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Rustic appearance gives white oak an edge

Customer preferences for red and white oak fluctuate from year to year and in 2014 white oak has taken the lead. Hardwood dealers interviewed by Woodshop News say current buyers prefer white over red for its rich light-to-dark-brown color. Designers also favor white oak, especially when it’s distressed, giving it a rustic appearance.

But increased demand leads to higher prices. While red oak prices have stabilized, white oak costs have risen in recent months.

“Prices in white have continued to climb,” says Joe MacAdams of Highland Hardwoods, a retailer and wholesaler in Brentwood, N.H. “You have to have your orders ahead at the mill now because you can’t just call up and say you need a truckload. We sell a lot of random sizes and rustic strip items 6”, 8” and 10” wide. A lot of the wider panels are being sold to the flooring industry.

“A lot of people use the white oak for flooring in the industry around here. It’s hard, it’s dense and it’s got that grayish-green color so it gives you a little different look. Where red oak gives you that pinkish, reddish tinge, white oak can look different in every piece. And if you put a stain to it, it takes it differently than other species. It’s used for everything in the market. We get a lot of ours from Pennsylvania.”

“For the last couple of years we’ve done a lot with white oak both in sales and in manufacturing. It seems like rift white oak has been more popular than plain sliced,” says Dave Harris of Parker Wood Products, a retailer and architectural millwork shop in Manchester, Conn.

“We’ve done quite a bit with oak this year as a continuation from last year,” says Matt Gilland of Superior Veneer in New Albany, N.Y. “We sell a mix of red and white, although in the past year we’ve seen an uptick in rustic. It has knots and is full of defects. Some people are distressing it more and others are using it as is because they want a rustic look rather than something uniform.”

At Superior, oak sheets are run as random plank mismatch batches to disperse random knots and defects throughout the face.

Gilland says he sells a lot of 12’ sheets of flat-cut white oak, a clear AA grade option, and also quarter cuts in red oak that are typically done in a flake variation.

“Our customers are using it for millwork projects or putting it in hospitals, banks, businesses and home cabinetry. They are very specific on what they’re looking for. All of this over the past year has been readily available,” Gilland says.

This article originally appeared in the November 2014 issue.

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