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Oak Wide Plank Floors

Red oak wide plank flooring from Hull Forest Products
Wide board red oak flooring brings a sense of history to this reproduction colonial home. Wider planks allow for a fuller view of the “cathedral window” grain common to oak. Hull Forest Products long length select grade wide Red Oak, floor #359.

Oak. Quercus.

How do you tell one oak wide plank floor from another? And what is the difference between red oak and white oak wide plank flooring? Well, for one thing, there is the price tag (red oak generally costs less than white oak.) Appearance wise, red oak tends to have ruddy undertones that are pinkish to red, while white oak’s undertones tend to be more gray to brown. But it is not always easy to distinguish the two. With the application of stain and/or finish, each can be made to look more like the other.

A more accurate way of distinguishing these two species within the Oak genus is by comparing ray length.  Rays are vascular tissues in the tree. (Think of them as drinking straws transporting food, water, nutrients, and minerals to all parts of the tree.) In flatsawn wood, these rays appear as horizontal lines, while in quartersawn wood, they can appear as wavy lines. The rays of red oak are noticeably shorter than those of white oak. (Compare figures 1 and 2 below).

Detailed view of the rays in the grain of Red Oak.
Figure 1: Close-up view of the rays (the darker horizontal lines) in the grain of a wide plank Red Oak floor.
Close up view of the rays in the grain of a wide plank white oak floor.
Figure 2: Close-up view of rays in the grain of a wide plank White Oak floor. Notice how these are longer than those of Red Oak shown in Figure 1.

Differences in ray length are most obvious when you can compare red oak and white oak boards side by side.

It’s no secret in the flooring world that red oak, for over a decade, has been the poor cousin in the oak family, taking a backseat to its more popular relative, white oak.  This trend reflected a backlash against the ubiquity of red oak strip flooring (which once accounted for the majority of flooring installations in the United States).  But when you enter the realm of wide plank flooring, red oak becomes something very uncommon.  Wide plank red oak flooring shows off the bold cathedral grain of oak in a way that is simply not possible with the narrow boards of strip flooring, which means that wide plank red oak flooring looks very different from 95 percent of the red oak floors in the world today. Personally, we feel the bias against red oak is unjustified and that it is just as beautiful as white oak.

You may be wondering how the subtle differences between red and white oak translate to the appearance of an entire floor, so here are some photos that can help. For comparison purposes, both figures 3 and 4 below show select grade oak floors with an oil-based clear poly finish.

Figure 3: Red Oak in the select grade with a clear oil based poly finish.
Figure 3: Red Oak in the select grade with a clear oil-based poly finish.
white oak select with a clear oil based poly finish
Figure 4: White Oak in the select grade with a clear oil-based poly finish.

As you can see, with a clear oil-based poly finish, the red and white oak floors look very similar. The oil-based finishes are known for imparting an amber or yellowish glow. In contrast, water-based finishes give you more of a clear coat over the natural wood and do not amber with age. Here are some  examples of red oak and white oak with clear water-based finishes:

Quarter/rift sawn white oak with a clear water-based poly finish.
Figure 5: Quarter/riftsawn Red Oak floor with a clear water-based poly finish.
White Oak with a water-based poly finish.
Figure 6: White Oak with a  clear water-based poly finish.

The end result from the water-based poly finish is a much paler floor in both cases, as shown in Figures 5 and 6 above. Now let’s see what happens when red and white oak are given a stain before being finished. The large pores in oak are particularly receptive to stain, so whether you start with red oak or white oak, a wide variety of color can be achieved, from pickled white to dark espresso.

Red oak floor with Bona Early American stain and poly finish.
Figure 7: Red Oak flooring with Bona’s “Early American” brown stain and clear poly finish.
Frye Boot Store - Hull Flooring
Figure 8: White Oak flooring darkened with an aniline dye stain, at the Frye Boot flagship store, Manhattan.

As you can see, virtually any color can be achieved when you change the natural color of the wood with stains or dyes. Since monitor colors vary and since the light in your home will affect the view of your floor, the very best way to make sure you are happy with the species and color of your floor is to test out your stain and/or finish choices on samples of the raw woods.  At Hull Forest Products, we offer complimentary raw wood samples so you or your designer or contractor can experiment.  After all, if you’re going to be living on our slice of nature for years to come, we want you to love the way it looks.

Related posts:

White Oak Wide Plank Flooring

For pricing, specifications, and more photographs of oak wide plank floors, please visit our red oak flooring and white oak flooring galleries online at hullforest.com.

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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.