Walnut vs. Oak: Which One to Use?

Walnut vs. Oak: Which One to Use?

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If you are looking to build something around your home, then two very popular types of wood that you can use include walnut and oak. These are great choices due to their beautiful appearance and great durability.

However, there are some differences between these two types of wood that you need to know, and this is what we are here to discuss today. Let’s figure out what makes walnut and oak different from each other, and which one is best used for a variety of purposes.

What Is Walnut?

First, we have walnut, and here we’re talking specifically about the eastern black walnut tree. The walnut tree can be found all throughout the eastern United States and in eastern Canada. This is a very tall tree that can grow up to 8’ wide and 150’ tall. This tree likes growing in well-drained soil and in direct sunlight.

Walnut wood is moderate-to-very hard, is a type of hardwood, and features a very tight and straight grain. That said, the grain may sometimes have curves or waves, and this type of wood may also have some knots, gaps, and voids, although not too many of them.

In terms of color, walnut is very deep and dark brown, like dark coffee or chocolate. In terms of North American woods, this is one of the only trees that grow naturally dark, and unlike many other species which darken with time, walnut will get lighter. It looks great which is one of walnut’s main advantages.

This wood is also very dense and hard, which means that it is physically resistant to denting and scratching, plus it also contains a good bit of natural oils, which allows for great resistance to the elements, mainly moisture and pests.

This material is therefore a good option for both indoor and outdoor use, although it is more commonly used for indoor purposes, such as for making cabinets, furniture, floors, carvings, veneers, and even gunstocks. Walnut takes a long time to grow, and is not overly sustainable, and is therefore also quite expensive.

What Is Oak?

We then have the oak tree, which is also a type of hardwood, one that can be found all throughout the northern hemisphere. The oak tree can be found in Europe, Asia, North America, and North Africa.

In North America alone, there are technically over 160 different types of oak trees. Do keep in mind that the oak tree is deciduous, meaning it drops its leaves in the colder seasons.

Moreover, oak is a very dense, heavy, type of wood, which does also allow for extreme durability, especially as far as physical damage is concerned. This wood does also contain some natural oils, which when combined with its density and hardness do allow for decent fungus, insect, and moisture resistance.

Oak is therefore a great option for a wide variety of indoor and outdoor projects. This material is often used for furniture and flooring, as well as for exterior and interior doors.

Keep in mind that oak generally has a very straight and tight grain, although it may have an uneven or coarse texture. This wood is generally anywhere from beige to brownish-red in color, and it does have a good deal of knots and gaps present in it.

Walnut vs. Oak: What Are the Differences?

Now that we know what both walnut and oak are, let’s figure out what makes them different from each other.


One of the biggest differences between these two types of wood is that oak is significantly harder than walnut. Walnut comes in at 1,010 lbf on the Janka hardness scale, whereas oak wood comes in at 1,300 lbf.

This means that oak wood is much more resistant to physical damage, particularly denting and scratching, which is why it is a popular choice for furniture and other applications that require great durability.


Walnut features a density of about 43 lbs per cubic foot. Oak on the other hand can weigh about just over 56 lbs per cubic foot.

As you can tell, oak is therefore significantly heavier and denser than walnut wood, which does allow for much greater durability in many regards, although it is of course much heavier and therefore also harder to work with, especially in terms of maneuvering.

Moisture and Pest Resistance

What is really beneficial about both types of wood is that they are extremely resistant to the elements. With that being said, oak is probably just a little bit more resilient in this sense, as it is much harder and denser, which means that pests and moisture alike both have a much harder time penetrating the exterior surface.

If you need a good type of wood for outdoor applications, oak is the better of the two, although both are more than ideal for outdoor purposes, such as for decking, fencing, and outdoor furniture.

Overall Durability

When it comes down to it, if your number one goal is strength, then oak is the better option of the two. It’s quite flexible, yet also dense and hard, has great compressive strength, and is also very resistant to the elements. Both of these types of wood are very durable and strong, but oak is more so.

Appearance – Color and Grain

You can also tell the difference between these two types of wood because walnut is the much darker of the two. Walnut also has a subtler grain pattern than oak.

Because oak does not have a subtle grain pattern, it is ideal for hiding physical damage, which is why it is often used for high-traffic areas such as flooring. Most people would say that walnut looks better, although it is also less forgiving if it gets damaged.


Oak is often considered harder to work with than walnut, mainly because it is heavier and harder, but also because it has more knots and gaps. That said, both of these types of wood take on paint and stain relatively well.


Walnut wood is relatively expensive and can cost you up to $25 per board foot. Depending on the retailer, oak wood at this time may cost you a similar price, although it is usually a little bit cheaper than walnut.

When to Use Walnut Wood?

What it really all comes down to here is that walnut is a bit better looking than oak, yet not quite as durable. For this reason, most people would use walnut for cabinets, furniture, knickknacks, and decorative pieces.

However, it is still strong enough to be structurally sound, and it is durable enough to be used for outdoor purposes. Just consider that it’s not the hardest type of wood around, and due to its grain pattern, it’s not very forgiving if it gets scratched, so it’s best avoided for use for projects such as flooring.

When to Use Oak Wood?

On the other hand, if you need wood that is extremely hard and durable, able to resist physical damage, and more than ideal for outdoor purposes, then oak is the ideal choice.

Oak is a particularly good option for walls, floors, and other high-traffic areas where great durability and scratch resistance is concerned. This wood is also a bit more resistant to the elements, so it is better used for outdoor purposes than walnut. Just keep in mind that oak doesn’t look nearly as nice as walnut does.

Alternatives to Walnut and Oak Wood

We know that both walnut and oak are relatively expensive. If you need something that is a bit cheaper, but still a durable type of hardwood, ones such as alder, poplar, maple, and ash, all make for great options to consider.

In a separate article, we wrote in detail about walnut alternatives.


As you can see, both walnut and oak are fine options to consider, but you do need to know what the differences between them are before you choose one for your next big woodworking project.