Is Oak Good For Woodturning? (15 Important Facts To now)

Oak is a hardwood, used for a variety of wood projects. It is most popular for wood flooring, due to its strength and longevity.

Oak is also porous and very receptive of dyes and stains; however this does make it a bit difficult to turn effectively.

Here is the Answer to whether Oak is Good to Turn:

Oak is one of the hardest woods on the Janka scale, making it difficult to turn. Wood can be properly sanded and finished by using tools that are sharp. Turning at a higher speed can also improve the quality of the finish, as well as using red oak instead of white due to it being a softer variety.

What is Oak?

Oak is a tree in the Quercus family, which is a relative of the Beechwood tree. Beloved for its shade, beauty, strength, and versatility, this tree has been used for centuries for various purposes. 

They are a long-lived tree, sturdy, and capable of withstanding fierce winds despite being a relatively tall tree than other trees such as maple. In addition, Oak produces a well-recognized fruit known as the acorn, a favorite of North American squirrels and chipmunks.

This tree serves as a habitat and source of food for much local wildlife. Even the outer extremities of this tree’s branches are inhabited by insects laying their eggs in the safety of the tree without harming the tree.  

Oaks grow all over North America, as well as Britain and Europe. The characteristics of these trees (their hardness, coloring, etc.) are affected by the region’s climate in which they grow. This has led to numerous varieties of this majestic tree, which we will explore more as we continue. 

Is Oak a Hardwood or Softwood?

Oak ranks at 1360 on the Janka scale, just below Cypress and hard maple. This lands Oak up there in the hardwood categories and is highly prized for its sturdy and enduring nature.

The Janka scale measures how hard a wood is by applying pressure to a metal ball and seeing how much pressure it takes to get it embedded halfway into the wood. Oak is rather hard, and resists a great deal of pressure, and does not crush easily. 

Another benefit of this wood is that it resists rot very well due to its hardness. This makes it ideal for any projects that are intended for the long term. 

What are the Appealing Characteristics of Oak for Turning?

As stated above, oak is a tough wood, and as a result, it makes great long-term projects. Cabinets and household furniture are common projects to make with this wood, and the mild patterns of darker streaks give it a lovely display on a finished project. 

Oak is also very porous, and this makes it great at absorbing stains and glues. However, this can cause some difficulty when trying to turn the wood due to the large pores getting stuck or ripped while turning. 

Some recommendations I found are to ensure your blades and tools are very sharp, and if one feels safe doing so, try to use a faster speed when turning. 

Are there Different Types of Oak?

Yes, there are many, many different types of oak. To name a few of the more popular varieties: white oak, red oak, bur oak, black oak, chestnut oak, swamp oak, and live oak.

The two most common and sought after by woodworkers are white and red oak.

White is the hardest of the two (1360 on the Janka scale) and has a light beige color with slight streaking veins running through it.

Red oak, also very popular, is a little softer (1290 on the Janka scale) and a deeper color with tints of red flowing through it. 

Swamp oak is not ideal for turning as it is often seen as too soft and tends to crack and break easily. Although, many warn that at times this wood is sold to buyers as white oak. Be sure you’re careful when buying to ensure it is the hard white and not the softer swamp. 

Is Oak Easy to Turn?

Oak is a bit tricky to turn due in part to its highly prized strength and hardness. It is also very porous, and it can be difficult to turn due to the tools becoming stuck and creating holes and gouges in the wood, which must then be filled and fixed. 

The only good thing with having to fill this wood often is that it is very receptive to glues and these imperfections or damages are easily resolved. 

Is Red Oak Good for Turning?

Red oak seems to be the preferred of the two varieties (white or red) for wood-turning. This variety is softer, less porous, and tends to smooth easier. 

The best recommendation is to always go with the grain, as it tears easily. Use high powered tools, but be careful not to burn the wood. 

Is White Oak Good for Turning?

White oak is very difficult to turn successfully. Therefore, most recommend that a beginner avoid this wood when just starting out to avoid mishaps and frustrations. 

White oak was used to build ships in the past, and many believe that this is a good illustration of its uses—something large, industrial, and where the hardness of the wood is an asset to the construction. 

Tyloses around the pores in the wood also protect it from rot and water damage, and make it resistant to rot. This, unfortunately, is part of why it is so difficult to turn.

Can you Turn Green Oak?

Green oak also refers to untreated, undried oak wood. This means it is softer and less prone to cracking and breaking, and easier to handle on a lathe. Although, just like with all oak, it is vital you keep your tools very sharp when attempting to turn this wood.

Green oak is used often in furniture, especially outdoor furniture, as the naturally occurring tannin and tyloses protect it from pests and rot. 

Does Oak Give you a Good Finish after Turning?

One of the best ways to get a good finish with oak is to turn at a high speed. This helps to ensure the grain comes out smooth and does not crack or break.

Oak can check during the drying process, which means it may crack in certain areas that are dryer due to environmental circumstances while the tree was growing. This is one reason many recommend using green oak for turning.

Another recommendation  is to utilize UV protecting finish that prevents the wood from turning the beautiful colors of the wood. 

Does Oak Check or Crack when Woodturning?

From what I have found, many say that oak tends to crack and check during the drying process and that this is partially due to the natural hardness of this wood. 

The stain and finish does take well despite this hardness and if executed properly oak has a natural grain which really looks lovely when finished. 

Is Oak an Expensive Wood?

Oak tends to be cheaper than cherry wood despite being harder and more durable. Many describe oak as valuable rather than expensive due to its longevity.

Typically white oak tends to be rarer than red oak and therefore more expensive.  On average white oak costs between $5-$8. Red oak tends to be about $3-$6 per square foot. 

Do you Need to Prepare or Treat your Oak for Turning?

Oak has a very strong and rot-resistant nature. Therefore, it is not necessary to treat the wood for every project. Although, it is recommended that you do so for indoor projects. 

The natural tannin prevents oak from rotting, and therefore sealing it isn’t as necessary as with some other woods. Oak is used a lot in building projects such as homes, and in the past, it was used for shipbuilding due to this natural water resistance.  

Oak is also a favorite for hardwood flooring because of its strength, but it is essential that you sand it properly and apply the finish in order to preserve it over time. 

Lastly, it is very important that you sand the wood adequately before attempting to stain or finish the wood. 

What Finishes can you Use on Oak After Turning?

Polyurethane is one of the best finishes for oak wood. It creates a very lovely shine, which serves as a protection against the wear and tear of time. 

You will want to use an oil-based finish on floors, but a water-based finish is recommended for furniture as it spreads easier. The oil base will serve to protect the wood from heavy traffic and damages.

It’s best to use about 3 coats on floors, and be sure each coat dries completely before laying another. 

Beeswax is another finish that looks very lovely on oak and serves as a protection against sun damage. Beeswax isn’t the best for floor finish because of the constant wear and tear, but it works nicely on furniture. 

What can you Make with Oak Wood?

One of the most popular projects for woodworking with oak is flooring. Oak makes beautiful flooring with both white and red oak being used, with red being the most practical. 

White is harder, but red tends to be cheaper while still being adequately hard to serve as a sufficient flooring. The color is also not so different that the flooring would be so disparate. 

Oak also makes wonderful furniture; even if it is difficult to work with due to its hardness, it will last a very long time. Although, it is best not to use oak for window panes or doors due to the wood drying slowly and shrinking over time.