What’s Up with White Oak?

What’s Up with White Oak?

  • December 5, 2022
  • by Columbia Forest Products

One of the limitations of the hardwood plywood and veneer industry is the availability of responsibly sourced logs.  There’s only so much to go around of all the different trees that have reached proper harvesting stages. 

And unlike synthetic materials (think paper or vinyl) we can’t just print more of a given look if we see demand rising.

Because of that, when there’s a domestic or global demand surge for something like White Oak logs (for lumber and for panel faces), the market “gets tight,” and supply is suddenly stretched. 

White Oak has always been a standard, go-to species for hardwood plywood faces but over the past several years, it has enjoyed a real fashion-driven roll in areas like hardwood flooring (especially when compared to Red Oak – a “former favorite!”)

In addition, one of the other markets for North American White Oak logs has been growing dramatically – bourbon barrels.  It’s estimated that over 2 million new barrels were produced in 2019, and the global bourbon craze simply continues.

The trouble really came this year with the war in Ukraine, when wood supply disruptions shook European markets and buyers sought more North American lumber, including White Oak.

Fred Mitchell, Columbia’s Value Stream Materials Manager, reminds us that, in addition to this demand increase, “White Oak processing time takes longer than other species…it has to be dried slower to avoid checking and blue stain, so we can’t just speed it through the mill.

“And of course, loggers this year were dealing with a labor shortage of their own, and diesel costs really increased for them…many of them had to shift to logging more plentiful and profitable wood like stud lumber, in order to keep financially viable,” he added.

“The good news,” said Fred, “is that Columbia’s suppliers have found ways to increase their White Oak face shipments to us…their lead times are still longer than normal, but they’re improving, too.

“It looks like we might have seen the worst of the White Oak shortage for now,” he added.

Additional White Oak background links:

The White Oak Initiative

Charlie The Great White Oak Passes

32 White Oak Facts

Why White Oak?