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OAK, WHITE



Quercus alba and MANY others (see fact sheet)


A NOTE ABOUT OAKS IN THE USA AND EUROPE



the red oak and white oak groups

There is universal agreement that all oaks belong to the genus Quercus of the family Fagaceae but beyond that there are differing reports on the breakdown. The most common seems to be this:

Leucobalanus, the white oaks, are further subdivided into live oaks, chestnut oaks and the rest of the white oaks.

Erythrobalanus, the red oaks, are further subdivided into the live oaks and the rest of the red oaks.

Live oaks are oaks that keep their leaves year-round and which otherwise come from both the red oak and the white oak groups.

Depending on the authority, there are stated to be somewhere between 250 and 900 different wood producing species in the genus Quercus.

For woodworkers, what matters is this: the oaks that grow in America are generally sold only as red or white, not live or chestnut. Botanists care about the distinction but woodworkers generally have no reason to alhtough you will sometimes see oaks broken out into different species due to differences in hardness or looks. As just one example, burr oaks tend to have MUCH stronger rays than most other oaks.

Another oak commonly sold in America is English brown oak; this is a form of European oak (Quercus petrae) and I have broken it out separately. There are some other woods that use the name oak (some of which I have also broken out separately), but which are not actually oaks. None of these are of the genus Quercus. These include sheoak, fishtail oak, Australian oak, Tasmanian oak, New Guinea oak and various varieties of "silky oak".

The thing I've always found the most striking about white oak is the contrast in porosity with red oak. Although it seems odd (well, it does to me, anyway) red oak is one of the most porous woods in the world (the most porous in my experience) and white oak is one of the least porous woods in the world. In fact, white oak is so impermeable to moisture that it was the wood of choice for coopers (barrel makers) in the days of wooden ships. Now that might have been because white oak was readily available whereas many exotic woods that are a low in porosity were not readily available. Anyway, I found all that very interesting, which will give you some idea how easily entertained I am.   :-)





my samples: --- colors are accurate throughout


Three nicely quartersawn, and VERY flaky, planks and a closeup of one of them.


some very flaky planks. I was disappointed at how this pic turned out since the ray flakes don't show up well at all, so I took a pic at an angle and you can see the difference directly below


angled pic of the upper right plank in the set directly above. Note how the rays are MUCH more visible when viewed at just a slight angle


both sides of a rift cut sample plank of white oak / Quercus alba --- HUGE enlargements are present


end grain and end grain closeup of the piece directly above


END GRAIN UPDATE from directly above


both sides of a sample plank of rift cut white oak / Quercus alba --- HUGE enlargements are present. This sample was loaned to me by David Clark whom I thank for this and other contributions to the site.


end grain and end grain closeup of the piece directly above


END GRAIN UPDATE from directly above


both sides of a quartersawn sample plank of white oak / Quercus alba --- HUGE enlargements are present


end grain and end grain closeup of the piece directly above


END GRAIN UPDATE from directly above


both sides of a sample plank of quartersawn white oak / Quercus alba --- HUGE enlargements are present. This sample was loaned to me by David Clark whom I thank for this and other contributions to the site.


end grain and end grain closeup of the piece directly above


END GRAIN UPDATE from directly above


both sides of a sample plank of gambel oak / Quercus gambelii --- HUGE enlargements are present. This sample was loaned to me by David Clark whom I thank for this and other contributions to the site. This species is in the white oak group.


end grain and end grain closeup of the piece directly above


END GRAIN UPDATE from directly above


rift cut plank and end grain


end grain closeup of the piece directly above


END GRAIN UPDATE from directly above


sample plank and end grain


end grain closeup and END GRAIN UPDATE of the piece directly above


both sides of a sample plank of white oak / Quercus spp. --- HUGE enlargements are present. This sample was loaned to me by Mark Peet whom I thank for this and other contributions to the site. This piece has the highest ring count that I've ever seen in oak; something just over 40 rings/inch, and as you can see in the end grain update below, the entire growth consists almost entirely of just the rays and row after row of large earlywood pores, 1 row per year. Because of this somewhat hollow structure, the piece is also one of the lightest I've ever encountered for oak.


end grain, end grain closeup, and END GRAIN UPDATE of the piece directly above


flat cut plank


flat cut plank and closeup. I ran across this in an office building somewhere --- it had a strong florescent light directly behind it, so I had to diddle the colors quite a bit to make it come out more or less correct, as it is (the closeup is a good representation of the true color).


