Aspen and oak are two of the most popular wood species used to make furniture, flooring, and other woodworking projects. These two kinds of wood are also highly prized for their beauty and strength. So, aspen vs. oak; which one is better and which one is stronger, let’s find out in this comparative review.
Aspen vs Oak Differences
We will compare aspen and oak using common wood ranking factors: strength, hardness, appearance, and workability. You should keep in mind these factors when selecting the right wood material for your project, construction, or woodworking task.
Strength and Hardness
Oak is one of the strongest and the hardest woods on the planet. No wonder it is commonly used as furniture, flooring, and for general construction. Oak has a hardness rating of 1320 pounds which is hard. This hardness level is still lower compared to top-notch hardwoods.
Meanwhile, aspen is quite weak. It has a hardness rating of 350 pounds and bending strength of 8400 PSI. Aspen is also called poplar and is lightweight and weak. It is also bendable making it good for different flexible wooden projects. And because of these properties, aspen is used as wood for children’s toys, paneling, seats, tongue depressors, and so much more.
Grain and Color
Oak appearance varies depending on the species. The most common variety of oak is Red Oak which has a reddish color. When you check quartersawn Red Oak pieces, you will find gray patterns on the grain. Meanwhile, White Oak has an olive overcast.
When it comes to aspen’s appearance, it has a lightwood heartwood and pale yellow to white sapwood. The two are not demarcated so the grain looks very even and perfect for woodworking projects.
Both kinds of wood produce great results when worked with hand tools and power tools. For Red Oak, expect high shrinkage values and thus it is not stable in flatsawn wooden boards. Red oak can react with iron and this is true when the wood is wet which can lead to staining and discoloration of the wood. Red oak is a good material for steam-bending and accepts glues, finishes, and stains very well.
For aspen wood, it is easy to work with using hand tools and power tools but you need very sharp cutters and blades to avoid creating fuzzy edges. You need to sand the wood well to get a smooth finish. Aspen will not split and will not hold nails. Aspen wood can easily warp and change shape during the drying process. And possibly some good news; aspen accepts glues and finishes well.
Oak price depends on the species. For oak species like the Red Oak, this is less expensive than White Oak and the price is moderate for domestic lumber. Thicker planks as well as quartersawn woods are more expensive than other oak pieces.
Aspen is less expensive than oak. This wood is lumber and pulpwood in the manufacture of paper. There are large planks of aspen wood available at a moderate price.
Now that you know the difference between the two kinds of wood, let us proceed with the different characteristics of aspen and oak as well as the many aspen and oak varieties.
Aspen is a term used to call different species under the Populus genus. There are a few species of aspen: Chinese Aspen, Korean Aspen, Bigtooth Aspen, Japanese Aspen, Eurasian Aspen, and Quaking Aspen.
Aspen trees are known to thrive in cold places with cool summers from the north of the northern hemisphere. Aspen is a medium-sized tree, deciduous, and can reach from 50 to 100 feet high. These trees grow in areas where there are coniferous trees and where there are large deciduous trees.
Aspens grow through seeds and also by rhizome action. However, there are reports that some areas have declining aspen forests and plantations. This decrease has been attributed to many actors like climate change as these worsen drought and precipitation issues.
Aspen is white and soft but strong with low flammability. It is used to make paper and matches, packaging and stuffing for shredded aspen. Also, aspen wood flakes are used to make oriented strand boards. Aspen is commonly used as animal bedding as it is safer to use than juniper and pine because it lacks phenols. Meanwhile, heat-treated aspen is used in saunas
Standing aspen trees will eventually rot from the heartwood towards the bark. The dry timber may be resistant to rotting and changes in shape and therefore, this is commonly used in construction projects.
Different Aspen Species
White Poplar – Populus alba
White Poplar is also known as Silver Poplar or Silverleaf Poplar. This tree is native to Morocco and Portugal. This is a medium to large tree with a crooked trunk and large spreading crown. The wood is light and soft while the sapwood is white with a light-green cast. It is said that Leonardo da Vinci used white poplar wooden panels for his paintings.
