Hard, strong, and charming, oak and walnut are highly desirable woods worldwide. They make beautiful furniture, cabinets, and flowing materials. Additionally, both are sufficiently weather-resistant to make durable outdoor furniture.
So, which one should you pick for your next woodworking project, assuming you have the freedom? Below is a comprehensive comparison of Oak vs Walnut to help you make the right decision.
Oak vs Walnut Wood: Which is Better?
Oak and walnut are similar in many respects, including physical properties. So, both are great choices for furniture, flooring, cabinets, and other woodworking projects. However, oak is more durable and slightly more affordable than walnut, making it a better choice for most woodworking projects.
The following is a brief overview of oak and walnut woods to set the stage for a head-to-head comparison.
What’s Oak Wood?
Oak, also known as Quercus, is a deciduous hardwood commonly found in the northern hemisphere, especially in North America. There are more than 600 oak tree species, most of which can live for 150+ years.
The most popular oak species are red oak, black oak, and white oak. The cherry bark oak, willow oak, and chestnut oak are other common varieties.
Oak Wood Properties
Oakwood varies in color, from reddish-brown to a golden brown, depending on the species and where it’s grown. However, all oaks dry to a pleasant silver tone over time or after air drying.
The color is uniform throughout the trunks and branches. Oak has an uneven, coarse texture and distinct, straight grain pattern that stands out without staining or waxing.
It’s a hard, strong, and durable wood. For instance, white oak is rated 1360 lbf on the Janka scale, whereas black oak scores 1280 lbf on the same scale.
Oak wood is naturally water-resistant. Therefore, oak furniture can live outdoors without pressure treatment. Additionally, oak wood resists shrinkage, making it ideal for door and window frames.
It also resists warping. Its natural tannins also make oak wood resistant to insect and fungi attacks. Therefore, oak items can live many years without rotting.
Above all, oakwood is extremely durable. Oak beams from the Tudor era (the 1400s to 1600s) support upper floor structures to date.
Pros and Cons of Oak Wood
Oak Wood Pros
- It’s extremely durable
- It’s resistant to scratches and dents
- It boasts a beautiful grain pattern
- Naturally weather and moisture resistant
- Resistant to insects, pests, and fungi
Oak Wood Cons
- Oakwood is heavy
- It’s difficult to cut
- Minor stains can damage oakwood permanently
Oak Wood Uses
Oakwood has endless applications. For instance, oak wood furniture and European oak flooring are very popular. Additionally, oak is the perfect lumber for paneling, joinery, decking, and veneers.
What is Walnut Wood?
Walnut wood refers to lumber obtained from the juglans genus. Juglans trees grow throughout the eastern United States, American Midwest, and Eastern Canada. They are also common in China, Iran, Turkey, and Mexico.
There are at least a dozen walnut tree species. However, the most common ones are black walnut, English walnut, butternut, and claro walnut.
Most American woodworkers use the black walnut (juglans nigra) as it’s the most common in the country and therefore affordable.
Walnut Wood Properties
Walnut tree heartwood colors vary depending on the species. For instance, black walnut is pale/light brown to chocolate brown with darker brown streaks.
However, other types of walnut are grey, while others are reddish and purple. Meanwhile, the thin sapwood is pale-gray to nearly white.
Walnut wood has a straight grain, often with figured grain patterns including curls, burls, and crotches. It has a medium texture and moderate luster.
Walnut wood is rated “very durable,” meaning it is highly resistant to decay and rotting. But unfortunately, it’s susceptible to extreme weather and insect attacks.
Walnut lumber has a slight, faint odor. However, it doesn’t trigger allergies, though you may experience a little eye irritation if you work on the wood without eye protection.
Walnut Wood Pros and Cons
Walnut Wood Pros
- It’s available in a striking range of colors
- Boasts beautiful figured grains
- It’s resistant to mold and water
- Its decay and rot-resistant
Walnut Wood Cons
- It’s susceptible to insects
- It is expensive
- It requires significant maintenance
Walnut Timber Uses
Walnut wood is mainly used in furniture and interior decoration. Walnut furniture is durable and beautiful.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t make a great choice for outdoor furniture because of its poor weather resistance and susceptibility to pests. Other common applications of walnut include flooring and musical instruments.
Oak Vs Walnut Wood: Head-to-Head
Hopefully, you now know enough about each of the two wood types to make an informed choice. Nevertheless, below is a head-to-head comparison to make your decision even easier.
Walnut vs oak color
Unfortunately, comparing oak and walnut wood colors is not very easy. Both come in a wide range of colors depending on the specific species and origin of the tree.
For instance, the color of oak ranges from medium reddish brown (black oak and red oak) to golden brown (European species, such as the English oak).
