Having an open grain, red oak accepts stains well, although nowadays more people are using clear finishes to preserve its natural color. Moving outdoors, however, where decay resistance is a concern, red oak is not a good choice. White oak is much better suited to facing the elements.
To distinguish red oak from white, look for color, pore distribution, and the presence of tyloses, which is a bubblelike cell structure that fills the pores of white oak, giving it an ability to retain and keep out water. A magnifying lens will reveal that the pores of red oak are empty. While looking for tyloses, one may also note that red oak has larger but fewer pores than white oak. Of course, the most recognizable characteristic of red oak is its pinkish hue.
For a fairly hard wood falling between sugar maple (harder) and walnut (softer), red oak machines quite easily, and hand tool enthusiasts appreciate how well it planes. Turners, however, report that red oak tends to tear on the lathe. It has excellent bonding properties, but its tannic acid content can cause unsightly black stains when iron clamps contact glue lines.
Red oak is legendary as a fine furniture wood. It also makes excellent flooring, paneling, and moldings, and is extensively used by the domestic kitchen cabinet industry as dimensional stock and as veneers on sheet stock, milled for casework.
Wood grain images provided by HobbitHouseInc.com