White Oak (Quercus alba)

White Oak (Quercus alba)

View More Images Below

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): .60, .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. Nearly white to light brown sapwood is not always sharply demarcated from the heartwood. Quartersawn sections display prominent ray fleck patterns. 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. 

Endgrain: Ring-porous; 2-4 rows of large, exclusively solitary earlywood pores, numerous small to very small latewood pores in radial arrangement; tyloses abundant; growth rings distinct; rays large and visible without lens; apotracheal parenchyma diffuse-in-aggregates (short lines between rays).

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 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: 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 slightly more expensive.

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: White Oak is the state tree of Connecticut, Illinois, and Maryland. Connecticut’s state quarter was minted with a picture and inscription of a famous White Oak tree, The Charter Oak.

White Oak is strong, beautiful, rot-resistant, easy-to-work, and economical, representing an exceptional value to woodworkers. It’s no wonder that the wood is so widely used in cabinet and furniture making.

Related Species:

Related Articles:

Scans/Pictures: You can see from the picture below that the color of White Oak looks almost identical, though slightly darker, with sanding sealer applied. However, the grain and pores become much more pronounced if a pigment stain is used.

White Oak (Quercus alba)

White Oak (sanded)

White Oak (sealed)

White Oak (sealed)

White Oak (endgrain)

White Oak (endgrain)

White Oak (endgrain 10x)

White Oak (endgrain 10x)

Quartersawn White Oak box

Quartersawn White Oak box

White Oak (turned)

White Oak (turned)

  • D

    So…. Isn’t “Quercus Alba” actually the Japanese white oak?
    This articles says its from the US. Is all white oak lumped into a
    generalized category?

    • ejmeier

      Quercus alba is definitely a Stars ‘n Stripes native. The term White Oak can be a more generalized term, but Quercus alba is very specific, and it’s native to eastern sections of North America.

      Maybe the tree has been subsequently planted in Japan too?

  • Mario Cargol

    I always found the same but i think is just because the grain sometimes has ondulations. If you peel the bark of a holm oak(quercus ilex) you will see it more clearly. Those parts seem to have bad grain but they never gave problems to me when doing steam bending of kayak ribs ;)

  • jody frenzel

    Fantastic writing ! Apropos , if your business requires a IRS 4868 , my business partner filled out a sample version here https://goo.gl/jyjFyS.

  • Rickey Bryan

    How stable would true American white oak be in instruments, such as guitar body’s? It seem to have a high shrinkage rate, but if it is quarter swan would or will that apply assuming that it has been properly dried?

  • Donna Smolinski

    I am thinking of using White Oak in lieu of Cypress for rebuilding my exterior porch railing. I know that White Oak can be stained, but can it be painted to a nice smooth finish?

    • Silas Jura

      Cypress has excellent rot resistance and will hold up much better in exterior conditions but to answer your question: Oak in general is not a very friendly wood to paint if you are looking for a smooth surface. The grains are very open and porous so you will still see the graining even after being painted. Hard Maple is a much better wood if you are looking for a smooth finish paint job and it is just as strong as White Oak. Make sure it is Hard Maple as there are soft maple woods as well. The other option if you are stuck on White Oak, is to buy the highest grade (select & better or even quarter sawn oak) which will have much tighter graining pattern but this will cost you 2-3x as much for regular Oak. The graining pattern should dissipate after a few coats of paint since the paint will fill in the porous grains the more coats you put on. I might add that I would cringe to see someone paint quarter sawn oak as it is so beautiful when stained and finished properly.

      Hope this helps,
      Silas