Concerns regarding the availability, quality and pricing of domestic white oak (Quercus alba) are growing, according to hardwood suppliers interviewed by Woodshop News. Sought for its strength, durability and aesthetic properties, the species is in extremely high demand, they say.
“It has been for quite a while. But the logs just aren’t out there,” says Sam Talarico, owner of Talarico Hardwoods in Mohnton, Pa. “It’s real hard to find good white oak logs now, at least the ones that I buy; the good ones that are rift and quartered. The rift is in real high demand.”
Citing the widely known circumstance that white oak has been overcut for years, Talarico says the only domestic logs he’s been able to get lately are out of the urban market, which for him is on private properties north of Philadelphia. He finds slightly more luck with European white oak (quercus petrea) with a particular focus on Spessart, which he describes as having a beautiful straw color and tight grain due to meticulous forest management, making it very popular for high-end interior projects.
“Most of my logs are coming out of Europe, and the European Spessart oak is very in demand. Even in Europe, the big diameter and real high-quality logs are scarce. I was just over there before Christmas and only able to buy two logs from a log market where there were only four logs. I bought a lot of material that was cut and was all rift and quartered and they had some in inventory, so I bought a container of it,” says Talarico, who has extensive information on the Spessart history on his website, talaricohardwoods.com, including a photo of him hugging one of the last standing old-growth trees.
Imports naturally have a higher cost due to shipping alone, something Talarico says affects him. He says he recently paid $12,000 for a container, when he’s never paid more than $3,500 for one in the past. Add to that the rising price of the lumber alone, for which he sees no end in sight.
“The price has gone up 30 percent over what we’ve ever paid for logs and lumber. Lumber being produced right now that would be available in a year or two is going to be 30 percent higher, at least. Current rift in 4/4 stock starts at $22/bf and goes up with thickness, and 8/4 is $25/bf and it’s all Spessart. But that will that change with the lumber being cut now,” he adds.
John Sliney of Vienna Hardwoods in Fairfax, Va., is more focused on flat cut domestic white oak, but experiences the same issues with pricing and availability.
“White oak has gone way up. It’s now about the same price as walnut or more. I just bought some 8/4 white oak and 8/4 walnut, and the white oak was $1 more (per bf) than the walnut. It’s been gradual but primarily in the last year. Some places just don’t have any. We offer rift and quartered, but some people just get the flat,” says Sliney, quoting his retail price of flat cut white oak at $7/bf as of February.
“I think it’s all due to combination of a high demand for flooring, stairs and trimwork, and that a lot of the logging stopped during Covid and created a bottleneck. It’s very popular for flooring right now.”
This article was originally published in the April 2022 issue.