There are many varieties of oak, of which American Oak and European Oak are two of the most famous. If you’re considering oak hardwood for your next project, here’s everything you need to know about the difference between American and European oak.
Both oak wood types are beautiful, strong and durable woods which are considered suitable for a wide range of applications, from furniture making to flooring, construction and outdoor projects. However, the two species aren’t exactly alike when it comes to appearance and various physical characteristics, which we will explore in detail here.
Both American oak (Quercus Alba) and European oak (Quercus Petraea) belong to the same genus and have acorns on their trees, which is how they reproduce.
About American oak
American white oak is a popular commercial hardwood timber throughout the US and in other parts of the world. It’s native to the Eastern United States and has a light to medium brown heartwood. It is a hard and durable wood that is used in boatbuilding, flooring, furniture making, cabinetry, and outdoor applications. It’s easy to work with and moderately expensive wood.
About European oak
Found in most of Europe, this hardwood is both used locally and exported to other regions. It is very durable in terms of resistance to decay and is extensively used in outdoor applications and boatbuilding. The heartwood is light to medium brown and generally has an olive cast. It is easy to work with and used in cabinetry, flooring, furniture, veneer, and boatbuilding.
American Oak vs European Oak
Tree & Origin
Both are large trees with broad crowns. European oak trees are generally taller, while American oak trees have wider crowns.
The average height of an American oak tree is 65-85 ft (20-25 m) and the trunk diameter is around 3-4 ft (1-1.2 m) trunk diameter. English Oak or European Oak trees are about 80-115 ft (24-35 m) tall and have a 3-5 ft (1-1.5 m) trunk diameter.
While it is found mainly in eastern and central North America, European oak is native to Britain and Western Europe, mainly France.
European oak features a warm, honeyed golden brown colour, which is usually darker and richer than the lighter brown colour of American oak. Its grain pattern is more prominent with visible knots, swirls, and occasional figuring, which gives the timber a rustic and charming appeal. On the other hand, American oak has a less specific, straighter and more uniform grain pattern, which makes it perfect for simple boards with a uniform look.
Both types of oak display some level of colour variation, which is common in natural timber and makes the wood look more attractive. The colour across European oak boards is more consistent with a unique grain pattern. American oak is particularly famous for its colour variation but the grain pattern is indistinct.
Strength & hardness
When comparing European oak to American white oak in terms of strength and density, you’ll find that hardwoods are robust and scratch-resistant. While European oak with an approximate density of 675kg/m³ is quite dense, American oak is slightly denser at around 759kg/m³, making it a little harder and stronger.
European oak scores a decent 1,120 lbf on the Janka scale, indicating its hardness and resistance to wear. In comparison, American oak is a little better with a score of 1,360 lbf, which shows that it’s harder and more resistant to heavy use and potential damage.
European oak outperforms American white oak in terms of durability and resistance to outdoor elements such as weather and heat. Both kinds of wood can withstand moisture, UV rays, and decay, but European oak does it better. Kiln-dried European oak is protected against moisture and is an excellent choice for outdoor use.
American white oak, while durable and moderately resistant to decay, has larger pores, which might make it susceptible to water absorption over time and cause the wood to warp. Additionally, exposure to heat and sunlight can lead to discolouration in American white oak. Therefore, European oak is generally a superior choice for outdoor projects where longevity and aesthetics are a concern.
American Oak, known for its durability, requires rather low maintenance. It doesn’t warp or split easily due to its tight grain. Regular dusting and occasional polishing are a good way to keep your American Oak furniture or flooring beautiful for a long time and enhance their lifespan. Stains and scratches on the floor or furniture can be easily repaired in this low-maintenance wood.
European Oak, while equally strong and durable, usually has a slightly more open grain, which means it can capture dirt and moisture faster. However, with proper care, including regular cleaning, polishing and sealing, its furniture and flooring will maintain their elegance for generations. Maintenance requirements may be slightly higher, but is definitely worth the effort.
European oak is known for its excellent response to natural oil finishes, which further enhances the appearance of the wood. On the other hand, the finishing results on American white oak are less consistent.
European oak also responds well to ‘fuming,’ where the wood is darkened using chemicals to give it a rich, walnut-like appearance and improve its grain pattern. American oak also produces great results with fuming and the outcome is a more attractive wood with variable hue.
Both European and American oak respond well to screw and nail applications. However, contact with iron for a long time might lead to colour leaching.
Price & Availability
American Oak has abundant availability in North America and is therefore a usually more affordable option for woodworkers and homeowners in regions where it grows naturally. It is a cost-effective choice for furniture and flooring projects in the region. Moreover, the popularity and high availability of American Oak ensures that a wide range of wood products and timber in various sizes are readily accessible in the market. It is moderately priced for exported wood.
European Oak, which is native to Europe, is highly regarded for its quality, appearance and durability. Due to its limited growth and availability, European Oak can be pricier and less accessible, especially in regions other than where it grows naturally. Its high demand also drives up costs, especially for exported wood products.
Both European oak and American oak are outstanding choices for structural and construction applications, such as homebuilding and exterior uses like pergolas, gazebos, porches, and garages. European oak is most commonly used in the UK and Europe, while American white oak is favoured by woodworkers in the United States depending on availability.
Both woods are versatile and considered suitable for various interior uses, from flooring and furniture making to cabinetry, interior millwork, worktops, doors, windows, and skirting. While American oak is known for its uniform appearance and modest grain appeal, European oak is favoured for its unique wavy grain pattern offering a rustic, characterful interior theme.
European oak, due to its resistance to moisture, is better suited for outdoor use, as it is less prone to warping and cracking over time even when in contact with water. It’s also a better choice for bathrooms and kitchens.
American vs European Oak: Which hardwood is suitable for you?
If you’re working on a new woodworking project and looking for the right hardwood, both American Oak and European Oak are excellent choices. Both are attractive, strong and durable woods. European oak is darker and slightly more durable than American oak. Also, you must factor in the availability and price of timber in your region.
Confused? Contact Cameroon Timber Export Sarl or visit our website to explore our wide range of premium quality hardwoods, sawn timber, and logs available in various custom sizes and at a great price. If you need help selecting the right wood for your next project, contact us to talk to an expert.