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White oak remains a rock for retailers

Known for its positive characteristics such as durability and workability, as well as its everlasting dependability in the marine world, white oak (Quercus alba) has remained the strongest, steadiest and most consistent domestic sellers through the years. Lumber suppliers interviewed said this year is no exception as sales are again on the rise after being a little stagnant during the last year because of the slow economy.

Quartersawn white oak.

Dave Harris, president of Parkerville Wood Products, a retail and millwork company in Manchester, Conn., says the species is one of the company’s hottest movers and sellers.

“We’re an architectural millwork shop that stocks and sells about 40 species of lumber and we have a lot of work right now with white oak. It happens to be way more popular for us than red oak. We sell more rift and quartersawn than plain sawn, but in our store we stock both and we probably sell more plain sawn off the shelf than we do rift,” says Harris.

Jerry Anton of O’Shea Lumber Co., a wholesaler in Glen Rock, Pa., says his customers like the species because it’s stable, easy to work with and finishes well. White oak generally grows from Eastern Canada, south to Florida and throughout the Midwest. Its sapwood is white to light-brown in color and the heartwood ranges from light to dark brown.

“Oak has moved a little better over the past year. White oak tends to be a little more in demand and there have been lots of inquiries for quartered or rift-sawn white oak. Some of this is for furniture but mostly I see it being used for flooring,” says Anton.

Sam Talarico of Talarico Hardwoods in Mohnton, Pa., says oak has always been in demand at his facility and he attributes its popularity to being one of the most utilitarian woods in the world.

“It’s been used for wine barrels, ship building, government buildings and courthouses and churches. It never goes out of style. It may go up and down on the general market as far as veneer logs on the domestic market, but if the domestic market is down the export market picks up. My customers are using it for architectural woodworking, custom built-in furniture, arts and crafts furniture,” says Talarico, who prefers to purchase logs in Europe on specialty orders, as domestic oak availability has diminished considerably at local mills, particularly the wide quartersawn boards.

“The domestic oak is scarce. The big logs we see usually come out of estates from old homes here and there. You don’t get truckloads of logs in concentration anymore.”

Quotes for 4/4 plain sawn FAS white oak range from $2.20 to $5.50/bf and $3.50/bf and higher for quartersawn and rift sawn.

This article originally appeared in the April 2013 issue.

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