15/03/2022  •  , ,

Walnut vs. Oak: A Comparison of Kitchen Cabinet Materials

If you’ve been looking for new kitchen cabinets lately, there’s no doubt you’ve come across some beautiful walnut and oak selections. 


After all, walnut and oak are two of the most popular and timeless solid wood cabinet options. Armed with their own unique qualities and distinct contrasts, when it comes to kitchen cabinets, walnut and oak have as much to offer as any material. 


So how do you decide which is the right choice for your kitchen cabinets?


At Deslaurier, we’re experts in all things kitchen cabinets. As two of our most popular cabinet materials, we know how important it is to inform our clients of the differences and similarities between walnut and oak. 


This article will take you through all the characteristics of walnut and oak as kitchen cabinet materials. We’ll compare the two options side by side to help you determine which wood species is right for your kitchen cabinets.


Let’s get to it! 


Table of Contents

A Note on Oak Cabinets

Walnut vs. Oak Cabinets: Appearance

Walnut vs. Oak Cabinets: Strength & Durability

Walnut vs. Oak Cabinets: Finishing Options

Walnut vs. Oak Cabinets: Cost

Walnut vs. Oak Cabinets:  What’s Right For You?

Design With Deslaurier Custom Cabinets


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A Note on Oak Cabinets


It’s worth noting that there can be several different varieties of a specific wood species, and each one is slightly different from the next.


When it comes to oak, there are two major types: red oak and white oak


White oak is typically stronger and rot-resistant, making it more inclined to be used outdoors or for boats. That being said, white oak has become increasingly popular over the years for elegant (and more expensive) hardwood flooring and kitchen cabinets.


Red oak will often be slightly less durable, less expensive, and best suited for interior uses like cabinets. For the purposes of this article, we’ll focus on traditional red oak.


Walnut vs. Oak Cabinets: Appearance


Walnut is a stunning natural wood noted for its significant brown colour and strong, typically straight, grain variation.


Oak has a light to middle brown colour with some reddish hues, complimented by a straight and tight grain pattern.


Take a look at walnut and oak side by side below: 


Walnut can range anywhere from a light brown to a deep, dark chocolate hue. Though its grain is very open and more coarse than maple, walnut still has a beautiful, uniform surface.


Walnut has a wider, open grain and a generally soft surface, while oak has a tight, slightly raised wood grain that results in a rougher, coarser texture.


It’s important to remember that hardwood products are natural products—just like the trees themselves, no two cabinet doors are exactly alike. There will always be differences from one slab to the next, and that’s a part of their beauty!


Further, all solid woods will darken or lighten due to a natural aging process. However, the aging process is unique for each distinct wood species.


Red oak, for example, retains its colour very well. It can, however, slightly fade over the years and begin to lose a bit of its colour.


Walnut, on the other hand, has a much more distinct aging process. Walnut’s central aging quality is that its rich, dark brown colour will naturally begin to lighten with time. 

Walnut vs. Oak Cabinets: Strength & Durability


When it comes to strength and durability, walnut and oak are some of the best kitchen cabinet materials you can have. After all, they’re both materials that are popularly used for hardwood flooring.


That being said, oak is a slightly stronger hardwood product than walnut. Oak is one of the stronger and more durable natural wood options available for kitchen cabinets. It holds up well resisting significant dents or dings. 


We’ll use the Janka hardness scale to show you. The Janka scale is used to measure the strength and hardness of various wood species, thus determining their resiliency to dents and scratches. The higher the rating, the harder the wood species is.


Red oak has a hardness rating of roughly 1290, while walnut comes in slightly lower at 1010. 


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So what does this mean? If you were to put walnut and oak to the test to see how they would stand up against general dents and dings, oak would perform slightly better.


That being said, because of walnut’s deep, rich colour, it has an easier time hiding slight nicks and damage. 


Of course, if you’re careful around your cabinets, this difference in strength may be negligible to you as a user. Walnut is still a strong and durable hardwood choice for any kitchen - but if you’re concerned about damaging your cabinets, oak will provide you with some added protection. 

Walnut kitchen

Walnut vs. Oak Cabinets: Finishing Options


The finish you intend on applying to your kitchen cabinets can have a big influence on what material you select. 


If you desire a perfectly uniform painted cabinet, you’ll want a wood species with a smooth surface. If a beautiful stain is what your kitchen needs, choosing the right cabinets will come down to the colour and grain patterning of the wood. 


