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Red oak holds steady interest


While it’s still considered an underdog to the highly popular white oak, red oak (Quercus rubra) remains in the game and has its share of fans, according to hardwood dealers interviewed by Woodshop News. It’s unique pinkish hue, wide availability and lower price point are all factors considered by buyers.

Chad Muterspaw of C.R. Muterspaw Lumber Co. in Xenia, Ohio says although sales are definitely not booming, they’ve been steady for the past year.

“It’s not as popular as the white but it’s a steady mover. We still see [customers] that like that kind of traditional look, so they’ll go with the red and it’s also a little bit cheaper, so they like that. We do a decent amount of quartered and a little bit of rift in the red oak as well,” says Muterspaw.

“We still have a lot of the hobbyists that are doing smaller projects and such, and then on the cabinet shop side, on the bigger volumes, there’s not as much millwork but still some cabinetry. It seems like the moldings in red oak lately has gone by the wayside as far as trim and such.”

Scott Limone of Keiver-Willard Lumber Co., a wholesaler in Newburyport, Mass., says most red oak sales are for flat cut but there’s some interest in rift and quartered.

“It’s not as much as a commodity like poplar but it’s definitely popular in flooring, trim and whatnot. I haven’t noticed demand going up and down really; it’s mostly just stayed the same,” says Limone.

Keiver-Willard carries both northern and Appalachian red oak, which Limone says can vary slightly in color. But the Appalachian is available in wider and longer lengths. Limone says customers like having the two options as they can better meet project specs. And while he touts it as a versatile project wood, he sometimes cautions customers who might be using red oak in the wrong applications.

“Red oak isn’t very rot resistant compared to white. I always tell people that because sometimes they’ll be doing some outdoor project like a truck bed or part on a boat. I tell them white is what to use, and a lot of people aren’t aware of that. It’s open cell versus closed cell. The moisture gets in and it rots.”

Mat Hunnicutt of MacBeath Hardwood in Berkeley, Calif. says white oak is the trendy choice out west.

“While red oak does sell, it’s a much slower commodity than the white oak. It’s not so much the color, not so much the grain, because I’ve seen white oak that looks pinkish and red oak that looks greyish. It’s much more of the fact of what the magazines are hawking this month. Lately it’s been predominantly rift cut white oak and flat cut white oak, and there’s also a whitewash look coming back. Red oak has not taken off like that,” says Hunnicutt.

He does, however, predict red oak will come back within a year or so. “White oak was more of the 50s and 60s. Red oak was a lot of 70’s and 80’s, and now it’s going back to ash and white oak, and I’m assuming red oak will probably come back within six months to a year.”

FAS 4/4 red oak retails for about $3.10/bf. 

This article was originally published in the December 2020 issue.

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