On trend for 2016, more homeowners are choosing to add wide plank flooring when they remodel their kitchens. Check out these examples from our Houzz profile (Hull Forest Products was just voted Best of Houzz 2016 because our photos are so popular with users!)
Considering a White Oak wide plank floor? You’re not alone. White Oak is one of the most popular species of wood flooring in the United States, though not as popular as its cousin, Red Oak. Renowned for its impact resistance and beauty, white oak flooring makes an eye pleasing and practical addition to your home and is available in a wide range of cuts, grades, and styles.
As a saw mill, we find that floors can sometimes be hard to describe to the lay person – but if you look at enough pictures you will quickly notice what you like and don’t like. The point of this post is to illustrate the different varieties of White Oak so you can make an informed decision when choosing a White Oak floor.
For reasons both practical and aesthetic, White Oak is among our top selling wide plank floors here at Hull Forest Products. White Oak floors hold up well to foot traffic and are durable enough to be used in the highest traffic areas, including your kitchen. Scoring a whopping 1360 on the Janka hardness scale, White Oak is among the toughest of the North American hardwoods.
White Oak is also extremely versatile – the wood takes stain very well and can be left natural, stained dark (Figure 1, above), or whitened to a pickled or bleached appearance.
The appearance of a White Oak floor also depends on the method by which the log was sawn. Common styles are: plain sawn(see figure 3 below),quarter sawn, and rift sawn. Let’s start with plainsawn oak first, since that style is the most common. Figure 3 below shows the traditional cathedral grain pattern of plain sawn White Oak, which most of you will recognize:
Notice how the grain in Figure 3 rises into peaks – those are what we call the “cathedrals.” This is how 90 percent of the oak floors out there today are sawn, and this method of sawing is the most efficient.
In contrast, when a log is quarter and rift sawn, the radial and vertical grain are exposed on the face of the planks, and the floor has both undulating and straight grain like the floor shown in Figure 4 below:
As you can see by comparing the White Oak floors shown in Figures 3 and 4, the grain of plainsawn White Oak and the grain of quarter/rift sawn White Oak look completely different.
Quarter and rift sawn White Oak was popularized by the Arts & Craft movement and remains a hallmark of Mission style. Quarter and rift sawn wood is also exceptionally stable, which makes it popular for use over radiant heating. When the planks are further sorted to contain only rift sawn grain, you get a floor with consistently straight grain like that shown in Figure 5 below:
Now let’s talk about grades of White Oak. The photos shown above all feature select grade White Oak, which is a clear grade with few to no knots or character markings.
White Oak is also available in other grades with varying degrees of character markings. Your choice of grade will have an impact on the overall look and feel of your floor. I’m making a generalization here, but IMO select grade floors tend to look more formal and modern, while character grade floors read as rustic and cozy, perfect for a mountain retreat or log cabin.
That being said, I must admit that with a little creativity, you can create a signature look within any grade. For example, if you take that same natural grade knotty White Oak floor shown above and give it a dark burnished stain (like the folks at the Frye Boot flagship in Manhattan did with our character grade White Oak – See Figure 7 below), you get a decidedly more urbane vibe.
For those of you interested in quarter sawn flooring, here are some pictures of a gorgeous quarter sawn White Oak floor we made for a client on Long Island. The homeowners loved the look of quartersawn White Oak, and they even incorporated some of the leftover boards to make stair treads.
When a log is quartersawn, it is sliced at a different angle than when it is plainsawn. As a result, the radial and vertical grain of the wood is revealed instead of the tangential grain. The rippled figure and flecks and medullary rays you see in quarter sawn wood are only visible when the wood is quarter sawn. One of the benefits of quarter sawn wood, besides the different grain, is extreme dimensional stability. You can check out more of our quarter sawn floors here.
Have you ever wondered about the difference between quarter, rift and plain sawn floors? Well, here’s a primer for your reference. The way a log is cut by the saw will determine the orientation of the grain in the wood. This post discusses the difference between 1.) plain sawn floors – the default way of sawing in the modern world and 2.) quarter and rift sawing.
Plain Sawn Floors
The most obvious difference between plain sawn and quarter and rift sawn flooring is appearance. Most flooring today is plain sawn. In plain sawing, character markings and figure patterns resulting from the annual rings are brought out more fully, including the characteristic cathedral graining that is so prominent in woods like Oak (see figure 1). Plain sawn floors also tend to be available in wider widths than quarter and rift sawn floors.
The face appearance of a floor plank is determined by the way the wood grain is exposed by the saw. All logs consist of concentric annual growth rings of wood, beginning in the center and moving outwards. In plain sawing, a log is moved back and forth on a saw carriage and rotated with each successive slice until it is cut from the outside inwards. With plain sawn lumber, the growth rings, visible at the butt end sof the boards, will typically range from parallel with the surface of the board to a 30 degree angle or more from the surface of the board.
Quarter and Rift Sawn Floors
Quarter sawn floors are a relative rarity today and as such they have cachet among homeowners looking for the unique.
Quarter sawing slices perpendicular to the wood’s annual growth rings, resulting in a straight grain appearance that also exposes the medullary rays, producing a unique figure or fleck that is highly sought after for furniture and cabinet making (see figure 2). Those familiar with the Arts and Craft and “Mission Oak” style of the early twentieth century will recognize this fleck.
In quarter sawing, the log is first quartered and then the quarters are cut again into slices. This method produces both quarter sawn and rift sawn boards. The center boards (true quartersawn) will have growth rings positioned at 60-90 degrees to the board’s surface. This is best viewed from the butt ends of the boards. As the cuts are made from the quarters, they become more rift sawn (growth rings at 30-60 degrees from the surface). When flooring companies refer to quarter sawn wood, they are usually referring to a specialty wood flooring cut that is a combination of quarter and rift sawn.
The straight grain of quarter and rift sawn wood is very consistent, making it desirable among furniture makers. Because quarter sawn lumber takes more time to produce and produces less yield (there is no boxed heart left over to market as pallet lumber), it costs more than plain sawn. There is also demand for quarter sawn lumber among furniture and cabinet makers, boat builders, instrument makers, and others.
In Figures 3 and 4 we have room photos to more clearly illustrate how the appearance differs in plainsawn and quarter/rift sawn wood floors. Note how the grain in the floor shown in Figure 3, below, appears quite straight, with some waves of fleck.
The overall look of a quarter and rift sawn Oak floor is entirely different from that of a plainsawn Oak floor, which has the typical cathedral or flame-shaped peaks that are very prominent and broad in the grain.
In Figure 4 we have an example of plainsawn Red Oak in a room setting. Here you can really see the beautiful flame-like peaks in the broad grain, which is what most of us think of when we consider Oak. Both floors are made from the same species and grade of wood. The only difference is in the angle of the saw cut and the color of the stain and/or finish chosen for the floors.
If you need to see the differences up close and would like to order samples of our flooring, we are happy to assist. Call 1-800-353-3331 or email us today.