Balsam Poplar – Populus balsamifera
Balsam poplar wood is a hardy and fast-growing tree. It is known as the northernmost American hardwood with trees reaching up to 200 years. The gum from the balsam poplar wood is used to make the “balm of Gilead” common in making various skin care products.
Eastern Cottonwood – Populus deltoides
Eastern cottonwood is named after its cotton-like fiber that is all over the tree’s seeds. This is the state tree of Kansas and Nebraska and is also referred to as the “Pioneer of the Prairie.” Eastern cottonwood wood is popular for making plywood, veneer, crates, boxes, and other light woodworking projects.
Bigtooth Aspen – Populus grandidentata
Bigtooth aspen wood has a light color with a straight grain. It has a fine texture and is soft to the touch. It is a weak wood and thus, used mainly for pulp, paper, particle boards, and other structural panels. This wood is also useful in making pallets, splints, hockey sticks, chopsticks, and ladders.
Black Poplar – Populus nigra
Black poplar is utilitarian lumber. It is decorative and popular for making drum shells, veneers, and other decorative items. Woodworkers and hobbyists use this wood to make furniture, boxes, plywood, laminated lumber, and much more. It is easy to work with using hand and machine tools. It can warp during drying but accepts glues and finishes well.
European Aspen – Populus tremula
European aspen is native to the temperate areas in Asia and Europe. This tree has a light brown heartwood and pale yellow sapwood with a diffused grain and a uniform texture. This wood is not resistant to rot, mold, and insects. It is useful for light purposes such as veneers, plywood, boxes, and crates.
Black Cottonwood – Populus trichocarpa
Black cottonwood is a wood native to the northwestern parts of North America. It is non-durable and is very susceptible to insects and molds. Black cottonwood is easy to work with using any kind of tool but can develop fuzzy surfaces and edges. This wood is often used to make plywood, veneer, boxes, crates, and for various utility uses.
Oak is a tree from the genus Quercus from the beech family Fagaceae. There are more than 500 oak species available. These trees are native to different countries in the Northern Hemisphere including the deciduous and evergreen oak species that thrive in cold temperatures and tropical countries.
Oak trees come with spiral leaf arrangements. This tree has serrated leaves and grows fruit or a nut called an acorn. The acorn and the leaves of oak trees contain tannic acid which protects the tree from fungi and boring insects.
Oak wood has impressive strength and hardness and thus it is resistant to molds, decay, and insects. It comes with lovely grain markings and is used in general construction, furniture-making, boatbuilding, and much more.
Different Oak Species
Red Oak – Quercus rubra
Red oak is the most popular oak species and hardwood in the United States. It is a very attractive, strong, and dense wood, a good value for homeowners, woodworkers, and hobbyists. Red Oak has light to medium brown heartwood with reddish tones. This is why it’s commonly used as furniture, flooring, cabinets, and decorative items.
White Oak – Quercus alba
White oak is a durable, strong, and visually appealing wood. It is resistant to rot and insects plus, it’s easy to work with. This wood is commonly used to make cabinets, furniture, floors, boat components, barrels, and veneers. This wood can react with iron and may stain or discolor. It responds very well to steam and is bent to make different wooden items.
Bur Oak – Quercus macrocarpa
Bur oak belongs to the white oak group and has many similar traits to White Oak. It is commonly used in domestic construction because of its hard, durable, and visually-appealing wood. Bur oak is useful in making furniture, floors, boatbuilding, veneer, barrels, interior trims, and many more. This wood is one of the most expensive with the quartersawn varieties the most expensive kind.
Black Oak – Quercus velutina
Black oak is under the red oak group and has many qualities similar to red oak. It is commonly used as domestic lumber because its strong, hard, and has a moderate price. Black oak has a light to moderate reddish-brown grain but variations may occur. All these qualities make it a good material for cabinet-making, furniture making, flooring, veneers, and interior trims.
