White Oak

In the previous blog, I went into depth on walnut. This time we should investigate white oak. Another “luxury” species, white oak has seemed to gain noticeable popularity over the past year or so. It seems almost every shop needs white oak lumber and sheets for flooring, furniture, millwork, or kitchens. 


White oak has always been a favored species among certain industries. Whiskey barrels, flooring, millwork, and furniture depend on a consistent supply of white oak lumber. There are a few hindrances, however, to the supply chain.


Due to a relatively warm winter, many of the white oak forests, and forests in general, have been almost too wet and muddy for the loggers to get their equipment in and the logs out. Also, global demand for white oak has increased over the past year.      


White oak prices have backed off compared to prices last year, but we are anticipating on price increases in the next coming months due to the potentially low supply.


A common question that is asked is “What is the difference between red and white oak?”.

Starting with the tree, the leaves of a red oak will be pointed at the tips, while white oak leaves will be rounded.


White oak is rot resistant which makes it a good choice for exterior projects, even for boats. There usually are colour differences between the species, but not always, so colour should not be used alone to identify white oak.


Red oak may have pink tones, and white oak may have olive/ light brown tones. As well, with the many sub-species of each, colour is not a dependable identifier.


While red and white oak grain may look similar, the white oak grain will not be as open or wavy as red oak. The end grain is a sure way to know which is which. Ideally looking at the end grain in the heartwood, red oak will have open pores and white oak will have tight, closed pores. Another sure identifier are the rays (lines) in the flat sawn boards. White will have long lines usually 1” or more, while red oak will have short lines roughly ¾” and shorter.


When working with either, white oak will be denser and harder to cut through, while red oak is lighter because it is more porous. One downside to the density of white oak is that it can be difficult to dry properly in a kiln, especially in boards 5/4 (1-1/4”) and thicker. This may lead to checking (small cracks in the surface of the board) or even worse, honeycombing (holes in the middle of the board). One last, unusual difference is white oak has an acidic, almost pickle-like, smell.


White oak will come with a higher price tag due to a smaller supply than red oak. If you are needing a durable species for outdoor projects or a beautiful species for furniture or flooring, white oak is a great option.


Craftsmen Hardwoods stocks a variety of thicknesses and lengths in white oak lumber that are flat cut, quarter cut (fleck pattern) and rift cut (straight grain) boards along with white oak veneer plywood and edge banding to go with it.

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