Maybe one of the most versatile wood species, White Oak is a popular choice among woodworkers and makers; not only is White Oak utilized by famed furniture designers like Frank Lloyd Wright but it is the wood of choice for the Amish! With roots throughout history, thanks to its high durability and workability, White Oak woods presence is notable from precolonial times to now. Learn more about what makes White Oak wood one of the most unique and sought-after hardwoods by reading on:
White Oak wood growth
White Oak (Quercus alba) tree growth is native to the eastern United States. More specifically, the region in which the White Oak tree grows expands from southwestern Maine and southern Quebec, to west towards southern Ontario, to central Michigan and southeastern Minnesota, to south to western Iowa, eastern Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas and east to northern Florida and Georgia.
The White Oak tree grows under a wide variety of climate conditions. The White Oak can sustain temperatures of extreme lows of -50 degrees Fahrenheit though its average temperature range is from 45 degrees Fahrenheit to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Depending on its area of growth, the White Oak tree will thrive best under a variety of temperatures, annual precipitation levels and relative humidity levels. Its preferred soil conditions range as well, making it adaptable to grow in all except dry and shallow soil. White Oak trees can grow as large as 100-feet-tall, reaching a mature age within 20-years.
Are White Oak trees hardwood trees?
Hardwood species are classified by the seeds the tree products. Each hardwood tree species has a coating that takes the shape of a fruit or a shell that becomes a flowering plant. These flowering seeds are known as angiosperm, which translates in Greek to “vessel seed.” Additionally, hardwood trees lose and regrow their leaves annually, making them deciduous trees.
Hardwood trees differ from softwood trees, as trees classified as softwood’s seeds do not have a coating and are instead dropped to the ground to deal with the elements. Examples of softwood tree seeds are needles and cones that are dubbed gymnosperm, meaning “naked seed.” Except for the Larch tree species, all softwood trees retain their needles year-round, making them ever green trees.
White Oak trees are hardwood trees, falling into the angiosperm group with their acorn seedlings. These leafy green trees are deciduous trees, lending further to their distinction.
With an abundance of Oak trees comes an abundance of acorns, the seed of the Oak tree. Not only are these shell covered seeds essential for further Oak tree growth, but many animals depend on these seeds for food. A mature Oak tree will produce between 25 pounds and 30 pounds of acorns per year, with some one day becoming new trees while others become food for foxes, squirrels, deer, hogs, turkeys and other woodland creatures.
The acorn is rich in Vitamin C, magnesium and calcium, making it not only a fantastic fuel source for animals but humans as well! Hunter gatherers relied on acorns as a fuel source thousands of years ago and they are still brought into modern day kitchens, where they are used to make flour and trail mix.
White Oak acorns mature faster than Red Oak acorns, taking one season to mature versus the two seasons it takes Red Oaks acorns. Despite this, Red Oak acorns are larger and heavier than White Oak acorns.
White Oak density
The Janka Hardness Scale is used to determine the relative hardness for domestic wood species, like White Oak wood. The test measures the amount of force that is required to embed a 11.28mm steel ball halfway into a piece of wood. While the Janka Hardness Scale is traditionally used to determine whether a wood species is suitable for flooring, it is a good measure of determining a wood species resistance to wear and its overall durability. Wood species with a higher number rating are harder than wood species with a lower rating. The data from the Janka Hardness Scale is expressed in pound-force, or lbf.
On the Janka Hardness Scale, the ranking for White Oak hardwood is 1360 lbf, putting it at a medium range of American hardwoods. The Janka Hardness Scale is indicative of White Oak woods strength and workability in contrast to other woods as with its 1360 lbf ranking, White Oak wood is stronger than Ash wood (1320 lbf), Red Oak wood (1120 lbf), Walnut wood (1010 lbf) and Cherry wood (950 lbf). With its strong and durable ranking, it is no wonder that White Oak hardwood is a go to option for furniture and flooring when it comes to northeastern American hardwoods.