Further, how you want to present your cabinets with different finishes, like stains and paints (see our article comparing stained vs. painted cabinets), is often a big consideration in a homeowner’s cabinet selection. 


After all, when you’re choosing your kitchen cabinets, it often comes down to an aesthetic decision.




Cabinets stains are a great choice for both walnut and oak cabinets to highlight the beautiful, natural character of each wood species.


Oak’s prominent grain makes it ideal for staining, as its texture will emerge proudly through a stained finish. As we mentioned earlier, oak has a rougher texture than walnut, which translates into a more matte stained finish. 


What might be surprising about a wood species like walnut is that you’re actually less likely to apply a stain to them than you would with woods like maple or birch.


Rather, most people use a clear coat finish to enhance the rich, natural colour of walnut wood. 


That’s not to say walnut cabinets are never stained. It’s merely that walnut is prized for its natural appearance, and a clear coat or gentle stain is popularly utilized to accentuate that. 



Neither walnut nor oak are exceptional materials when it comes to painted cabinets. That’s because neither species is considered a paint-grade wood. A wood species is considered a paint-grade due to its low-key grain and uniform surface. The most common paint-grade natural woods are birch and maple


Unlike the smooth surface of birch or maple, oak has an uneven and coarse texture that offers a unique finish compared to traditional painted cabinets. This texture means that you will both see and feel oak’s wood grain through the painted finish. 


While oak cabinets aren’t commonly painted, their texture does make them an ideal selection if you want your painted cabinets to have a more distinct quality. 


Walnut, on the other hand, is even less frequently used for painted cabinets. As mentioned above, walnut wood is valued for its natural beauty. As such, you would not purchase new walnut cabinets to paint over their appearance. There are far better (and cheaper) materials to use for painted cabinetry. 


If you want to paint your cabinets, you should know that all painted finishes require a high level of maintenance to prevent dings and dents. There are no underlying wood species that can protect your painted finish from damage 100%.


If you’re after the best-painted cabinets possible, choosing a non-hardwood material like MDF cabinets is your best bet.


MDF (medium-density fibreboard) is a manmade product formed by combining resins with different hardwood and softwood fibres. As a result, MDF is a more stable wood product than birch or maple—meaning it’s less likely to crack due to the natural occurrence of breathing.


To see how painted MDF cabinets compare to natural woods like birch and maple, check out our Learning Centre page for our article on MDF vs. Natural Wood Cabinets

Walnut vs. Oak Cabinets: Cost


Walnut and oak, while both premier cabinet wood species, can come at significantly different price points. 


Walnut will almost always be more expensive than oak. That’s because walnut is not as populous, which results in it being harder to source and more expensive. Conversely, oak trees are grown all over North America and are much easier to source.


However, the cost is always dependent on the grade of the wood, market conditions, and manufacturer. 


At Deslaurier, for example, our walnut selections can cost as much as 20 to 30% more than red oak. 


Overall cost, of course, is also conditional on the type of finish applied to the cabinets. It will cost roughly 15% more for painted cabinets as opposed to stained. This is due to the increased labour involved in the painting process, as well as the cost that can come with high-end cabinet paints. 


Ultimately, the cost of kitchen cabinets will fluctuate depending on both the material chosen and the finish that is applied. 

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Walnut vs. Oak Cabinets: What’s Right For Your Cabinets?


When choosing between walnut wood and oak, it ultimately comes down to your personal aesthetic preferences. Since both options offer beautiful cabinets in their own unique style, it's up to you to decide which avenue suits your dream kitchen best. 


If you want your cabinets to display a rich, brown colour and strong horizontal grain, then you can’t do better than the natural beauty of walnut.


If it’s a prominent grain with a raised texture that you’re after, then oak is the better selection.


Ultimately, it’s always important to consider your budget, your design style, and your lifestyle to choose the best cabinet wood species for your dream kitchen.


Design With Deslaurier Custom Cabinets


Want to inspect the differences between walnut and oak cabinets for yourself? Book a consultation with a Deslaurier kitchen expert at our Ottawa showroom or schedule a virtual meeting!


If you have your eye on custom cabinetry, Deslaurier Custom Cabinets has everything you need. With over 40 years of experience to our name, we provide our clients with a wholly customized design process with our talented team of designers


Interested in becoming an authorized Deslaurier dealer? Visit our Become a Dealer page to learn more! 


Live outside the area? Find a Dealer to connect with a Deslaurier dealer near you!

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