How to Tell Oak From Pine Wood

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We live among the trees, even in our homes. Pine and oak are some of the most popular choices for cabinets, flooring, and furniture. Both are desirable wood materials for their resistance to wear and tear and their attractive appearance, but each has differences in durability, appearance, and price.

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The Difference Between Oak and Pine

From the very start as seedlings, pine and oak are very different trees. The oak is an angiosperm, meaning it has broad leaves that it drops in the fall and a "fruit" to carry its seed. In this case, the oak fruit is an acorn, whereas pine is a gymnosperm, which is an evergreen with pine needles and cones to distribute its seeds.

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Oak is classified as a hardwood, and pine is classified as a softwood, though these names have nothing to do with actual hardness and more to do with how difficult the tree is to saw and axe down.

Oak has a richer, darker wood color with reddish undertones. However, you can find white oak furniture, which, as the name implies, has a lighter tone. Pine is generally brighter, ranging in tones from cream to yellow. Pine may be difficult to stain due to its unevenly dense grain pattern, but with proper prep work, you can stain pine to look like oak wood.

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Oak Grain vs. Pine Grain

Even if pine has been stained to look more like an oak hue, you can still tell the difference between oak and pine lumber just by looking. Oak grain has more unique markings, like waves and knots, and the grain is more contrasted due to oak's deeper pores. In comparison, pine grain is straighter with more uniformity, and the grain doesn't stand out as much.

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However, old-growth pine and oak — meaning the tree was allowed to age longer than what is typical for trees used in lumber, furniture, and construction — will have a tighter grain. Using old-growth wood results in stronger, longer-lasting furniture.

Pine vs. Oak Furniture

Both oak and pine are sturdy and durable wood types that can create quality, long-lasting furniture and wood floors, but there are a few reasons oak wood dents your wallet harder than pine. You'll get a wear-resistant product out of oak and pine, but oak is harder and denser than pine, so it withstands wear and tear longer than pine.

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On the subject of density, oak is a slow grower. Some oak trees will begin producing acorns at 20 years, but many don't reach peak maturity until 50 to 80 years old. Then, some oaks can live on for more than 2,000 years. The oak takes its time and grows a denser, heavier wood than pine. Oak furniture pieces tend to be more stately, hefty, and not very practical for renters who need to move all their belongings every few years. Pine is more suitable for people who want a durable furniture piece that also allows for it to be moved around without incident.

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Pine trees take about half as long as oak trees to reach maturity, approximately 20 years. Because pines can be harvested more easily for furniture and lumber, their accessibility makes them a more affordable option.

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