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Which is darker oak or walnut?

When choosing wood for furniture or flooring, the darkness of the wood is an important consideration for many homeowners. Two of the most popular wood species for home use are oak and walnut. But which of these classic woods is darker? Read on as we compare the darkness levels of oak vs. walnut.

The Natural Color Range of Oak

Oak is a very common hardwood used for all types of furniture, flooring, cabinetry, woodworking, and more. There are over 60 species of oak trees, but only a handful are commonly used in wood products. The most popular oak species include:

  • Red oak – This is the most common oak species used in North American wood products. The heartwood is a light to medium brown with a reddish tint.
  • White oak – Slightly darker than red oak, with a beige to light brown color.
  • English oak – Imported oak that is often a bit darker than white oak.
  • Black oak – Despite its name, this North American oak is only slightly darker than red oak.

Here are the natural, unfinished heartwood colors of some common oak wood species:

Oak Species Color
Red Oak Light to medium reddish brown
White Oak Beige to light brown
English Oak Medium to dark brown
Black Oak Medium reddish brown

As you can see, natural oak colors range from lighter tans and browns to richer medium browns. But oak is generally not an extremely dark wood species.

The Natural Color Range of Walnut

Walnut is a prized hardwood known for its rich, dark color and elegant grain patterns. The most common walnut species used for woodworking and furniture are:

  • Black walnut – The most popular walnut in North America. Has a rich, deep brown heartwood.
  • English walnut – Very similar to black walnut, with a dark chocolate brown color.
  • Claro walnut – Also called European walnut. Heartwood is a lighter gray-brown.

Here are the natural color ranges for the most common types of walnut wood:

Walnut Species Color
Black Walnut Deep, rich brown to black
English Walnut Dark brown to black
Claro Walnut Light brown to grayish brown

As you can see, black walnut and English walnut are very dark brown heartwood species. They are richer and darker than any species of oak. Claro walnut is closer to oak in terms of color, but still slightly darker on average.

Comparing Oak and Walnut Color

Now that we’ve looked at the color range of each species, we can directly compare oak vs. walnut:

  • Black walnut is darker than any oak – The rich, deep brown color of black walnut is darker than any natural oak color.
  • English walnut is comparable to black walnut – English walnut, while not quite as dark as black walnut, is still darker than any oak.
  • Claro walnut is slightly darker than oak – Claro walnut heartwood is a grayish light brown that is just slightly darker and richer than most oak.
  • White oak is darkest natural oak color – Of the oak species, white oak is the darkest with a light to medium brown color.

While there can be some variation in shades, walnut is generally darker than oak. The darkest walnut species are richer and more brown-black than any oak. Even the lightest walnut is slightly darker than most oak.

What Makes Walnut Darker Than Oak?

Why is walnut generally darker than oak? There are a few reasons:

  • Higher tannin content – Walnut contains more tannins, which are naturally occurring chemicals that give wood a darker color.
  • Richer pigments – The color pigments in black walnut contain more eumelanins which produce deeper browns.
  • Denser wood – Walnut is about 25% denser than oak. The higher density amplifies the color pigments.

These natural characteristics of walnut wood result in its characteristically rich, deep brown to black color that is darker than any oak species.

How Finish Impacts Oak and Walnut Color

The natural wood color gives you the baseline for how dark oak and walnut are. But other factors can alter the final color tones:

  • Stain – Using wood stains can modify color. Walnut is often so prized for its rich tone that it is rarely stained. But oak can be stained darker.
  • Finish – The type of sealant applied impacts color. Polyurethane adds a warm amber tone while lacquer intensifies natural wood color.
  • Age – Over years of light exposure, oak darkens while walnut lightens slightly.

Even with different finishes, stains, and age, walnut generally remains darker than oak. But man-made treatments can darken oak to be closer to the richness of walnut if desired.

How Do Oak and Walnut Compare in Strength and Workability?

Beyond color, how do oak and walnut compare in other ways important for woodworking and flooring projects? Here’s a quick look:

Oak Walnut
Hardness 1,220 lbf 1,010 lbf
Density 42 lb/cu ft 38 lb/cu ft
Rot Resistance Good Fair
Workability Good Excellent

Oak is harder and more resistant to rot than walnut. But walnut is easier to work with hand and power tools. Both can be used for furniture, flooring, millwork, and other projects but excel in slightly different ways.

Which Wood Stains and Finishes Work Best?

Here are some recommended stains and finishes to use on oak vs. walnut:


  • Medium to dark wood stains
  • Polyurethane
  • Danish oil
  • Lacquer
  • Wax


  • Clear finishes
  • Tung oil
  • Danish oil
  • Polyurethane
  • Wax

Walnut’s prized dark color is often best preserved under clear finishes like tung oil. Oak accepts and needs darker stains to achieve a richer walnut tone. Both look beautiful with oil, wax, lacquer, or polyurethane top coats.

Prices: Oak vs. Walnut

How do oak and walnut prices compare? Here are some average price ranges:

Oak Price (per board foot) Walnut Price (per board foot)
Raw Lumber $3-6 $6-18
Flooring $3-9 $9-15
Furniture $$ $$$$

Due to its rich color and luxurious appeal, walnut is generally more expensive than oak in every form. But oak remains a great value option for beautiful, durable wood projects.

Best Uses for Each Wood

What projects are oak and walnut best suited for? Here are some recommended uses:


  • Kitchen cabinets
  • Tables
  • Chairs
  • Shelving
  • Flooring
  • Doors
  • Trim
  • Outdoor furniture


  • Fine furniture
  • Luxury flooring
  • High-end cabinetry
  • Decorative wood accents
  • Gun stocks

Oak’s strength, hardness and rot-resistance make it ideal for heavy-use items like flooring, cabinets, and outdoor furniture. Walnut offers prestige and elegance for one-of-a-kind furniture, cabinetry, and decor.


When comparing oak vs. walnut, walnut is the clear winner for having the darkest color. Black walnut and English walnut are richer and more brown-black than any oak. Claro walnut is also slightly darker than most oaks. The higher tannin content, denser wood, and rich pigments of walnut give it a deep, dark color that oak cannot quite match.

However, oak remains a versatile, strong and affordable wood option for furniture and flooring. With the right stain and finish, oak can take on a very rich, warm brown color approaching walnut darkness. Both offer beauty and practicality for any home project.

So if your top priority is achieving a very dark wood tone, walnut is the best choice. Yet oak shouldn’t be discounted as it can also achieve beautiful, darker colorations with stain while providing great durability and value.