Meanwhile, walnut comes in even more colors, from a pale light brown to purple and pinkish red. So, the only common thing about their colors is that both come in beautiful shades.
Both walnut and oak are hardwoods. More importantly, both are on the upper-middle section of the Janka scale. For instance, the American black walnut is rated 1010 lbf on the Janka scale, whereas the white oak is rated 1360 lbf on the same scale.
Unfortunately, it’s impossible to say that one is harder than the other because some walnut species are harder than some oak species and vice versa.
Both walnut and oak are durable wood species. However, oak is much more durable than walnut wood. It stands up to daily use better and is highly resistant to scratches, dents, and general damage. Indeed, oak wood can last a lifetime with proper care.
Walnut is durable too. It doesn’t warp or change shape due to heat. So, walnut furniture and floors can last decades with good maintenance. Unfortunately, it deteriorates fast when exposed to elements.
Water and rot resistance
Oak is more water-resistant than walnut wood. Both have a high level of water resistance, though. For instance, when properly sealed, walnut can withstand water spills and light rain.
However, the main difference is that oak is naturally water-resistant. Oak wood is dense and non-porous, thus resisting water absorption. Therefore, oak outdoor furniture doesn’t need sealing.
Insect and pest resistance
Oak and walnut are both pest and insect resistant. However, oak is much more resistant to pests, insects, and fungi than walnut wood.
The main reason is that oak wood contains unpalatable natural tannins that are toxic to many pests and insects. The natural tannins also resist fungal attacks.
Walnut is resistant to pests and insects too. However, not to the level of oak. For instance, although the heartwood is extremely pest and insect resistant, the sapwood isn’t. Therefore, it’s best to apply insect treatment to walnut lumber before use.
Strength and density
Walnut is generally stronger than oakwood, meaning it can take more lead without breaking or bending. The standard walnut wood has a compressive strength of 7580 psi, while oak is at 6760 psi.
Walnut and oak both fall in the upper range for wood densities. However, we’d say that oak is denser than walnut, though some walnut species are heavier/denser than some oak varieties.
Oakwood densities range from about 600 kg/cubic meter to 900 kg/cubic meter, while walnut wood densities range from 650 kg/cubic meter to 700 kg/cubic meter.
Workability and finishing
Though one would argue that walnut is more demanding than oak, both wood types are fairly easy to work and finish. Indeed, both can be left unfinished.
However, generally, most people stain oak wood to bring out the prominent grains. Meanwhile, walnut is best finished with a clear coat finish to accentuate its rich, natural color.
Different oak and walnut woods are priced differently, depending on many factors. However, generally, walnut is more expensive than oak wood.
This may seem strange given that oak seems ahead in nearly every head-to-head battle. However, walnut has a special quality that oak doesn’t – rarity.
Humans love rare items, and walnut is quite rare. The price difference can be as much as $60 per square meter for selected oak and walnut species.
Here’s more on Oak Wood Price.
Walnut and oak have many unique and overlapping applications. Oak is mainly used in outdoor furniture. It makes beautiful, strong, durable outdoor furniture that can live for 100+ years without succumbing to moisture, temperature variations, and daily wear.
Other applications of oak wood include flooring, joinery, paneling, and decking. On the other hand, walnut is best suited to indoor furniture and flooring.
For instance, the rare dark chocolate color of black walnut furniture is a sight to behold. Other walnut wood applications include musical instruments and interior decoration.
Oak vs Walnut Wood Items Comparison
Oak vs Walnut Cutting Boards
Walnut is better for cutting boards than oak for one main reason – porosity! Oak wood is highly porous and often compared to ashwood in this regard.
Porous woods aren’t ideal for chopping boards because they harbor dirt and bacteria. Walnut has a tighter grain structure, thus a more suitable choice for cutting boards.
Read more to find out why oak is not recommended for cutting boards.
Walnut vs Oak Furniture
Walnut and oak both make beautiful, strong, and durable furniture. However, oak is best for outdoor and rustic style furniture because of its coarse grain and incredible resistance to weather and wear.
On the other hand, walnut is less weather resistant, thus best suited to indoor furniture.
Oak Flooring vs Walnut Flooring
It’s hard to pick a winner between walnut and oak floors. On the one hand, walnut floors are more charming and highly valued.
But on the other hand, oak floors are generally cheaper, stronger, and more durable. So, it comes down to your priorities.
Oak vs Walnut Wood: Verdict
When to Use Oak Wood: Oak wood is ideal for outdoor furniture and general flooring applications. It is strong, durable, and weather that easily withstands outdoor elements and foot traffic.
When to Use Walnut Wood: Walnut is the ideal wood for luxury indoor furniture at a reasonable price. It’s strong, beautiful, and sufficiently resistant to wear and tear for indoor applications.