rift cut plank and end grain


end grain closeup of the piece directly above --- this shot makes the color look more like English brown oak that white oak --- the color of the pics directly above this is correct.


plank and end grain --- this piece was contributed by Rex Scate, whom I thank. It was taken from the demolition of an old courthouse that was built in the 1860's or so. I cannot absolutely ID it as white oak but I'm just about positive that's what it is. The color in the pics has an orange tint that is not in the wood itself.


end grain closeup of the piece directly above


sample plank and end grain listed as Oregon oak / Garry oak / Quercus garryana


end grain closeup of the piece directly above and the END GRAIN UPDATE from directly above


both sides of a sample plank listed as just Quercus spp.


end grain and end grain closeup of the piece directly above


END GRAIN UPDATE from directly above


"chestnut oak" sample plank and end grain --- As you will see throughout this site, I have quite a few bad things to say about samples from the IWCS because of the incredibly crappy quality of so many of the samples I got from them. THIS one, however takes the cake. It is a perfectly good sample and not flawed in any way, but it is identified as "chestnut oak" when a wood novice could tell from the end grain that there is no possibility that it is ANY kind of oak (the green color is a bit of a clue as well). This from an organization that supposedly promotes correct identification of wood ! It's actually sassafras and I may move it to that page at some point.


end grain closeup and END GRAIN UPDATE from directly above


both sides of a sample plank of overcup oak / Quercus lyrata --- HUGE enlargements are present. This species is in the white oak group


end grain and end grain closeup of the piece directly above


END GRAIN UPDATE from directly above


both sides of a sample plank of chinkapin oak / Quercus muehlenbergii


end grain and end grain closeup of the piece directly above


END GRAIN UPDATE from directly above


both sides of a sample plank of chinkapin oak / Quercus muehlenbergii --- HUGE enlargements are present. This sample was loaned to me by David Clark whom I thank for this and other contributions to the site.


end grain and end grain closeup of the piece directly above


END GRAIN UPDATE from directly above


both sides of a sample plank of chinkapin oak / Quercus muehlenbergii --- HUGE enlargements are present. This sample was loaned to me by David Clark whom I thank for this and other contributions to the site.


end grain and end grain closeup of the piece directly above


END GRAIN UPDATE from directly above


both sides of a sample plank of swamp chestnut oak / Quercus michauxii --- HUGE enlargements are present. This sample was loaned to me by David Clark whom I thank for this and other contributions to the site.


end grain and end grain closeup of the piece directly above


END GRAIN UPDATE from directly above


both sides of a sample plank of chestnut oak / Quercus prinus --- HUGE enlargements are present. This sample was loaned to me by David Clark whom I thank for this and other contributions to the site. This species is in the white oak group. The white streaks are white rot.


end grain and end grain closeup of the piece directly above


END GRAIN UPDATE from directly above


both sides of a sample plank of swamp white oak / Quercus bicolor


end grain and end grain closeup of the piece directly above


END GRAIN UPDATE from directly above



both sides of a sample plank of post oak / Quercus stellata


end grain and end grain closeup of the piece directly above


END GRAIN UPDATE from directly above (to get the color to come out right, I had to make the white background reddish)


both sides of a sample plank of post oak / Quercus stellata --- HUGE enlargements are present. This sample was loaned to me by David Clark whom I thank for this and other contributions to the site.


end grain and end grain closeup of the piece directly above


END GRAIN UPDATE from directly above


rift cut planks


quartersawn planks --- the orangish one in the last pic has been long exposed to light and air and has acquired a slight patina, thus the color


quartersawn plank shot at a lumber yard


This is 3 pics of the floor and one of a section of wall, taken at the National Portrait Gallery in Wash. DC. The building was built over 150 years ago and I believe this is the original wood and is magnificent old growth white oak. I had to work to keep from laughing out loud while I was taking these pics because here I was in the premier American portrait gallery, with everyone going "ohh" and "ahh" over portraits by Gilbert Stuart and Whistler and others and some of them were looking at me like I was insane because there I was going around taking pics of the FLOOR. The orange color is accurate and is no doubt due to 150+ years of aging of the wood and the finish.


planks photographed at a lumber yard --- there is a pink tint in the pics that is not present in the wood (see closeup directly below)


closeup of the two planks in the upper pic directly above --- color on this pic is correct

