Criswell is the Architectural Marketing Manager for Frank Miller Lumber and represents them to architects and designers around the world. Criswell has been in the hardwood business for 30 years and has represented Frank Miller Lumber for 22 years. He has served on the Board of Directors for the Wood Products Manufacturers Association, the Western Hardwood Association and the Hardwood Federation PAC in Washington D.C. Criswell is a cancer survivor and now serves on the Patient Advisory Council for a new Kettering Cancer Treatment hospital in Kettering, Ohio.
quartersawn walnut - frank miller lumber

The Truth about Specifying Quartersawn Walnut

While working with a well-known designer in New York I asked him to define the mission of a designer. He said that it is threefold:

  1. Create a design
  2. Convey the design to the client
  3. Make it deliverable

As an architectural consultant, I can help to make the job deliverable if it involves American hardwood, especially quartersawn American hardwoods. In trying to sync the specification with the realities of the resource, this first conversation can sometimes be disappointing. The specification looks so good on paper and in many cases the client has virtually unlimited funds, so how can it be that the spec isn’t deliverable? The fact is some hardwood specs are unattainable because of nature.

Riva 2910 boss basic quartersawn walnut table
Boss Basic table made with Quartersawn Walnut | Riva 1920

Every tree is different and the client’s desire to see all the hardwood in their project looking exactly the same is often impossible. That disappointing first conversation, however, is free of acrimony or litigation. If a promise is made to supply that unrealistic specification and it doesn’t happen, acrimony and litigation are certain to follow. With that in mind, let me share with you the story of a specification of quartersawn walnut.

We recently turned down the opportunity to quote on a quartersawn walnut project for a hotel; the spec included FSC certification. Frank Miller Lumber is the largest FSC-certified quartersawn hardwood lumber sawmill in the world. There are only a handful of similarly-sized quartersawn hardwood sawmills in the United States. We currently hold the nation’s largest inventory of FSC-certified quartersawn white and red oak lumber. We occasionally produce some FSC-certified cherry and walnut as well. However, our ability to produce FSC-certified lumber is limited to the availability of FSC-certified logs.

The number of FSC-certified timber producers is steadily declining in the United States. FSC level sustainability standards are no longer being met, but because the cost of certification and its connected paperwork can make FSC certification a bit daunting to some timber producers, despite its merits. Since walnut represents 1% of the American hardwood resource, the chance of coming across FSC-certified walnut logs is extremely remote.

We had to turn down the opportunity to provide a quote on the hotel project. I wouldn’t quote FSC-certified quartersawn walnut for a small residence and there is certainly no way to quote enough to handle a hotel.

Another unrelated project recently was 30,000 square feet of quartersawn walnut flooring for the executive offices of a well-known firm I can’t name. This wasn’t FSC-certified, but the sheer volume of the project disqualified it out of the gate. Adding to the impossibility of the specification was the walnut flooring couldn’t exhibit any “natural characteristics.” That is the sort of specification that leads only to disappointment.

The advice I offer to everyone who is pondering the use of quartersawn walnut: Check your specs and expectations with mill representatives before you make promises that will go unfulfilled. Client conversations regarding broken promises are not just disappointing, but often acrimonious and litigious.

Harvest a Tree, Save the Planet: Part II

American hardwoods are an environmentally responsible interior finish building material. From selection harvesting, forest acreage growth to renewability and animal habitat formation, American hardwood lumber is one of the best material choices that can be made by the design community.

Environmental responsibility goes beyond sustainability, however. Looking at hardwood as a construction material and its impact on the environment, it is a very attractive option compared to other building materials.

Unlike most other building materials, as hardwood trees grow, they are actively pulling carbon from the environment while producing oxygen. This sequestration of carbon is a long-term effect that locks away that carbon permanently. Over half the weight of a kiln-dried American hardwood board is captured carbon. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, it is estimated that each year U.S. forests remove the greenhouse gases emitted by 139 million cars, or about 13 tons of dust and gas per acre.

Wood represents 47 percent of all raw materials used in the U.S., but the energy used to produce wood products accounts for just 4 percent of the energy used to make all manufactured materials. Products like steel, aluminum, concrete, glass and synthetics require significantly more energy to produce, install and dispose of at the end of their natural life cycles as compared to American hardwoods. Wood removes carbon dioxide from the environment, requires less energy to process and manufacture, and has a much smaller carbon footprint than many other resources.

No one material is perfect in all applications. When wood is used, it has some distinct environmental advantages over other common materials like steel and concrete. Steel usage, for example, releases 24 percent more pollutants into the air and 34 percent more greenhouse gases than wood. Concrete usage requires 57 percent more energy consumption, causes 81 percent more greenhouse gas emission and 350 percent more water pollution than wood. Replacing 1 cubic meter of concrete with 1 cubic meter of wood saves approximately one ton of CO2.

