What Is White Oak Lumber?

Christian Petersen

White oak lumber is wood from certain species of oak tree that is cut into regular shapes such as planks, boards, and beams for use in the construction of buildings, furniture, or other objects. The lumber is considered to be among the most desirable and attractive of all types of lumber as it has a beautiful grain, color and is very strong and durable. While trees in the white oak group can be found in various temperate and sub-tropical regions of the Northern Hemisphere around the globe, the true white oak is native to the eastern United States, and a large amount of white oak lumber comes from that region.

Oak lumber is commonly used for barrels.
Oak lumber is commonly used for barrels.

While one specific species of oak, Quercus alba, is the true white oak, approximately seventy closely related species and subspecies belong to what is known as the white oak group. Lumber from any of these trees may be marketed by the lumber industry as white oak. The American white oak is the most important lumber tree of the white oak group in terms of quality and yearly production, and its wood is the most desirable of all the white oak species.

Wine is often aged in white oak barrels.
Wine is often aged in white oak barrels.

Lumber from the white oak can vary in color from very light white, yellowish, or even tan for sapwood to a dark brown for heartwood. The medium to somewhat coarse grain of white oak lumber has among the longest rays of any kind of wood in the world. It is dense, strong, and durable, resisting wear, splintering, and cracking. Lumber from white oak trees is highly impermeable to water, making it suitable for barrels, and is resistant to rot and insect damage because of its high tannin content.

The qualities of white oak make it desirable for a very large number of uses. Timbers for building construction and high quality boards for furniture and cabinetry are just two of the most common. The wine and spirit distilling industries make use of a very large number of oak barrels for aging their products, a large percentage of which are constructed from white oak lumber. A sawing technique known as quarter-sawing in which logs are sawn at an angle rather than along their length to produce boards and timbers results in a unique and desirable grain pattern in white oak lumber, and quarter-sawn oak furniture and cabinetry are considered to be especially attractive.

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