NOT a raw wood color
flooring sample of quartersawn white oak that has been finished with a hard, shiny finishing agent that clearly has deepened and enriched the color. The ray flakes are large and are more pronounced on the wood than what shows up in this pic; they are somewhat more clear in the pic directly below.


the piece directly above, after I sanded off the finish


both sides of a sample plank of curly white oak / Quercus alba --- HUGE enlargements are present. The curly is not clear in these pics and in any case it is a very mild curl.


end grain and end grain closeup of the piece directly above


END GRAIN UPDATE from directly above


both sides of a sample plank of "curly" white oak / Quercus alba --- HUGE enlargements are present. This sample was loaned to me by David Clark whom I thank for this and other contributions to the site. Althought the vendor who sold David this sample is genearlly quite reliable, there is no hint of curly figure in this piece, it is just swirly grain, probably from near a crotch.


end grain and end grain closeup of the piece directly above


END GRAIN UPDATE from directly above


both sides of a sample plank of "curly" white oak / Quercus alba --- HUGE enlargements are present. This sample was loaned to me by David Clark whom I thank for this and other contributions to the site. Although the vendor who sold David this sample is generally quite reliable, there is no hint of curly figure in this piece, it is just swirly grain, probably from near a crotch.


end grain and end grain closeup of the piece directly above


END GRAIN UPDATE from directly above


spalted plank and closeup


end grain closeup of the plank directly above


spalted plank and closeup


spalted planks and a closeup of the upper one


small plank and end grain --- fantastic spalting combined with an unusual wavy grain; wish I had more of this but this little piece is was an orphan in a mixed lot


end grain closeup of the piece directly above


veneer mixes to show some variety in color and grain


long veneer sheet and closeup


flat cut veneer and closeup --- the faint purplish tint is a characteristic of white oak that you don't find in red oak. White oak can be more red than some red oak, but I've never seen red oak get purple like this.


flat cut veneer


white oak that is red enough to look more like red oak than some red oak does --- the rays are the give-away. Once you get used to it, you can usually distinguish between white and red oak based on the rays. The color does NOT tell you what kind of oak it is.


matched veneer set from high-grain white oak veneer sheets


flat cut veneer sheet and closeup --- the color in these pics is just slightly too yellowish, but not by much; there's not a hint of red or pink in this sheet


flat cut veneer with sapwood


rift cut veneer --- the last piece has a slight curl but was not sold as curly --- also, that piece has too much red in the pic


some rift cut thins, just to show a little variety in figure. These also show how white oak can sometimes have a much smoother surface than red oak.


knotty white oak veneer that was described to me as "rustic", which I do not believe to be a formal designation but more of a marketing description.


flaky veneer --- some rift cut, some quatersawn and on a couple of them the ray flakes are not nearly as obvious in these pics as they are in the enlargements


curly veneer



The Wood Book pics


flat cut, quartersawn, end grain
white oak (Quercus alba) from The Wood Book --- both levels of enlargement are available for each of the 3 views. The is THE fundamental wood of the white oak group of oaks (the species name means, literally, "white oak") but there are MANY others in the group, a few of which are included below (from the Wood Book)


flat cut, quartersawn, end grain
basket oak (Quercus michauxii, also listed as cow oak and swamp chestnut oak) from The Wood Book --- both levels of enlargement are available for each of the 3 views. This species is in the white oak group.


flat cut, quartersawn, end grain
chestnut oak (Quercus prinus, also listed as rock oak) from The Wood Book --- both levels of enlargement are available for each of the 3 views. This species is in the white oak group.


flat cut, quartersawn, end grain
chestnut oak (Quercus densiflora, also listed as tanbark oak) from The Wood Book --- both levels of enlargement are available for each of the 3 views. This species is in the white oak group.


flat cut, quartersawn, end grain
chinkapin oak (Quercus muhlenbergii, also listed as chestnut oak and yellow oak) from The Wood Book --- both levels of enlargement are available for each of the 3 views. This species is in the white oak group.


flat cut [acutally, this looks more like rift cut], quartersawn, end grain
Engelman oak (Quercus engelmanni, which is a misspelling of Quercus engelmannii) from The Wood Book --- both levels of enlargement are available for each of the 3 views. This species is in the white oak group.


