Does Red Oak Stain Well?

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As a woodworking fanatic with perpetually stained hands, I’ve experimented with every type of wood under the sun. Red oak’s intricate grain has always tempted me, but I could never get the deeper stains to penetrate properly. After too many muddy fiascos, I finally cracked the code to flawlessly staining red oak dark colors.

I’ll explain my simple steps using common products you probably have lying around. With a little know-how, you’ll be staining red oak like a pro and bringing out its striking beauty. No more frustration or disappointment! Just rich, dramatic tones that make your oak projects truly swoon-worthy.

QUICK ANSWER:

Yes, red oak stains well. It effectively accepts dark and medium stains, enhancing its natural reddish-brown color. For optimal results, use a pre-stain wood conditioner and fine-grit sandpaper preparation.

What Are The Qualities of Red Oak?

Red oak is a popular hardwood that is known for its strength, durability, and beauty. It has a medium Janka hardness rating of 1,220 lbf, which means that it is hard enough to resist dents and scratches, but not so hard that it is difficult to work with.

Red oak is also a good choice for projects that will be exposed to moisture, as it has a high natural resistance to decay.

Here are some of the qualities of red oak lumber:

  • Strength: Red oak is a strong and durable wood that is well-suited for a variety of applications. It is often used for furniture, flooring, and other projects that require a high degree of strength.
  • Durability: Red oak is also a very durable wood that can withstand years of use and abuse. It is resistant to scratches, dents, and moisture, making it a good choice for both indoor and outdoor applications.
  • Beauty: Red oak has a beautiful natural appearance that is characterized by its rich reddish-brown color and its distinctive grain pattern. It can be stained or finished to a variety of colors, making it a versatile choice for a variety of projects.
  • Workability: Red oak is a relatively easy wood to work with. It can be sawed, planed, and sanded without too much difficulty. It also takes stain and finishes well.
  • Affordability: Red oak is a relatively affordable hardwood, making it a good option for budget-minded projects.

Overall, red oak is a versatile and high-quality hardwood that is well-suited for a variety of applications. It is strong, durable, beautiful, and easy to work with. If you are looking for a hardwood that will last for years to come, red oak is a great choice.

Here are some additional details about the qualities of red oak lumber:

  • Color: Red oak has a light to medium reddish-brown color, though there can be a fair amount of variation in color. The color can range from a light pinkish-brown to a deep reddish-brown.
  • Grain: Red oak has a distinctive grain pattern that is characterized by its large, open pores. The grain pattern can be straight, wavy, or curly.
  • Texture: Red oak has a medium to coarse texture. The texture can be smooth or slightly rough.
  • Shrinkage: Red oak has a moderate shrinkage rate. It shrinks about 4% radially and 8% tangentially when it dries.
  • Moisture content: The moisture content of red oak should be between 6% and 12% for optimal performance.
  • Uses: Red oak is used for a variety of applications, including furniture, flooring, doors, windows, cabinets, and moulding. It is also used for outdoor applications, such as decks, porches, and picnic tables.

How Does Red Oak Differ From White Oak?

Red oak and white oak are two of the most popular hardwoods in the United States. They are both strong, durable, and beautiful, but they have some key differences.

Here is a comparison of red oak and white oak:

CharacteristicRed OakWhite Oak
Natural ColorLight to medium reddish-brownLight to medium brown
GrainDistinctive grain pattern with large, open poresMore uniform grain pattern with smaller pores
TextureMedium to coarseFine to medium
Shrinkage rateModerateLow
Moisture content6-12%8-12%
UsesFurniture, oak floors, doors, windows, cabinets, mouldingFurniture, oak floors, boats, barrels, staves, veneer
CostAffordableMore expensive

Strength and durability

Red oak and white oak are both strong and durable woods. However, red oak is slightly harder than white oak, with a Janka hardness rating of 1,220 lbf compared to 1,360 lbf for white oak.

This means that red oak is slightly more resistant to dents and scratches.

Color and grain pattern

Red oak has a light to medium reddish-brown color, while white oak has a light to medium brown color. Red oak also has a more distinctive grain pattern with large, open pores. White oak has a more uniform grain pattern with smaller pores.

Texture

Red oak has a medium to coarse texture, while white oak has a fine to medium texture. This means that red oak is slightly rougher to the touch than white oak.

Shrinkage rate

Red oak has a moderate shrinkage rate, while white oak has a low shrinkage rate. This means that red oak is more likely to shrink and swell when exposed to changes in moisture content.

Moisture content

The moisture content of red oak should be between 6% and 12% for optimal performance. The moisture content of white oak should be between 8% and 12% for optimal performance.

Uses

Red oak is used for a variety of applications, including oak furniture, oak floors, doors, windows, cabinets, and moulding. White oak is also used for a variety of applications, but it is especially well-suited for outdoor applications, such as decks, porches, and picnic tables.

Among hardwood floors, perhaps white oak is preferred, but red oak is not a bad choice too.

