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FNR Hardwood - White Oak

Purdue University


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Quercus alba

Summary

White Oak, or Quercus alba, has been used for a variety of things throughout history, such as log cabins, ships, wagon wheels, and furniture. White Oak is commonly a light straw color to medium brown color with long ray streaks throughout. This material is very resistant to decay and is one of the best woods for steam bending.

Looking at the panels on the wall from left to right. Board one is a top grade flat sawn board. The left one-third of this board is typical of rift white oak. Board two is an example of quarter sawn white oak. Here you can see the ray fleck in the wood and the long parallel grain lines. Boards three and four are average examples of flat sawn white oak. In board four you can see some clusters of pin knots which is typical for white oak to have. Board five shows a large round grub hole toward the top as well as a scar from grub damage. It is typical for mineral stain or discoloration to occur around grub hole damage. You may notice that some of the boards glisten in the light. This is because white oak is filled with tyloses, which can be seen in the end grain example on this webpage.

History

It was used for durable bottom logs in cabins, ships, and most importantly for wagons. As a major component of wagon wheels and other high-strength parts, it carried the settlers even further west and supplied both the North and South with the means to transport artillery and other heavy items used in the Civil War. As the country continued to develop, the last of the old growth timber was sawed into quartered and rift lumber. It was used for the Arts and Crafts Movement and Mission Style furniture and to decorate railroad passenger cars.

Color & Texture

White oak wood can vary from a very light straw color, which is currently preferred, to a brown color. The wood can also be mottled with gray. Occasionally, slow growth old trees will produce boards with a pink color

Anatomical and Microscopy

Sanded face grain of white oak, image courtesy of The Wood Database
Image courtesy of The Wood Database
10x magnification of white oak end grain image courtesy of The Wood Database
Image courtesy of The Wood Database

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).

Wood Properties

Workability
One of the best woods for machining as it cuts cleanly with little tearing or fuzzing
Strength
Excellent mechanical or strength properties
Steam Bending
One of the best woods for bending
Drying
Lumber is difficult to dry, and a mild kiln schedule must be used
Shrinkage
Highest shrinkage next to hickory
Decay
Moderate to very resistant to decay

Products

White oak is preferred for interior decorative applications ranging from furniture (especially church furniture), cabinets, millwork, and hardwood flooring.

It is also good for long term exterior applications ranging from caskets, fence posts, fence boards, sill plates, trailer beds, mine timbers, railroad ties, and barrels

Tradition White Oak Barrel image by Gerard Prins

By Gerard Prins - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0 Source
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