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White oak shows its might

White oak

North American and European white oak are dominating the hardwood market, according to U.S. dealers surveyed by Woodshop News. The strong demand is reflected in higher prices. 

“White oak is red hot,” says Rick Hearne, owner of Hearne Hardwoods, a wholesaler and retailer in Oxford, Pa. “We’ve had strong sales for high-end rift and quartersawn variations, and have sold plenty of flat-cut boards as well. 

“We are only buying true Quercus alba because in white oak there’s something like 30 or so species that are lumped together for lumber purposes. The different species actually have subtle differences in color, but the alba tends to be that light straw color. It’s considered to have the finest texture of North American white oak. 

European white oak (Quercus petraea) isn’t quite as white and has a slightly fine texture, according to Hearne. 

“Buyers really want the rustic quality and they’re looking for lots of small tight knots,” adds Hearne. 

He says the retail price of flat sawn 4/4 white oak is up $5.50/bf, while quarter sawn is selling for $7.75/bf. Rustic is a bargain at $2/bf, but that’s still a significant increase. Prices for European white oak start at $10/bf for flatsawn and $15/bf for quartersawn. 

Greg Engle of Certainly Wood, a veneer supplier in East Aurora, N.Y., is seeing new demand for riftsawn white oak. 

“Our primary calls are for rift white oak with uniformed fine grains and also for special thicknesses up to 1/16”. Our clients who do special finishing such as cerusing or distressing with wire brushing are looking for that little bit of extra thickness in their white oak veneers. 

“Aside from nice uniformed grains of white oak, plain sliced is doing well, and distressed white oak with cracks and splits, our rustic oak, is doing well these days. Same for European white oak,” says Engle. 

Higher prices may eventually stall the market, according to Rocky Mehta of West Penn Hardwoods in Conover, N.C. 

“White oak has gone up in price, especially for the 8/4, which is about 30 percent higher,” he says, “Customers are still buying 4/4 at over $5/bf retail, when it used to be $4.25/bf. I think people will start to shy away in about six months or so.”  

This article originally appeared in the October 2017 issue.

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