Botanical name: Quercus spp.
Common/commercial names: Northern white oak, Southern white oak
Distribution & Availability
Widespread throughout Eastern USA. The white oak group comprises many species, of which about eight are commercial. Very widely available in lumber and veneer, in a full range of grades and specifications.
White oak is similar in colour and appearance to European oak. The sapwood of American white oak is light coloured and the heartwood is light to dark brown. White oak is mostly straight grained with a medium to coarse texture, with longer rays than red oak. White oak, therefore, has more figure.
Physical & Mechanical Properties
A hard and heavy wood with medium bending and crushing strength, low in stiffness, but very good in steam bending. Its good overall strength means it is increasingly being used by architects and designers in structural applications. More detailed information can be obtained in the AHEC publication Structural design in American hardwoods.
White oak machines well, nails and screws well, although preboring is advised. As it reacts with iron, galvanised or copper nails are recommended. Its adhesive properties are variable, but it stains and polishes to a good finish. The wood dries slowly and care is needed to avoid checking. Due to its high shrinkage, it can be susceptible to movement in performance under variable moisture conditions.
The heartwood is resistant to decay, extremely resistant to preservative treatment, and the sapwood is moderately resistant to treatment. Its natural durability means that white oak heartwood can be used externally without preservative treatment, but localised climate and exposure conditions should be taken into account to determine its potential performance.
Construction, furniture, flooring, architectural joinery, exterior joinery, mouldings, doors, kitchen cabinets, panelling, railway sleepers, timber bridges, barrel staves and coffins. White oak can vary in colour, texture, characteristics and properties according to the growing region. It is therefore recommended that users and specifiers work closely with their suppliers to make sure the wood they order is suited to their specific needs. Northern and Southern may be sold separately.
White oak tends to be consistent in colour throughout its wide Northern to Southern range. Certain areas of the Appalachian Mountains produce a highly figured wormy variety and this is sold as Sound Wormy. Sapwood is admitted without limit in the NHLA rules, but usually sorted with a minimum of one heartwood face for export. Consult your supplier about their grading standards for sapwood. White oak is used around the world and complements European oak, although its colour consistency and the high volume of square edged lumber production make it first choice for many furniture, flooring and joinery manufacturers.