Cost

Red oak is generally more affordable than white oak. This is because red oak is more common and easier to find.

Overall

Red oak and white oak are both excellent hardwoods. They are both strong, durable, and beautiful. However, they have some key differences, such as color, grain pattern, and shrinkage rate. The best choice for you will depend on your specific needs and preferences.

Is Red Oak Easy To Work With In the Woodworking Shop?

Red Oak Board Outside

Red oak is generally considered to be a relatively easy wood to work with in the woodworking shop. It is not as hard as some other hardwoods, such as maple or walnut, so it can be sawed, planed, and sanded without too much difficulty. It also takes stain and finishes well.

However, there are a few things to keep in mind when working with red oak:

  • It can be prone to splintering. This is especially true when working with end grain. To prevent splintering, use sharp tools and a slow feed rate.
  • It can be dulling to tools. Red oak has a high silica content, which can dull tools more quickly than other woods. Use sharp tools and carbide-tipped blades to help prevent dulling.
  • It can be susceptible to burning. This is especially true when using power tools on high settings. Use a lower feed rate and take care not to overheat the wood.

Overall, red oak is a relatively easy wood to work with in the woodworking shop. It is strong, durable, and beautiful, and it can be finished to a variety of colors. With a little care, you can create beautiful projects with red oak.

Here are some additional tips for working with red oak:

  • Use sharp tools. This will help prevent dulling and splintering.
  • Use carbide-tipped blades. These blades will last longer and are less likely to dull than standard blades.
  • Use a slow feed rate. This will help prevent burning and splintering.
  • Use a backing board. This will help prevent tear-out when routing or planing end grain.
  • Pre-drill holes. This will help prevent the wood from splitting when you drive in screws or nails.
  • Use a finishing oil or wax. This will help protect the wood from moisture and scratches.

Should You Use Oil or Stain To Finish Red Oak?

Both oil and stain can be used to finish red oak, and the best choice for you will depend on your specific needs and preferences.

Oil

Oil finishes are a good choice for red oak because they help to protect the wood from moisture and scratches. They also bring out the natural beauty of the wood grain. Oil finishes can be applied with a brush, rag, or sprayer. They typically dry in 24-48 hours.

Some popular oil finishes for red oak include:

  • Linseed oil: This is a traditional oil finish that is known for its durability. It can be a bit sticky to work with, but it gives a beautiful natural finish to red oak.
  • Olive oil: This is a good choice for a more eco-friendly oil finish. It is also known for its durability and its ability to bring out the natural beauty of the wood grain.
  • Danish oil: This is a hybrid oil-varnish finish that is easy to apply and gives a durable finish. It is also a good choice for outdoor applications.

Stain

Stains are a good choice for red oak if you want to change the color of the wood. They can also be used to highlight the natural beauty of the wood grain. Stains can be applied with a brush, rag, or sprayer. They typically dry in 1-2 hours.

Some popular stain colors for red oak include:

  • Dark stain: A dark stain like walnut stain is a popular choice for giving red oak a darker, more rich color.
  • Light stain: A light stain like oak itself is a good choice for preserving the natural beauty of the wood grain.  While some might consider oak itself to be a medium stain, we include it in the light stain category as compared with a dark stain like walnut.  As an aside, we like walnut stain.
  • Maple stain: This is a good choice for giving red oak a lighter, more natural color.

Ultimately, and as with any other type of wood, the best way to decide whether to use oil or stain on red oak is to experiment with different finishes and see what you like best.  Any of these stains can be an excellent choice for use with red oak.

As we have recommended in past articles, we also suggest a pre-stain wood conditioner to prepare the red oak to receive the stain.  A pre-stain wood conditioner is a liquid that is applied to wood before staining.

It helps to equalize the absorption of the stain, which can help to prevent blotching and streaking. Pre-stain conditioners are also available in different colors, which can help to enhance the natural color of the wood.

How Red Oak Takes To Staining

It takes stain very well, actually. It has a open grain structure, which means that the stain is able to penetrate the wood evenly and produce a consistent color.

Red oak also has a natural reddish-brown color, which can be enhanced with stain to create a variety of different finishes.

Here are some tips for staining red oak:

  • Start with a clean, dry surface. Any dirt or dust on the wood will prevent the stain from penetrating evenly.
  • Use a pre-stain conditioner. This will help to equalize the absorption of the stain and prevent blotchiness.
  • Apply the stain evenly. Use a brush, rag, or sprayer to apply the stain. Be sure to apply the stain in thin coats, allowing each coat to dry completely before applying the next coat. A couple of coats of stain will likely be sufficient.
  • Allow the stain to dry completely. This will typically take 24-48 hours.

Once the stain has dried, you can apply a finish to protect the wood. A clear finish will help to preserve the natural beauty of the wood grain, while a colored finish can further enhance the color of the wood.