California Black Oak – Quercus kelloggii
California Black Oak is another wood that belongs to the red oak group and thus, has many qualities similar to Red Oak. It is moderately priced and adds value to woodworkers and hobbyists because of its fine quality, strength, density, and versatility. California Black Oak is commonly used to make cabinets, furniture, veneer, floors, and interior trims.
Willow Oak – Quercus phellos
Willow Oak is part of the red oak group and has many qualities similar to Red Oak. This wood has a light to medium reddish-brown hue with a fair variation in color. Willow Oak is very easy to work with and accepts glues and finishes well. It is useful in making interior trims, veneer, cabinets, furniture, and flooring.
Water Oak – Quercus nigra
Water Oak is part of the red oak group with many characteristics similar to Red Oak. This wood has a light to medium red-brown color grain but you may also find variations in color across the grain. This wood is slightly less costly than White Oak which is why it’s used to make cabinets, furniture, veneer, flooring, and interior trims.
Swamp Chestnut Oak – Quercus michauxii
Swamp Chestnut Oak is a species that belongs to the white oak group and thus, shares many qualities with White Oak. This wood has a light to medium brown grain with varying colors across it. It is easy to work with and takes finishes and glues well. Swamp Chestnut Oak is useful for cabinet-making, boatbuilding, furniture making, veneer, barrels, and making interior trims.
Laurel Oak – Quercus laurifolia
Laurel oak is an oak species that belong to the red oak group. This wood has a light to medium red-brown grain but may have varying colors as well. You’ll find this easier to work with as it takes glue, finishes, and stains well. Laurel oak is useful in making interior trims, veneer, flooring, furniture, and cabinets.
Overcup Oak – Quercus lyrata
Overcup oak is wood under the white oak group and has many qualities similar to White Oak. It has a light to medium-brown color grain with a coarse grain. This wood is very resistant to decay and is very easy to work with. This wood is used to make furniture, barrels, veneers, flooring, and cabinets.
Chestnut Oak – Quercus prinus
Chestnut Oak is a member of the white oak group and thus has many characteristics of White Oak. This wood comes with lovely light to medium brown hue with slightly varying colors. Chestnut oak is easy to work with but is slightly more expensive compared to Red Oak. This wood is used for making cabinets, flooring, barrels, veneers, and indoor and outdoor furniture.
Post Oak – Quercus stellate
Post oak is part of the white oak group and thus, it possesses a lot of qualities similar to White Oak. This wood has a light to medium brown hue with varying colors as well. It comes with a distinct smell that many workers appealing. Post Oak is easy to work with and is used to make furniture, flooring, cabinets, interior trims, barrels, and veneer.
Pin Oak – Quercus palustris
Pin oak belongs to the red oak group and thus, has many characteristics that are similar to Red Oak. This wood is light to reddish-brown with a slight color variation. It is easy to work with and takes stains and finishes well. It is less expensive than White and Red Oak and thus it is used in making flooring, veneer, trims, cabinets, and furniture.
More Oak Species
- Scarlet Oak – Quercus coccinea
- English Oak – Quercus robur
- Southern Red Oak – Quercus falcata
- Cherrybark Oak – Quercus pagoda
- Live Oak – Quercus virginiana
- Holm Oak – Quercus ilex
- Oregon White Oak – Quercus garryana
- Shumard Oak – Quercus shumardii
- Japanse Oak – Quercus mongolia
- Sessile Oak – Quercus petraea
- Turkey Oak – Quercus cerris
When you pit aspen vs oak, oak wins by a landslide. This wood is strong, hard, and very useful. There are many varieties of oak wood and fall into two groups: red and white oak. But regardless, oak is one of the most useful wood in the world as it’s known in the furniture, veneer, construction, and flooring industry.