All About Oak – Red, White, and Blue

White Oak

White Oak

As an American company with roots dating back to our pre-nationhood days, J. Gibson McIlvain Lumber is proud to offer many domestic hardwoods in addition to our increasingly diverse selection of tropical hardwood species. While exotic hardwoods are certainly trending — particularly as decking species — many believe they pale in comparison to the a timeless beauty of Oak.

Red Oak

Because of its high availability, Red Oak is affordably priced, particularly for such a strong and hearty species. Its open grain structure allows it to bend easily, but sharp tools are needed to avoid issues with splintering. Part of the reason for Red Oak’s high level of availability is its massive size; however, its large growth range can also lead to inconsistencies among trees. This potential downside can be accommodated by sourcing Red Oak from Northern regions that produce slower-growing trees with tighter growth rings and richer coloring and stronger, more splinter-resistant boards.

The open pores and grain provide a unique challenge for woodworkers. While Red Oak finishes well, attaining a uniform surface can be difficult without a pore filler. At the same time, the species’ many pores allow the wood to capture pigment, providing an ideal surface for stain. Another challenge Red Oak provides is that, due to its high level of tannins, it can corrode steel fasteners, eventually causing staining of the wood. Water-based glues and steel fasteners also contribute to this unsightly situation, so they should be avoided, as well.

Common applications of Red Oak include millwork and many merchandising provisions in retail outlets.

Grading dried lumber

Grading dried lumber

White Oak

Like Red Oak, White Oak is a highly available and affordable domestic hardwood. Its strength and straight, consistent grain provides versatility and easy matching for wider panels. As a result, White Oak has long been a favorite species of cabinet and furniture makers.  One aspect of White Oak that sets it apart from other species is its medullary rays that are apparent in quartersawn boards. Highly stable, quartersawn White Oak enjoyed popularity as the prime species used in the domestic arts and crafts movement of the early 1900s.

Today’s market for White Oak is far from limited to furniture making. Due to the wood’s water resistance, today’s uses include exterior applications such as trim, general construction, and even garden structures and outdoor furniture. It is particularly popular for timber framing in Japanese architecture.

Despite White Oak’s relatively plain appearance, the fact that it finishes beautifully and takes stain well makes it a popular choice.

True Blue

j gibson mcilvain lumber companyBoth Red Oak and White Oak have been stricken by poor forestry stewardship in the past, but today’s North American Oak population is being managed responsibly. J. Gibson McIlvain Lumber continues to maintain a large inventory of Oak, just as we have for centuries in the American business.

J. Gibson McIlvain Company

Since 1798, when Hugh McIlvain established a lumber business near Philadelphia, the McIlvain family has been immersed in the premium import and domestic lumber industry. With its headquarters located just outside of Baltimore, the J. Gibson McIlvain Company ( is one of the largest U.S. importers of exotic woods. As an active supporter of sustainable lumber practices, the J. Gibson McIlvain Company has provided fine lumber for notable projects throughout the world, including the White House, Capitol building, Supreme Court, and the Smithsonian museums.

To order oak, contact a lumber sales representative at J. Gibson McIlvain Company by calling toll free 800-638-9100.

Learn more about the lumber industry:

Share Your Thoughts