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Barrel industry vies for supplies of white oak


The demand for rift-sawn white oak is currently outpacing the supply, a trend that’s keeping hardwood dealers on their toes trying to replenish their inventories.

“All the big jobs are rift. The customers don’t want the quartered, they want the rift. When you get the smaller jobs, they want the flake, but most of the big jobs they want the straight vertical grain rift. That’s where they money is and that’s what’s moving,” says Sam Talarico of Talarico Hardwoods in Mohnton, Pa.

“Plainsawn white and quartered white are still in demand and we’ve not had any issues with keeping a good supply of those. But with the rift, the popularity is just through the roof, so we have had some issues with some of our mills getting behind,” adds Chad Muterspaw of C.R. Muterspaw Lumber Co. in Xenia, Ohio.

“We’ve seen a lot of the larger cabinet shops and millwork companies go for the rift. It’s just that straight grain and that color tone of white oak right now is just extremely popular. People are using a lot of clear finishes and not changing the natural color of it at all.”

Barrel makers also have a thirst for white oak.

“Worldwide, the barrel industry is where most of the competition for real good rift white oak logs is coming from and most people don’t know that. They need good diameter and good growth for wine, whisky and other hard liquors which are all made in oak barrels,” says Talarico.

“We talked to one of our loggers, and one thing they mentioned was that the barrel industry used to pay very minimal amounts for white oak logs, and now, because of their demand and they need it, they’re paying a higher price and basically snatching up logs that would probably otherwise go into more of what we do in the furniture industry,” says Muterspaw.

Slow tree growth is particularly important for the unique texture of white oak (Quercus alba). Trees that get too much sunlight grow fast and unevenly, resulting in low-grade saw logs.

“The dimensions of the lumber are small in width and the texture is poor because they’re grown faster, and the color is all over the place,” says Talarico. “What the production mills are running for rift and quartered lumber leaves a whole lot to be desired when you’re looking for real good material for special jobs.”

Prices for 4/4 rift- and quarter-sawn white oak start at about $5/bf. Larger widths and thicknesses were quoted from $16-$25/bf. 

This article originally appeared in the July 2019 issue.

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