Different kinds of Oak trees
There are more than 600 types of Oak trees growing around the world, with the United States being home to upwards of 60 different types. Oak is defined in the two groups of Red Oak and White Oak trees, with species falling into each group based on their distinct characteristics, regardless if they are the true Quercus alba or Quercus rubra. This makes it so that the Red Oak you are buying at the store may not truly be Quercus rubra but one of the “Red Oak” woods that are grouped in the category!
- Red Oak (Quercus rubra): as the true Red Oak tree, this Oak type is well known and well loved. Red Oak heartwood is light to medium brown featuring red and salmon undertones, and it features a straight, coarse grain pattern. The Red Oak is native to the Northeastern United States and Southeastern Canada and will grow to a mature height of 80 feet to 115 feet.
- Black Oak (Quercus velutina): similarly to the White Oak and the Red Oak trees, the Black Oak tree is native to the eastern United States and has a coarse texture. The Black Oak tree is pale red to brown color (not black!). Black Oak trees reach a mature height of 65 feet to 80 feet. The Black Oak tree falls into the Red Oak category.
- Bur Oak (Quercus macrocarpa): native to North America, the Bur Oak tree grows from North Carolina to New Mexico. It is pale brown in color, with coarse grain and moderate to large sized pores. It reaches a final height of 80 feet to 100 feet. The Bur Oak falls into the White Oak tree group.
- Chestnut Oak (Quercus prinus): otherwise known as the “rock oak” for its preferred growing conditions, the Chestnut Oak is another tree native to the Eastern United States. It is a popular wood type for outdoor projects, as well as firewood. The Chestnut Oak grows to a mature height of 60 feet to 70 feet and falls into the White Oak tree group.
- English Oak (Quercus robur): receiving its name for the its notable presence throughout the United Kingdom and Europe, the English Oak is an incredibly popular tree. The English Oak offers superior strength and is utilized in custom furniture building projects. This tree reaches a mature height of 80 feet to 115 feet and falls into the White Oak tree group.
How to tell the difference between White Oak and Red Oak
It can be challenging to distinguish between Red Oak wood and White Oak wood on just color alone. Despite being from the same wood species, their differences are numerous. Among several ways to distinguish White Oak from Red Oak, here are 5 top options:
- Color: Red Oak wood is lighter in color than White Oak wood and features red to salmon pink undertones. White Oak wood color can be described as being similar to wheat in color with cooler undertones.
- Hardness and workability: When it comes to hardness and workability, Red Oak wood is slightly easier to work with than White Oak wood. Red Oak wood has a Janka Hardness Scale rating of 1120 lbf, while White Oak wood has a Janka Hardness Scale rating of 1360 lbf. While this may not seem like a very large gap, the higher rating for White Oak proves itself against potential dents and scratches, while also being more challenging to work with in the workshop.
- Grain pattern: White Oak wood has a very mild, straight grain pattern with a perceived coarse, uneven texture even when planed down. While Red Oak woods grain can be described similarly, its large and open pores make the grain pattern more distinct.
- Water resistance: White Oak hardwood is significantly more water resistant to Red Oak wood thanks to its closed grain wood. White Oak wood pores are plugged by tyloses, making it harder for water to cause decay and rot. These natural water proofing properties are the reason White Oak has historically been the wood of choice for ship building.
- Leaves: when identifying Oak trees by their leaves instead of the appearance of their wood, an important item to examine is the tip of their leaves. White Oak leaves usually have a rounded tip while Red Oak leaves generally have a pointed tip.
Forest 2 Home White Oak woodworking projects
Small woodworking project inspiration
Dog bowl stand created with Forest 2 Home White Oak wood.
(created by @chrisbrace on Instagram)
Shower bench built with Forest 2 Home Red Oak hardwood and White Oak hardwood
(built by @a_mano_woodworking on Instagram)