flat cut [actually, this looks more like rift cut], quartersawn, end grain
Oregon oak (Quercus garryana, also listed as mountain white oak) from The Wood Book --- both levels of enlargement are available for each of the 3 views. This species is in the white oak group.


flat cut, quartersawn, end grain
overcup oak (Quercus lyrata) from The Wood Book --- both levels of enlargement are available for each of the 3 views. This species is in the white oak group.


flat cut, quartersawn, end grain
swamp white oak (listed as Quercus platanoides, which is now taken as a synonym for Quercus bicolor) from The Wood Book --- both levels of enlargement are available for each of the 3 views. This species is in the white oak group.


flat cut, quartersawn, end grain
blue oak (Quercus douglasii, also listed as California rock oak) from The Wood Book --- both levels of enlargement are available for each of the 3 views. . This species is in the white oak group.


flat cut, quartersawn, end grain
post oak (Quercus obtusiloba, also listed as iron oak) from The Wood Book --- both levels of enlargement are available for each of the 3 views. . This species is in the white oak group. Quercus obtusiloba is a synonym for the more accepted name Quercus stellata



web pics: --- the colors are suspect on most of these


flat cut, quartersawn, and end grain


planks with wet and dry sections; the first is quartersawn and the second is rift cut


web pic of the lot that some of my own samples came from --- color is a little too gray; actual wood was more brown


3 freshly slabbed pieces from a large white oak bole, pics contributed by David Ing, whom I thank for the contribution. Extreme enlargements are present for these


two planks with a little curl in them


quartersawn curly planks


flat cut planks


quartersawn planks (some with a bit of flake, most not so much)


quartersawn flaky planks


quartersawn planks from a set that I bought on eBay that some of my own samples above are taken from


planks, mostly flat cut


white oak glulam


white oak plywood


white oak slabs, all from the same vendor


plank and closeup --- this was listed as quilted but while it does have a nice light curly, it seems to me that "quilted" is a bit much as an accurate designation unless the wood in reality looks a lot more figured than the pics


spalted planks


bookmatched spalted planks with a color that I find unlikely but not impossible


planks that are stained due to haveing been wet and next to steel --- this was incorrectly listed by the selling vendor as "blue stain" when in fact it has nothing to do with blue stain, which is caused by a fungus, not proximity to metal. Many woods will take on a black or bluish-black stain when sitting wet next to steel.


flat cut veneer


a burl


flat cut curly plank, quartersawn curly plank (which appears to have been moistened), and another quartersawn curly plank


"European" white oak flat cut and quartersawn


quartersawn planks --- the color on the last one seems particularly unlikely, and note that the first one has no ray pattern even though it's quartersawn.


quartersawn veneer --- although "flaky" was not mentioned with any of these, most of them obviously ARE flaky


quartersawn veneer specifically listed as flaky


quartersawn wormy veneer --- I have not seen this very often at all, so consider it rare.


more wormy veneer


curly veneer


rift cut veneer


rift cut planks


veneer, all from the same vendor, and it's a vendor who tends to make veneer look more bland than it really is


veneer sheet closeups with both levels of enlargement


burl veneer all from the same vendor



CHESTNUT / CHINKAPIN OAK


There are several oaks that use chestnut and/or chinkpin as all or part of one or more of their common names and since there is considerably overlap in the names, I'm putting them together here. They are all part of the white oak group.


chestnut oak plank


five views of a chinkapin oak crotch cross-section. The first two are dry and the other three are wet


figured chinkapin oak pen blanks


listed as antique Kentucky chestnut oak, which I take to mean it's reclaimed oak


chestnut oak burl


listed as chestnut oak burl scales --- the bright yellow color seems unlikely


finished bowl of chestnut oak burl, submitted by Bill Mudry


chestnut oak flooring


lidded form of chestnut oak / Quercus prinus





white oak bowls and a platter


white oak bowls turned and photographed by Tom Pleatman, whom I thank for these pics and other contributions to the site. Big enlargements are present.


top and bottom of a wormy white oak bowl --- I think the rich brown color must be at least somewhat due to the finishing agent used. This really looks a lot like English brown oak


white oak hollow form, beautifully turned from a beautiful piece of wood


white oak hollow form by Roger Smith, whom I thank for the contribution of this pic. Note the tight grain. Roger tells me this was turned from a beam taken from an old barn. Both levels of enlargement are present.


white oak hollow form (with a darker wood at the rim)