Species Specs: White Oak

Quercus alba

ORIGIN:
The Quercus alba (white oak) group contains several species of oak that share many similar characteristics. This group includes subspecies such as chestnut oak (Q. prinus), bur oak (Q. macrocarpa), post oak (Q. stellate), swamp oak (Q. bicolor), live oak (Q. virginiana), overcup oak (Q. lyrata), Oregon white oak (Q. garryana), English oak (Q. robur), and others.

White oak trees also grow throughout much of eastern Canada and the United States, but are more prominent in the South, South Atlantic, and Central states, including the southern Appalachians.

USES:
Commonly used in flooring, furniture, millwork, and cabinetry and for decorative veneers, boatbuilding, cooperage/barrels for wine and whiskey, shingles, and railroad ties.

COLOR:

  • Heartwood can vary from light to medium brown to pale yellow-brown or dark pale brown, commonly with an olive cast. White to light brown sapwood isn’t always demarcated from the heartwood. White oak can have a broad range in color variation.

DIFFERENTIATING WHITE OAK FROM RED OAK:

  • Other than color, there are a couple of other ways to differentiate between red oak and white oak:
    • When viewing the endgrain, the large earlywood pores found in red oak are open and empty. The pores of white oaks are plugged with a bubble-like structure called tyloses. This tyloses is why white oak works so well as wine and whiskey barrels.
    • Sodium nitrite (NaNo2) as a reagent in a 10 percent solution of water, when applied to oak, will quickly distinguish red oak from white oak. Red oak will only produce a slight brown discoloration, whereas white oak will turn dark brown to black.

GRAIN:

  • Grain is straight, open, and medium to coarse in texture, with longer ray patterns. Quartersawn white oak can have very pronounced figure, which can include crotches, swirls, burls, and ray fleck patterns sometimes referred to as tiger rays
    or butterflies.

HARDNESS (JANKA):

  • Averages 1360

DIMENSIONAL STABILITY: AVERAGE

  • White oak has a dimensional stability factor of 5.6 percent (radial) and 10.5 percent (tangential), meaning this species may shrink/swell up to 10.5 percent of its given width, depending on how it’s cut when going from green (30 percent MC) to oven-dried.

DIMENSIONAL CHANGE COEFFICIENT:

  • Averages .00180 (radial), .00365 (tangential)

SPECIFIC GRAVITY:

  • Averages .68

NAILING:
No known issues with nailing white oak.

SANDING:
Sands satisfactorily when following the correct sanding sequence. White oaks stain and finish well. Tannic acid, very prominent in white oak, can react with some liquids. This is often used intentionally to create unique customized effects, but can also cause unintentional consequences with some types of finishes.

ADDITIONAL FACTS:

  • Oak trees can grow to be 70’ tall and 9’ in width. Most types of oaks live more than 200 years. However, there are some trees that live more than 1,000 years.
  • One oak tree normally produces about 2,000 acorns each year.
  • Oak trees can absorb 50 gallons of water per day.
  • Cork is the bark from the cork oak tree primarily grown in Spain.
  • Oak is the national tree of numerous nations including the United States, England, Germany, Latvia, France, Serbia, and Poland. It symbolizes strength and perseverance.
  • The trend to specify European oak often includes the subspecies English oak (Q. robur). Although this species of oak shares many of the traits as North American white oak, it is not identical.
  • Bog oak and brown oak are typically both references to English oak (Q. robur) that have been salvaged and oftentimes preserved through being buried underground for years, or even centuries. These terms do not refer to a species of white oak, but a natural aging process that often fetches very high prices.
  • Red oak leaves are sharp at the ends, whereas white oak leaves are rounded.

Sources: The Wood Database; Copyright © 2008-2016, Eric Meier. Wood Handbook (Wood as an Engineering Material), USDA Forest Products Laboratory. A Guide to the Useful Woods of the World; Copyright © 2001, James H. Flynn Jr. and Charles D. Holder. The Woodbook (The Complete Plates), Copyright © 2017, Taschen. Missouri Dept. of Conservation

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