White oak sales see boost

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White oak interest is surpassing that of red oak in the consumer marketplace, according to some lumber suppliers, where a portion of the market still gravitates to red as they discussed in interviews with Woodshop News.

Doug White of Doug White Hardwoods in Marissa, Ill., says white oak sales are up, especially for stair parts and trim.

“Sales on white oak have been up for the last six months for sure. It’s always hard to tell why customers prefer what they do as the market fluctuates. I really don’t know why we’re selling more white oak than we have in the past. The interest in red is going down slightly,” White says.

He adds that white oak is much harder to work with than red, but that it sands and stains quite well.

When talking lumber, red oak [Quercus rubra] and white oak [Quercus alba] are rather broad groupings that include a number of different tree variations with similar qualities. Red oak grows in the Eastern U.S. up through Nova Scotia, Canada. White oak is more limited in its native range to the Eastern U.S. Red oak has a reddish tinge and is is more porous than the tightly closed pores on white oak, which is lighter in color and makes a better choice for water-resistant projects. More on the differences can be found on www.wood-database.com.

Clint Dillon, of Steve Wall Lumber Co. in Mayodan, N.C., finds red oak to be more of a consistent seller lately.

“We’ve sold a lot of red oak recently in all thicknesses but especially pieces that are 1” thick. People buy it for cabinets, tables, accent pieces and trim. But red oak sales have been really good across the board in all thicknesses.

“We are selling a bit of 4/4 white oak again, but red oak is a little more popular for us right now. I just see more people tend to work with red oak than they do white. I think it’s a combination of them liking the color of the red oak and the working properties of it. It’s nice to work with.”

Jeff Hanna of Keystone Vintage Lumber in Lebanon, Pa., sells only reclaimed wood and says white oak is by far the hottest species there is right now, at least for him.

“Everybody wants white oak. Reclaimed white oak is probably the hardest to come by. Most of our supply comes from barns, and depending on where the barn is at there’s usually only one or two white oak beams per barn, so they are the most difficult to find, and for whatever reason right now everybody wants it,” Hanna says.

“From a reclaimed standpoint, it can be very difficult to differentiate between old growth red oak and white oak. The newer stuff is easy but the old growth red oak has tighter growth rings than the new stuff so it can almost look like white oak. I guess people like the ray flecking in any oak and the flecks of coloring are most prevalent in oak species.”

This article originally appeared in the July 2015 issue.

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