According to Hardwood Floors magazine’s 2023 Industry Outlook survey, nearly 60 percent of respondents forecast increased demand for white oak, while closer to 20 percent expect increased demand for red oak. Jessica Hickman Fresch of Allegheny Mountain Hardwood Flooring in Emlenton, Pennsylvania, wants homeowners to know that red oak can be a great alternative to white oak. She cites the cost, health of the forest, and the cut as some of the main reasons to consider red oak.
“Red oak is much less expensive than white oak, and Pennsylvania’s net growth rate in 2021 was four red oak trees for every one white oak tree,” explains Hickman Fresch. “Red oak also has smaller rays than white oak, so in the rift and quarter sawn cut, the red oak naturally is heavier toward the rift sawn. It’s easier to get wide plank rift sawn, which often is requested in white oak and very difficult to achieve.”
Additionally, the white oak supply can play an interesting role in lifting spirits. “There is a lot more demand pressure on white oak because we are competing with the stave mills for the same big white oak logs that we need to quarter saw they need for their whiskey and wine barrels. There’s a new, very large stave mill being built near us, and the pressure on white oak will continue to get worse. Red oak can’t be used for stave barrels because the liquid won’t hold like it will in the white oak, so if we want to continue to enjoy our American bourbon, whiskey, and wine, we need to let them use more of the white oak and we can use the red oak for our floors,” says Hickman Fresch.
Red oak was not called red oak because of the color of the wood; rather, it was because of the color of the leaves in the fall.
From a style standpoint, she notes that red oak was not called red oak because of the color of the wood; rather, it was because of the color of the leaves in the fall.
“Yes, some of the wood has a red and pinkish tone, but there is a lot of color variation from light brown through shades of red to dark brown,” says Hickman Fresch. “We are starting to hear from homeowners who see the red oak and comment about the warmth of the wood and how much they like the natural color. There also are some amazing finishes that can tone down the red oak and really make the flooring look like white oak.”
Allegheny Mountain Hardwood Flooring’s red oak flooring recently has been featured in notable projects. The first is the Bob Dylan Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a museum and archive dedicated to the legendary singer-songwriter. Allegheny’s involvement in the project began when Aaron Talton with Brucke Flooring in Tulsa reached out in search of a red oak floor. Hickman Fresch met Talton at an NWFA Wood Flooring Expo years ago, and he remembered Allegheny specialized in rift and quarter sawn.
Allegheny happened to have about 500 square feet of 5” rift-only red oak clear grade that Talton ultimately used in the museum with a Loba finish.
Red oak also took center stage when the Allegheny Mountain Hardwood Flooring team worked with Leanne Ford, an interior designer who has appeared on HGTV in shows such as “Restored with the Fords.” Ford has a Pennsylvania connection, as she is originally from Pittsburgh, so Hickman Fresch has collaborated with her before.
“Leanne’s style is everything white, so she called me looking for white oak flooring that she needed ASAP for a remodel in Pittsburgh. All we had in stock was around 2,000 square feet of 6” rift and quarter sawn red oak, and she said she could make it work,” recalls Hickman Fresch. “The flooring was delivered and installed, and they were trying to decide how to finish it. She actually called me and asked if I’d be upset if they painted it white! I said yes, and they ended up using Bona Nordic seal instead. She said the flooring was her ‘biggest win’ of the whole house renovation.”
Hickman Fresch steals a line from Dylan, saying, “the times they are a-changin’” and that it is time to add rift and quarter sawn red oak into the flooring mix.
“I think as an industry, we can really help homeowners use quality American-made flooring and help with their budget by presenting red oak as an alternative to the white oak,” she concludes. “Homeowners and designers aren’t going to be leading this trend right away, but if we can show them how beautiful the red oak can be and how much money they can save by using it, it can make a difference. Using real wood is good for the environment, and it’s good for the health of the homeowner. Anything we can do to make them more likely to use wood, the better.”