Oak vs. Aspen: Which One to Use?

Oak vs. Aspen

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If you are looking to do some construction around the house, there is really no better material to use than solid wood. However, there are of course dozens, if not hundreds of types of solid wood to choose from. Two commonly used in North America are oak and aspen.

That said, these two types of wood are quite different from one another. Therefore, today we’re going to do a side-by-side comparison to see which one is best used for your next construction and woodworking projects.

What Is Oak?

First, we have the oak tree. Specifically, we are focusing on the red oak tree. This is the most commonly found variety in North America, as well as one of the most popular for construction and woodworking purposes. However, there are over 160 different types of oak trees that can be found throughout the world, mostly in the Northern Hemisphere.

The oak tree is a deciduous flowering tree, so it does lose its leaves during the winter. At the same time, oak is also a hardwood. It is known for being quite heavy, dense, and structurally sound. It is also resistant to many types of physical damage, especially denting and scratching.

However, oak is not very resistant to either pests or moisture, therefore, it is not the best choice for outdoor purposes. Some people may use it outdoors if properly treated or sealed, although it still won’t handle moisture or pests over a prolonged period of time.

As for appearance, oak features a fairly tight-end straight grain, combined with an uneven and coarse texture. Red oak also has many holes, gaps, and knots. It is usually brownish-red in color, although usually a bit darker brown than red. Oak can be used for many different purposes, especially for indoor use, for things like cabinets, furniture, decorative pieces, and other small projects.

What Is Aspen?

We then have the aspen tree, and here we are specifically focusing on the bigtooth aspen. The reason for this is that this is one of the most commonly found types in North America. This variety grows throughout Northeastern North America. What is interesting to note is that aspen is technically a type of hardwood and it is a deciduous tree.

However, it is actually extremely soft, one of the softest types of hardwood that can be found in North America. Therefore, it is definitely not the most durable or structurally sound. It’s not the first choice that most people would go for when it comes to woodworking or construction purposes, especially for high-traffic areas or furniture that needs to last for a long time.

In terms of moisture and rot resistance, it is also not very durable. This is not the type of wood that you want to use for outdoor purposes, especially if not properly sealed. Aspen is also very susceptible to attack by insects. For these reasons, it should really only be used indoors.

The Aspen tree features a light brown heartwood with a pale yellow or nearly white sapwood. It also tends to have a relatively straight grain and a medium texture, combined with a low natural luster.  Due to its various qualities and relatively unassuming appearance, it’s usually used as a utilitarian wood for things like plywood, veneer, crates, and boxes.

Oak vs. Aspen: What Are the Differences?

Now that we know what both oak and aspen are, let’s figure out what makes these types of wood different from each other.


Red oak is a fairly hard type of wood, as it comes in at 1,220 lbf on the Janka hardness scale. On the other hand, aspen is fairly soft type, coming in at just 420 lbf. As you can see, oak is roughly three times harder than bigtooth aspen, therefore also making it much more resistant to denting and scratching. This makes oak the better option for high-traffic areas and furniture.


Oak is also a fairly heavy and dense type of wood. It comes in at 43 lbs per cubic foot, while aspen comes in at just 27 lbs per cubic foot. As you can see, red oak is therefore much heavier and denser. This does mean that it is a little more structurally sound, although this heavier weight does also make it substantially harder to maneuver and work with.

Pest and Moisture Resistance

If we are talking about pest and moisture resistance, neither of these types of wood is ideal for outdoor use. With that being said, due to its hardness, density, and other properties, red oak is the better choice for outdoor purposes if we had to choose one. Realistically, we would not use either of these two types of wood outdoors.

For more information, read our article about oak’s waterproofness (or lack thereof).

Overall Strength and Durability

When it comes to the overall strength and durability of these two types of wood, specifically the modulus of elasticity, the modulus of rupture, and the crushing strength, red oak scores much higher than aspen. This means that in general, red oak is the far stiffer, more durable, structurally sound, and stronger type of wood.


Although aspen does finish and glue well, it often distorts and warps during drying, doesn’t hold nails well, doesn’t split easily, and you need really sharp blades to cut it. On the other hand, although red oak is hard, heavy, and dense, it still is not quite as hard to work with as bigtooth aspen, making it the better material on this front.

Appearance – Color and Grain

Red oak has a relatively coarse texture with a straight grain and a reddish-brown color, and most people would agree that it is very beautiful. On the other hand, Aspen tends to have pale yellow or nearly white sapwood with light brown heartwood, along with a straight grain and a uniform and medium texture. Most people would agree that aspen is nothing special to look at, with red oak being the much better-looking of the two.


Expect to spend up to $25 per board foot for red oak, whereas aspen should not cost you more than $10 per board foot.

When to Use Oak?

If you are planning on building floors for high-traffic areas, highly durable indoor furniture, cabinets, decorative pieces, or anything else of the sort, red oak is a fine choice. Just remember that it is not very moisture-resistant, so you don’t want to use it for outdoor purposes, although it is very good-looking.

When to Use Aspen?

Aspen is a fantastic type of wood to use if you need something very affordable. It is also ideal for various utilitarian purposes, such as for basic repairs, boxes, crates, veneer, and plywood. That said, generally, it isn’t hard or structurally sound enough to be used for actual construction purposes, nor is it moisture-resistant enough to be used outdoors.

Alternatives to Oak and Aspen

If you are looking for something extremely hard and durable, both ebony and ironwood are great options to consider, and if you need something that is moisture-resistant, try going for teak, spruce, or cedar.


As you can see, both aspen and red oak have their own specific uses. However, if you need something that is durable, structurally sound, and good-looking, you are probably better off choosing red oak over aspen. However, if you just need something very affordable, aspen is always worth considering.