Most people are surprised to learn that white oak is actually darker then red oak. White oak is slightly darker, browner and more yellow; red oak is slightly lighter and has pink undertones. White oak has a smoother grain then red oak.
1. Color – red oak has a bit of a pinkish tint is a little bit lighter than white oak. White oak tends to be a bit browner, darker and more yellow. As they start out with different colors and have different densities, red oak and white oak absorb stains differently. When you stain them, the difference between the 2 species decreases, especially the darker you go. With lighter stains, the red oak tends to have a bit of red undertone in the color.
2. Grain – red oak tends to have stronger grain than white oak hardwood. White oak has a bit of a smoother look. Some people prefer the strong grain of red oak – both because they like the look and because the strong grain helps hide the scratches and dents; other prefer the slightly smoother grain of white oak and feel it’s a less busy look.
3. Hardness – white oak flooring is a bit harder than red oak. On the Janka hardness scale, White oak is 1360 and red oak is 1290. But, as I mentioned above, even though red oak is a bit less hard, it tends to show the dents a bit less.
4. White oak is more resistant to water than red oak. Because white oak is a closed grain wood, it more impervious to water. Many of pores are plugged with tyloses making it more resistant to decay and rot. This is why it’s used more often in boat building. And, it’s also why it’s better to use white oak on front door jambs as well as other areas that may be more exposed to water and nature’s elements.
5. Color stain-- White oak tends to come out a bit darker and browner while red oak tends to come out a bit lighter and has a bit of red undertones. You tend to notice the red undertones more in red oak with lighter stains; the darker you go, the more it drowns out the pink/red. Below are all examples of oak with stains. For those looking to go gray, white oak works much better. The color and the grain just work better with this cool tone.
Conclusion: Both red and white oak are great options. Some people prefer the look of red oak while others prefer white oak.