White oak (Quercus alba)

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.

 

Quartersawn White Oak box
Quartersawn white oak box
White oak (turned)

Identification: See the article on Hardwood Anatomy for definitions of endgrain features.

White oak (endgrain 10x)
Endgrain (1x)

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

Parenchyma: diffuse-in-aggregates

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. 

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Deborah C Williamson

I’m trying to identify this wood. I’ve come into 7 ten foot boards that are 2” thick of this reclaimed wood. It is super dense and hard and wicks water easily, which sounds more like red oak with the porosity. That said, I think it looks more like white oak. Any suggestions? Here is edge grain, face grain, end grain, and an overall shot.

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Frank

I am not sure what species that is, but from the side view of the board it does not look like white oak, which generally has noticeable ray flecks. It kind of looks like ash to me.

Phil Smith

I am thinking about buying some unfinished oak planks from a local wholesaler. He gets them from pipe line companies that use them to haul pipe on railcars then give them to him after one use.

I suspect it is Live Oak since that is the most abundant oak in this area. I build furniture and cabinets in my home shop. I have a jointer to finish the edges.

Of course I will select the boards that are straight but Is there anything else I should consider or be cautious about?

Rafael

Hi, is this queréis alba the best wood for barrels for aging rum or bourbon??
It’s there a place where I can bay already cut this wood for barrels.
Thanks.

Ja

It’s the ONLY wood for bourbon, by definition.

Idrinka Dabourbon

I must respectfully correct this. White Oak is the most commonly used for bourbon barrels, but the rules state bourbon must be aged in new, charred oak barrels. The type of oak is irrelevant. Also, be careful making your own spirits; if you don’t know what you’re doing, you can end up blind or dead.

Cheers. ?

Scooter

Hi there, we recently bought a 1920 farmhouse in MD. The house itself needs to be completely renovated and updated. This is going to require multiple structural changes. There have been various pieces of the structural elements that have been confirmed to be white oak. Can someone tell me how strong a 5.5”x 5.5” beam would be? What find if load can white oak carry?

Michael

Lumber span tables are commonly available on the internet with a simple Google search. The span tables will give you all of the essential load data you need.

Dillon Fitzgerald

You will need a knowledgeable structural engineer to tell you the strength of your beam. The member can be grade in-situ to provide a better representation of strength. It also depends how the beam is installed and its connections.

I can help you with that or you can find another professional to help you out.

Sam edens

I’m refinishing a rocking chair( white oak) frame.is there another wood that will match up with a clear coat . need to replace some slats on seat.

Amy Phelps

Hello. I’ve recently acquired this beautiful side board (dated approximately 1910-1915). I’m going to bring it back to life and I’m wondering what type of wood it is. Oak, Cherry? Also, what stain would you recommend for restaining the top and mirror area.
Thank you.

Amanda Berger

I am trying to find out what kind of wood my headboard is.. Any help would be appreciated.

Jason

From what I can tell from this picture it looks like walnut

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… Read more »

ORO Woodworks

White oak is not difficult to paint to a smooth finish, so long as it is well sanded. It doesn’t absorb the paint nearly as much as red oak, as its grain is MUCH tighter. But, that said, I would suggest not painting high quality expensive hardwoods in general — you’re covering up half of what you are paying for. Softwoods actually tend to expand less than hardwoods due to moisture exchange, which is one of the reasons they are used often in exterior builds. Plus, they tend to be less expensive, and paint easily. You’ll likely pay $5.50+ per… Read more »

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?

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.

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 ;)

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?