Common Name(s): White oak
Scientific Name: Quercus alba
Distribution: Eastern United States
Tree Size: 65-85 ft (20-25 m) tall,
3-4 ft (1-1.2 m) trunk diameter
Average Dried Weight: 47 lbs/ft3 (755 kg/m3)
Specific Gravity (Basic, 12% MC): 0.6, 0.75
Janka Hardness: 1,350 lbf (5,990 N)
Modulus of Rupture: 14,830 lbf/in2 (102.3 MPa)
Elastic Modulus: 1,762,000 lbf/in2 (12.15 GPa)
Crushing Strength: 7,370 lbf/in2 (50.8 MPa)
Shrinkage: Radial: 5.6%, Tangential: 10.5%,
Volumetric: 16.3%, T/R Ratio: 1.9
Color/Appearance: Heartwood is a light to medium brown, commonly with an olive cast. Paler sapwood is not always sharply demarcated from the heartwood. Quartersawn sections display prominent ray fleck patterns (see images below). Red oak (Quercus rubra) tends to have a slightly redder cast (as opposed to olive), but color alone isn’t always a reliable method of determining the type of oak.
Grain/Texture: Grain is straight, with a coarse, uneven texture.
Rot Resistance: Rated as very durable; frequently used in boatbuilding and tight cooperage applications.
Workability: Produces good results with hand and machine tools. Has moderately high shrinkage values, resulting in mediocre dimensional stability, especially in flatsawn boards. Can react with iron (particularly when wet) and cause staining and discoloration. Responds well to steam-bending. Glues, stains, and finishes well.
Odor: Has a distinct smell while being worked 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: Abundant availability in a good range of widths and thicknesses, both as flatsawn and quartersawn lumber. Usually slightly more expensive than red oak, prices are moderate for a domestic hardwood, though thicker planks or quartersawn boards are more expensive.
Sustainability: This wood species is not listed in the CITES Appendices, and is reported by the IUCN as being a species of least concern.
Common Uses: Cabinetry, furniture, interior trim, flooring, boatbuilding, barrels, and veneer.
Comments: Strong, beautiful, rot-resistant, easy to work, and economical: white oak represents an exceptional value to woodworkers. It’s no wonder that the wood is so widely used in cabinet and furniture making.
Connecticut’s state quarter was minted with a picture and inscription of a famous white oak, the Charter Oak. In 1687, a cavity within the tree was used as a hiding place for the Connecticut Charter of 1662 to prevent its confiscation by the British.
Images: Drag the slider up/down to toggle between raw and finished wood. There is also a second quartersawn sample to help show the ray fleck pattern.
Porosity: ring porous
Arrangement: exclusively solitary earlywood pores in rows of two to four, latewood pores in radial/dendritic arrangement
Vessels: very large in earlywood, small in latewood; tyloses abundant
Rays: narrow and very wide, normal spacing
Lookalikes/Substitutes: Besides being confused with red oak (see notes below), oak species in general are sometimes confused with other ring-porous hardwoods like chestnut (Castanea genus) and ash (Fraxinus genus). But oak species have very wide rays which make them easy to separate from other ring-porous woods, which generally have narrower rays.
Notes: White oak heartwood tends to have tyloses (small, bubble-like structures) that can be seen in the large earlywood pores, while species of red oak lack tyloses. Additionally, ray height, when viewed on the face grain, tends to be taller/longer on white oak (sometimes exceeding one inch in length). See the article on distinguishing red and white oak for more details.