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White oak is ‘neck and neck’ with walnut


They say variety is the spice of life. With the many varieties offered in white oak, it’s no wonder why the species seems to be taking the hardwood market by storm these days. Suppliers interviewed by Woodshop News say the entire spectrum of white oaks, from top-grade cuts to the rustics that were once considered low grade, are all in demand.

Jerry Anton of O’Shea Lumber in Glen Rock, Pa., who obtains much of his white oak from Europe, says it’s a real hot seller in every way, shape and form, particularly in the designer cuts.

“What I see with white oak is that the rift- or quarter-sawn seems to be a little more popular with furniture, flooring and even in cabinetry. It’s pretty versatile for all that. People like the look of it instead of just plain-sawn oak. That quarter-sawn gives it a different flare,” says Anton.

“Another thing that seems to be popular is that rustic look. People want to see the knots and live edges. They finish it with a clear coat to show the variation in colors and mineral streaks.”

Common to the eastern U.S., white oak (Quercus alba) is a dense, rot resistant hardwood that is light to medium brown in color, often with an olive cast. Untreated, it fades over time and turns light grey and wheat-like colors. Designers are frequently trying to recreate the worn look of oak with paints and stains, or by creating faux versions of it, according to Greg Engle of Certainly Wood, a veneer supplier in East Aurora, N.Y.

“It’s competing with walnut. It seems like walnut and white oak are neck and neck right now. The predominant request has been for rift grain in white oak and in a thickness up to 1/16”, which we carry,” says Engle

“Right now, there’s nothing in oak that can’t be sold. What I mean by that is any grade that a mill produces has a home, whether it’s in the form of rift, quarter-sawn, flat cut, right down to pure rustic grades that are increasingly popular in the interior design circles right now. Pieces with knots, splits or cracks, those looking like old barn beams, for example, that’s the look in oak that’s trending above all right at the moment.”

Rob Lamoureaux of Parkerville Wood Products in Manchester, Conn., also reports that sales are up and demand is high for white oak.

“We sell a lot of quarter-sawn and rift-sawn. Price has gone up slightly, but the demand has been very strong. It’s always been preferred in architectural millwork to use white oak over red oak. A lot of our non-commercial customers are purchasing white oak. They’re doing tabletops, furniture legs. They like that the color is consistent,” says Lamoureaux.

Plain-sawn white oak (4/4, FAS) wholesales for $2.75-$2.95/mbf and retails for $4.60 to $4.70/bf. Quarter- and rift-sawn stock adds $3-$4/bf to the retail bill. 

This article originally appeared in the June 2018 issue.

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