Both oak and pine are used extensively in home furniture, customers regularly ask us what the main differences are between the two and which is best. Not easy questions to answer!
Both kinds of wood have pros and cons, and the answer really depends on several factors, including your budget, what the furniture will be used for and your existing furniture and decor.
Let’s learn a bit more about these two types of wood.
Oak wood furniture
What is oak?
The oak family is among the largest in the world. Consisting of over 600 species, oak trees are generally recognised for their acorn fruits and distinctive large leaves. Oak trees are native to North America and many European countries. At Old Oak Barrel we use wood from white oak trees for our solid oak coat racks. It is primarily sourced from the USA and France.
Advantages of oak for furniture making?
Oak has been used in furniture making for generation and enjoys some significant advantages – as well as a long-standing reputation. White oak has an attractive tight grain pattern, and when finished with a hard wax oil, develops a warm lustrous glow.
Oak is a hardwood and is incredibly strong and durable. It is more difficult to scratch and dent than softwoods, making it particularly suitable for furniture which will get a lot of wear and tear.
The durable nature of oak means that it has been popular with carpenters and furniture designers for centuries. For customers it means that oak furniture can become a long-term investment, enduring through generations of use.
Challenges of using oak?
Oak furniture tends to be expensive. As oak trees are slow growing, it takes a long time for trees to mature and be ready for felling. To some degree, this is negated by the large yield that that a mature tree can provide. But the price of oak is still significantly higher than faster growing softwoods.
Oak is also a heavy wood, meaning that furniture can be more difficult to move. This may not matter for coat racks, bookcases and fixed furnishings, but for chairs or tables, it can be a problem.
Old oak barrel uses oak from sustainably managed forests, but because of its slow growth, it takes years to replace an oak tree. Oak (and hardwoods in general) can therefore be viewed as less sustainable than softwoods.
Pine wood furniture?
What is pine?
Pine is generic term which encompasses around 115 species of evergreen conifers of the pine family. Pine is a softwood, and the trees typically have thick bark, with needle-like leaves and hard cones. Pine trees are found almost exclusively in the Northern Hemisphere. At Old Oak Barrel we source all our pine from Scandinavia.
Why use pine?
Pine doesn’t have oak’s deep golden hue, but it is still an attractive wood. Because it is paler, it can take many different finishes. You can easily change its colour to match your furnishings with a stain or wax. At Old Oak Barrel we use natural beeswax on all our Scandinavian pine shelving.
Simply because they're replaceable, fast-growing species like pine trees tend to be more sustainable than slow-growing trees like oak. As the trees grow so much more quickly, the wood also tends to be much cheaper, which generally also makes the furniture cheaper.
Pine is a strong wood, and much lighter than oak. If you are a frequent redecorator, you will appreciate the weight difference!
Disadvantages of pine?
Pine is quite a distinctive wood and often has a grainy look, usually with knots and other marks. These give it a natural aesthetic, which is fine in some cases, but may not appeal to everyone. Although the wood can be stained, these characteristics are not easy to hide.
Pine has a complex grading system that can sometimes be confusing. And unlike hardwoods, with pine you have a choice between several grades — at a wide range of costs. The grades are based on different factors, including the number of knots and sap pockets, and tightness of grain. At Old Oak Barrel we only use "unsorted" grade, the highest possible grade.
As pine is softer it will show wear much more quickly than oak. It is susceptible to scratches and dents, but many people think this just gives the furniture even more character. At Old Oak Barrel we use a multi stage brushing process to remove the softest fibres from the surface. This creates a raised grain finish and improves the durability of the wood.
Whether oak or pine furniture is better for you will depend on your needs and preferences. If you want to buy lasting quality and you don’t plan to rearrange or replace your furniture too often, oak may be preferable, although it will inevitably cost more.
Pine often offers a good compromise between cost and quality, and can easily be finished in a variety of stains and waxes.
Being solid wood, both oak and pine are great options compared to synthetic, man-made alternatives like MDF, plywood and particleboard. Both provide longevity, strength and sustainability, compared to these cheaper counterparts. For more information on the benefits of solid wood, check out our blog on that subject!