood with good steam bending qualities, high shock resistance, medium bending strength and stiffness. It has a specific gravity of 0.63 at 12% moisture content.
Being the most commonly used hardwood in North America, red oak’s uses are extensive, including mine timbers, railroad ties, architectural interiors, flooring, millwork, cabinetry, plywood, coffins, pallets and more. The bark in red oak is rich in tannin, used in tanning leather. Supplies of red oak are plentiful and because it’s one of the faster growing species of oak, chances are it will remain widely available and inexpensive for years to come. Red oak runs about $3.75-$4.25 per bdft for 4/4 select and better.