Oak is a large genus of more than 600 species of flowering plants, including small rising, shrublike members and large, deciduous trees. Not all members are cultivated for their hardwood. Red oak (Quercus rubra) and white oak (Quercus alba), native to Canada and the United States, are the most common varieties of oak wood that are used for furniture and construction projects.
Oak wood is strong, hard and provides high resistance to fungal and insect attack. It has a density of 0.75 grams per cubic centimetres---being one of the densest naturally occurring substances (the density of walnut wood is 0.64 grams per cubic centimetres, pine wood is 0.43 grams per cubic centimetres and cork is 0.24 grams per cubic centimetres).
Red oak is a straight, tightly grained wood with a coarse texture and visible lines over its surface. Its sapwood (outer, younger wood) is creamish white and hardwood (inner, older wood) is light brown to red. Red oak wood is strong, stiff and hard, moderately stable and naturally resistant to decay. It machines well but has a tendency to chip and splinter. Red oak glues, screws and nails satisfactorily.
White oak varies in properties, texture and colour owing to its growing region. The wood is wear-resistant, strong, heavy and hard. It is moderately stable, durable and steam-bends well. The texture of white oak wood is coarse to medium coarse with a light brown heartwood and white sapwood.
White oak works with machines satisfactorily but is difficult to work with hand tools. It has a smoother texture than red oak and its pores do not require additional filling. The wood stains when contacted with metal.
Red oak wood is used for plywood, veneers, musical instruments, millwork, furniture, cabinets, boxes, turnery, flooring, caskets, boxes, heavy construction and pallets.
White oak wood is used for outdoor furniture (tables and chairs), trim, baskets, cooperage and boats.
Diseases and Pests
Oak wood is susceptible to Phytophthora ramorum (commonly known as sudden oak death), which is a water mould that attacks and kills healthy oak within a few weeks.
The fungus Ceratocystis fagacearum causes oak wilt. It attacks a wide range of oak species, causing leaf discolouration, wilting and eventually progressing to other parts of the tree, causing death within one or two months. Oak bark beetles and other insects transmit the fungus.