Here are some of the most popular stains for red oak:

  • Darker color: Already mentioned earlier, dark walnut stains are worth considering, and is a popular choice.  A Minwax Dark Walnut is an excellent choice.
  • Lighter stain : Again, already mentioned as a good choice for preserving the beautiful wood grain.  Red oak’s natural grain is worth showing off.
  • Maple: Previously mentioned as giving red oak a lighter, more natural color.
  • Cherry: This is a good choice for giving red oak a reddish-brown color with a hint of orange.
  • Mahogany: This is a good choice for giving red oak a deep, rich color.

Which Is Better For Red Oak – A Water-Based Stain or Am Oil-based Stain?

Wood Stain

Both water-based and oil-based stains can be used on red oak, and the best choice for you will depend on your specific needs and preferences.

Water-based stains

Water-based stains are a good choice for red oak if you want a finish that is easy to apply and clean up.

They are also less likely to yellow over time than oil-based stains. However, water-based stains can be more difficult to get a consistent color with, and they may not be as durable as oil-based stains.

Oil-based stains

Oil-based stains are a good choice for red oak if you want a finish that is durable and long-lasting. They are also easier to get a consistent color with than water-based stains. However, oil-based stains can be more difficult to apply and clean up, and they may yellow over time.

Ultimately, the best way to decide whether to use a water-based stain or an oil-based stain on red oak is to experiment with different finishes and see what you like best.

Here is a table that summarizes the pros and cons of water-based and oil-based stains for red oak:

Type of stainProsCons
Water-basedEasy to apply and clean upLess durable, may not be as consistent
Oil-basedDurable, long-lastingMore difficult to apply and clean up, may yellow over time

Here are some additional factors to consider when choosing a stain for red oak:

  • The desired finish: If you want a clear finish that preserves the natural beauty of the wood grain, then a water-based stain is a good choice. If you want a darker, more opaque finish, then an oil-based stain is a good choice.
  • The location of the project: If the project is indoors, then either type of stain can be used. If the project is outdoors, then an oil-based stain is a better choice because it is more durable.
  • The personal preference: Ultimately, the best way to decide which type of stain to use on red oak is to experiment with different finishes and see what you like best.

What About Gel Stains and Red Oak?

You can use gel stain on red oak. As we have said, red oak is popular because of its natural appearance and is also easy to stain. You can layer dye, gel stain, and a topcoat of your choice (varnish, polyurethane, etc.) for a red oak finish that will have a consistent color and beauty.

Many woodworkers say that they have used Minwax gel stains on red oak with no problem. You can apply the gel stain thickly in the direction of the grain with a paper towel.

How To Apply Stain On Red Oak

Here are the steps on how to apply stain on red oak:

  1. Prepare the wood. Make sure the wood is clean, dry, and free of any dirt, dust, or debris. Sand the wood with 120-grit sandpaper to remove any rough spots.
  2. Apply a pre-stain conditioner. This is optional, but it can help to prevent blotchiness and uneven staining.
  3. Apply the stain. Use a brush, rag, or sprayer to apply each coat of stain. Apply thin coats of stain, allowing each coat to dry completely before applying the next coat. Be sure to wipe excess stain with a clean cloth.  Again, we like dark walnut.
  4. Allow the stain to dry. This will typically take 24-48 hours.
  5. Apply a finish. A clear finish will help to preserve the natural beauty of the wood grain, while a colored finish can further enhance the color of the wood.

Here are some additional tips for applying stain on red oak:

  • Work in a well-ventilated area. Stain fumes can be harmful, so it is important to work in a well-ventilated area.
  • Use a clean rag or brush. A dirty rag or brush can contaminate the stain and lead to uneven results. This includes when wiping excess stain after each coat of stain.
  • Apply the stain evenly. Be sure to apply the stain evenly to prevent blotchiness.
  • Allow the stain to dry completely. Do not touch or move the wood until the stain has dried completely.

Here are some common mistakes to avoid when applying stain on red oak:

  • Not sanding the wood properly. If the wood is not sanded properly, the stain will not be able to penetrate evenly, and the results will be uneven.
  • Applying too much stain. Applying too much stain will make the wood look dark and blotchy. Again, be sure to wipe the excess after each coat of stain is applied.
  • Not allowing the stain to dry completely. If the stain is not allowed to dry completely, it will be easy to scratch or damage.

These common mistakes should be avoided when working with all types of wood, as staining any types of wood calls for the same process to achieve the best results.

Video Demo of Various Stains on Red Oak

Here’s a video demo of a variety of stains, dark, medium, and light, to show you how Red oak takes to staining.  The first one is interesting – steel wool and vinegar stain, a subject we have written about in the past, too. 

Red oak is a beautiful wood that is often used in the making of oak furniture, oak flooring, and other wood projects in the shop.  If you haven’t worked with red oak before, give it a try. 

When it comes time to stain it, the video will show you what various stains will look like when applied to red oak.  The dark walnut looks good and makes the grain pop; the red oak stain does the same.  We still remain partial to the dark walnut, as we have said, but even the cherry stain looks good.

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