Live Oak (Quercus virginiana)

Live Oak (Quercus virginiana)

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Common Name(s): Live Oak, Southern Live Oak

Scientific Name: Quercus virginiana

Distribution: Southeastern United States

Tree Size: 40-60 ft (12-18 m) tall, 4-6 ft (1.2-1.8 m) trunk diameter

Average Dried Weight: 63 lbs/ft3 (1,000 kg/m3)

Specific Gravity (Basic, 12% MC): .80, 1.00

Janka Hardness: 2,680 lbf (12,920 N)

Modulus of Rupture: 18,220 lbf/in2 (125.6 MPa)

Elastic Modulus: 1,960,000 lbf/in2 (13.52 GPa)

Crushing Strength: 8,810 lbf/in2 (60.8 MPa)

Shrinkage: Radial: 6.6%, Tangential: 9.5%, Volumetric: 14.7%, T/R Ratio: 1.4

Color/Appearance: Has a light to medium brown color, though there can be a fair amount of variation in color. Conversely, Red Oak tends to be slightly redder, but is by no means a reliable method of determining the type of Oak.

Grain/Texture: Grain is straight, with a coarse, uneven texture. May have irregular grain depending on growing conditions of the tree.

Endgrain: Diffuse-porous; exclusively solitary; large to very large pores arranged radially, few; tyloses abundant; parenchyma vasicentric, diffuse-in-aggregates; very wide aggregate rays and narrow rays, spacing normal.

Rot Resistance: Live Oak has been rated as having very good resistance to decay, and has been used frequently in ship and boatbuilding.

Workability: Easy to glue, and takes stain and finishes very well. Though, due to its incredible density, (especially for an oak), Live Oak is harder to work with than other species of the Quercus genus.

Odor: Has a tell-tale smell that is common to most oaks. Most find it appealing.

Allergies/Toxicity: Although severe reactions are quite uncommon, oak has been reported as a sensitizer. Usually most common reactions simply include eye and skin irritation, as well as asthma-like symptoms. See the articles Wood Allergies and Toxicity and Wood Dust Safety for more information.

Pricing/Availability: Seldom available commercially, Live Oak may only be available from local sawmills within its native range. Expect prices to be higher than most other domestic species.

Sustainability: This wood species is not listed in the CITES Appendices or on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Common Uses: Cabinetry, furniture, interior trim, flooring, boatbuilding, barrels, and veneer.

Comments: Live Oak shares many of the same traits as White Oak (Quercus alba), though it is diffuse porous and readily separable from white oaks on the basis of anatomy. 

Historically, it has been used in shipbuilding, and was even used in the construction of the USS Constitution, which was fittingly named “Old Ironsides”—an incontrovertible testament to the wood’s toughness.

Related Species:

Related Articles:

Scans/Pictures:

Live Oak (Quercus virginiana)

Live Oak (sanded)

Live Oak (sealed)

Live Oak (sealed)

Live Oak (endgrain)

Live Oak (endgrain)

Live Oak (endgrain 10x)

Live Oak (endgrain 10x)

  • keith O

    I have not worked with as far as wood working goes but I did cut up the secondary trunk of a century live oak ( None to be over one hundred years old) with a 60cc 25in bar stihl chainsaw. The trunk was over 3 feet wide and it was hard as rock. Even with a professional saw like that it was hard to cut. I took a sharpened hatchet and tried to stick it in the end of the tree and it bounced out of my hand without making a dent. I tried several times with the same results. The extreme hardness may have been due to the age of the tree though. The main trunk was easily five feet thick. This thing was real old and very, very hard.

    • David

      Do you think live oak would hold up for out door structure timber framing in the south west high desert climate?

      • Alvin

        The problem with live oak is that it is, by nature, a sprawling tree that doesn’t play well with others, as in a forest stand. It grows close to the ocean and prefers coastal grass plains. Therefore, it has a very short trunk and lots of limbs. Long planks of any size are almost unheard of. Short runs could be glued together, but supporting its own weight out of water could be an issue. White pine (if strong enough for your application) treated with Timbor would probably be sufficient for several years, and can be retreated as needed if left bare.

        • Ryan Wiborg

          I have 2 absolutely behemoth quercus virginiana in my front yard in south Florida. I would put their age at about 80-90 years (I saw a picture of my house being built in 1950 and they were already 20 ft tall). Due to their location on the property, they were always pruned straight up. I figure someone could easily get 30′ planks out of their trunks. I know you say long planks of any size are unheard of, but I am pretty sure I have them in my front yard. I am planning to rebuild my house in the near future and want to cut them down and use them for flooring. Do you know if this is something people do?

  • Joe P

    Live oak grows with a sort of ropey/twisted grain. Since the grain doesn’t run straight, wedges don’t work so well. However, the waviness of the grain translates to the surface which ends up looking like an animal pelt. If you’ve ever tried ammonia fuming of white oak, live oak does the same thing but much darker and faster. It is indeed very hard and I was only able to shave off a very small portion at a time on my planer. The ropey texture also means tear out so I highly recommend drum or wide belt sanding to final thickness.

    As to the ship building, another common use stems from the way the limbs can grow at right angles. This can be slabbed up on a mill to be used for the knees in boat hulls.

  • Alan F

    Living in Florida Live Oak is very common. I have worked it several times, mostly lathe work. Sharp tools are a must, so keep your grinding wheel close by. If you are patient the grain produces some beautiful results, but it does tend to check. Hand sawing is fruitless, carbide blades are a must. As Keith said, even the best chainsaws will get a workout when cutting logs into workable lumber.

  • chick cole

    Live oak for making a baseball bat. (Pro gradr)

  • OAK ENTHUSIAST

    I HAVE A PAIR OF HEAVY AND STRONG OAKEN DRUM STICKS OVER 15 YEARS NOW.GREAT WOOD.
    I HAVE ALSO HAD OAK TOILET SEATS IN VARIOUS FLATS I STAYED [I PURCHASED MARINE STAINLESS STEEL HW-CAPE TOWN].STANDS UP TO WATER WELL[OAK AND SS].

  • OAK ENTHUSIAST

    O YEAH

    COST ONLY SLIGHTLY MORE THAN PINE[SOFT WOOD].
    THE MONEY MARKET IS OF COURSE UNREAL/ARTIFICIAL ,HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH RESOURCE ABUNDANCE.SEE ‘ZEITGEIST ADDENDUM’.

  • william herring

    looking for venders or marketers that purchase live oak

  • Ryan Wiborg

    I have 2 absolutely behemoth quercus virginiana (Southern Live Oak) in my front yard in south Florida. I would put their age at about 80-90 years (I saw a picture of my house being built in 1950 and they were already 20 ft tall). Due to their location on the property, they were always pruned straight up. I figure someone could easily get 20′ planks out of their trunks (to the top of the canopy they are probably 50 ft high). I know long planks of any size are unheard of, but I am pretty sure I have them in my front yard. I am planning to rebuild my house in the near future and want to cut them down and use them for flooring. Is this something people do? Can anyone help me find someone willing to convert my trees into hardwood flooring? I would love for them to ‘live on’ for another 100 years inside my new house. I kinda feel bad about cutting them down :(

    • Rozenkreutz

      Just google lumber mill’s in your area, if you were in central texas I could do it but thats a bit of a drive lol.