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White Oak Wide Plank Floors

Custom quarter sawn white oak floors from Hull Forest Products.
Figure 1: Select grade quarter and rift sawn White Oak in a Manhattan apartment. This floor features five inch plank widths and plank lengths of four to nine feet. The floor was stained with Minwax Special Walnut.

White Oak. Quercus Alba.

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.

Pale White Oak wood flooring in five inch plank widths, from Hull Forest Products.
Figure 2: Select grade pale White Oak plank flooring, five inch plank widths. Because each plank is the same width, this floor has a more contemporary look. A water-based poly finish helped preserve the paleness of this floor.

The appearance of a White Oak wide plank floor also depends on the method by which the log was sawn.  Common styles are: plain sawn (see figure 3 below), quarter sawn,  rift sawn, and live 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:

Close up view of the grain in plainsawn White Oak flooring from Hull Forest Products.
Figure 3: Close up view of the grain in plain sawn White Oak select grade flooring.

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:

Close up view of the grain of quarter/rift sawn White Oak flooring.
Figure 4: Close up view of the grain of quarter/rift sawn White Oak select grade flooring. With this method,  both the undulating grain (shown toward the top of the photo) and the straighter rift cut grain (shown on the bottom of the photo) are visible on the face of the planks.

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:

Close-up view of the grain of rift sawn White Oak wood flooring.
Figure 5: Close-up view of the grain of rift sawn White Oak flooring.

Live sawn oak is another style that comes from a different type of saw cut, one that slices from the outside diameter all the way through the log. It results in a floor with all three types of grain: plain, quarter, and rift.

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.

Character grade White Oak flooring from Hull Forest Products.
Figure 6: Natural grade live sawn White Oak replete with knots and character markings.

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.

Natural character grade White Oak flooring - Frye Boot Store, Manhattan, NYC.
Figure 7: Hull Forest Products’s Natural character grade White Oak flooring finished with a dark stain, Frye Boot Store, Manhattan.

Hopefully you’ve found these pictures and descriptions helpful in determining what kind of White Oak wide plank floor best suits your style.  To check out other species of wide plank floors, price wide plank floors, or order wood samples, you can visit our sawmill’s web site at  www.hullforest.com.

 

4 thoughts on “White Oak Wide Plank Floors

  1. Please tell me what finish was applied in Figure 2, Select grade pale White Oak. Was a stain applied to the wood before poly, was this a certain kind of Select grade White Oak, was just polyurethane applied to the wood, or how was it finished?? Very beautiful as were the other pictures of White Oak. I appreciate your posting the pictures of the different grades of White Oak and how they look finished. Very helpful, great pictures.
    Thanks!

    1. Hi Suzanne,

      The homeowners did not apply any stain at all to their floor. They did apply a water-based poly finish. At present I don’t know the particular brand of finish, but if I am able to get this information from the homeowners, I will post it here. They purchased our select grade White Oak, and since there can be some color variation in White Oak, we made the effort to hand select White Oak planks that were especially pale in color for their floor. Hope this is helpful! –Mary Hull

  2. Hi. Can you tell me the stain brand and color on figure 7?

    1. This is a floor at the Frye boot flagship store on Spring Street in southern Manhattan. While we were not involved in the finishing of the floor (we supplied the unfinished natural grade White Oak flooring to their installer), we were told that a dark aniline dye was applied to the floor to get this color. Hope this is helpful to you.

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