Domestic Species Focus: 2 Species of Oak

Domestic hardwood lumber species such as Maple and Walnut are certainly part of our nation’s rich history. At the same time, one could argue that Oak is even more representative of our rich lumber heritage. Two specific species, White Oak and Red Oak, are still widely available today, making them both affordable hardwood options for interior and exterior use.

White Oak

White Oak

The White Oak tree grows quite tall, allowing it to produce strong lumber with straight, consistent grain. Its size allows it to be easily matched for wider panels, making it ideal for use in furniture and cabinetry. One characteristic unique to this species is its striking appearance when quartersawn. Quartersawn White Oak displays medullary rays while also providing an extremely high degree of stability.

As the species-of-choice during the Arts and Crafts era of American furniture during the 1900s, White Oak represents for many “the simple pleasures of traditional craftsmanship and artistry” and the “idealism, beauty and simplicity” that challenged the machines of the Industrial Revolution and all the lifestyle changes that era brought.

Today, applications for White Oak have expanded to include exterior applications, such as trim and garden structures, as well as timber frames in Japanese-style architecture. While White Oak boards may be unremarkable in appearance, their ability to take stain well and finish easily and beautifully allows the species to offer plenty of options to the creative craftsman.

Red Oak

Like White Oak and other North American Oak species, the Red Oak tree grows to be quite large, allowing it to yield plenty of wide, thick boards and making it quite an affordable option. Due to the Red Oak’s vast growth range, inconsistencies can occur; J. Gibson McIlvain avoids that issue by sourcing only from Northern, colder climates, which produce deep coloring and tight growth rings.

The sapwood of Red Oak is not suitable for use, but at the same time presence of sapwood isn’t often considered in grading. J. Gibson McIlvain takes care to downgrade Red Oak that includes sapwood, making sure each board meets the minimum grading category requirements once sapwood has been removed.

A strong species with open grain structure, it can cause dulling to cutting edges; as a result, extremely sharp tools are needed, or splintering will inevitably occur. While the grain combines with open pores, allowing Red Oak to be able to be finished well, sometimes pore filler is needed. The many pores available to capture the pigment allows Red Oak to stain well. Due to the tannins of Red Oak, this species can cause corrosion of steel fasteners, which in turn can cause staining of the wood. Water-based glues or steel clamps can also cause similar staining.

Because of the high availability and low cost of Red Oak, it is used for a variety of applications, including shelving, merchandising fixtures, and millwork.

Continue Reading About the Wood Industry

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Understanding Factors Affecting Lumber Pricing

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.

Contact a representative at J. Gibson McIlvain today by calling (800) 638-9100.

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