North American forests are home to more than 20 unique species, and J. Gibson McIlvain keeps an inventory of the 5 species that make up 75% of domestic hardwoods. Whether you’re looking for hardwoods for flooring, cabinetry, furniture, or millwork, we won’t be surprised if one of the top 5 species of domestic hardwoods is the perfect fit for your next project. Let’s start with the top two North American hardwood species: White Oak and Red Oak.
White Oak and Red Oak comprise over half of all North American hardwoods. Growing mostly in Mississippi and the New England states, both species are popular choices for many applications. White Oak, in particular, is a widely available and largely affordable species. Its strength, along with its straight, consistent grain makes it ideal for wide panels used in cabinetry and furniture. Perhaps the prize characteristic of White Oak, though, is the medullary rays that result when White Oak is quartersawn.
White Oak also boasts extremely high stability, a characteristic that contributed to its earning its place as the prime species used in arts and crafts furniture in the early 1900s. While White Oak is still used for furniture, today’s uses also include timber frames in Japanese architecture.
The unique cellular structure of White Oak helps make it water resistant and therefore ideal for a variety of exterior applications, including outdoor trim and garden structures. The biggest downside of White Oak may be its generally plain appearance. Because it finishes nicely and takes stain well, it can be made to blend well with many decorating styles and color schemes.
Like White Oak, the Red Oak tree is a hearty one that grows to be large, resulting again in high availability and affordability. Its strength combined with its grain structure allows it to bend well. At the same time, it can quickly dull cutting edges, requiring extremely sharp tools in order to avoid splintering.
The expansive growth range of Red Oak can lead to inconsistencies among trees. For that reason, J. Gibson McIlvain typically sources the Red Oak we carry from Northern areas in which growth is slower. The result is a deeper color produced in part by tighter growth rings, along with a generally stronger tree that produces wood less likely to splinter.
Even though sapwood is typically overlooked during grading, you’ll want to be cautious to avoid sapwood in Red Oak. Because we realize how important it is to avoid unnecessary waste, at J. Gibson McIlvain, we downgrade Red Oak if it has sapwood present.
Red Oak includes a high amount of tannins, causing this species to corrode steel fasteners and potentially stain the wood. (Water-based glues can have a similar effect.) The open pores and grain patterns of Red Oak allow it to finish nicely; however, without a pore filler, sometimes a uniform surface can be difficult to achieve without staining.
Ideal uses for Red Oak include shelving, moulding, furniture, and fixtures. With our millworks operation, we can match millwork to your blueprints, in house.
Next in the series, Hard and Soft Maple.