Keep in mind that the United States controls approximately 9% of the world’s hardwood resource, satisfies more than 25% of the world’s appetite for hardwoods in furniture, flooring and joinery and there is more than twice the volume of hardwood growing in the United States as compared to 50 years ago.

Harvest a Tree, Save the Planet

OK, maybe don’t run out to the backyard and fell that beautiful oak tree that provides cool, shady relief during warm summer barbecues, but there is some truth to the idea that utilizing our hardwood resource like can be of benefit to the pale blue dot we call home. While there are justifiable concerns regarding the removal of trees across the planet, the American hardwood industry is a story of success with very real benefits to the environment.

Not all forestry practices are the same, and these varied approaches to harvesting wood can mean the difference between helping and harming the environment. When many people think of tree harvesting, images of forest destruction and clear cutting come to mind. For example, in some areas of the world, beautiful trees are burned to make way for cattle grazing, palm oil production or bamboo growth. The harvest of American hardwood is a very different endeavor with very different results. In the continental United States, there is an abundance of hardwood forestland, covering 279 million acres.

Approximately 80 percent of this hardwood forest land is controlled by millions of private landowners. From this private land, about 92 percent of all hardwood production is generated. It’s typical for these private landowners to harvest only once or twice in their lifetimes. In stark contrast to clearcutting, the harvesting of hardwoods is a selective process that means removing trees at the height of their maturity, after they have absorbed as much carbon as they will absorb in their lifetime. Once a hardwood tree is harvested and rendered into logs, boards and ultimately furniture, flooring or millwork, half the weight of the dried hardwood is carbon, captured forever. Unlike softwoods, hardwoods will generally propagate without the deliberate planting by a farmer. In selecting mature trees for harvest, the forest canopy is opened, allowing light and water to reach seeds the trees have dropped to the forest floor.  Hardwood trees are known to be “shade tolerant”, which means that they don’t require a great deal of sunlight to grow. In contrast, softwoods are “shade intolerant,” requiring the clear cutting of swaths of forest and replanting by hand to allow maximum light to reach the saplings.

The American hardwood industry is truly sustainable and renewable, driving forest growth. Through the diligent practice of sustainable forest management, in the last 50 years hardwood forest acreage in the United States has actually increased by 18 percent. From the American Hardwood Information Center: “According to the U.S. Forest Service, there were 119 percent more hardwood trees in 2007 than in 1953, with the growth-to-removal ratio of 2.00 (two new trees for every one removed)”.

The overall volume of American hardwoods has more than doubled in the past 50 years. What does all this forest growth mean for the health of the planet? Over the course of a year, 100 trees can remove 53 tons of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. Those same trees can also pull 430 pounds of other pollutants out of the air. This is in addition to the increased biodiversity of flora and fauna that comes with expanding, thriving forest habitat. So yes, removing a tree is good for the planet — when that tree is an American hardwood.  This precious natural resource adds beauty to the world in finished products and represents the ultimate in sustainability.

How Trees and Humans are Similar

I am happy to be back with Criswell’s Corner in our new website.  My work in architectural and design outreach has continued unabated over these past months, but my writing has taken another hiatus.  Today I am inspired to write a bit about an evaluation I received recently after a presentation.  Generally, I receive great reviews even when my presentation is part of an eight-speaker day and some architects are there to hear about geothermal heating and roof systems.

As part of my presentation I contend that people generally resonate with wood clad environments in a way that they don’t with others.  I have asked over 4,000 architects and designers around the world to present an argument to the notion that a wood clad room is simply a better space.  No one has ever taken me up on that challenge.  It is very subjective and difficult to articulate, but I generally see people nodding their heads in agreement.

I came to the conclusion, rather unscientifically, that we as humans resonate with wood due to the similarities between trees and humans.  The evaluation I received that prompts this blog said that my comparison between trees and humans was “just silly.”  I will let you decide how silly the comparison is.

I say that trees and humans are mostly water.  This is true – trees are more than 50 % water and humans are 60% water.  I also say that we share the same approximate percentage of carbon, about 18%.  That number rises in wood as it is dried, to 50% of a board’s dry weight being stored carbon.  Trees and humans share a symbiotic relationship in the carbon/oxygen cycle of life and humans therefore depend a great deal on trees.  The last similarity between trees and humans is that we are all unique.

Having survived stage 4 cancer, I am now on the Patient Advisory Council for a brand new Cancer Hospital in Kettering, Ohio.  The council is comprised of current and surviving patients all of whom use their experiences to inform some of the critical interior design elements of the hospital.  When asked to evaluate a series of interior renderings of exam rooms and treatment areas, the consensus was that the spaces that showed the most natural light and wood were deemed the most conducive to healing.

Wood, even in finished applications, will always take on and shed water to some degree and that same wood will hold its captured carbon for the life of the products.  Data is being developed on the multiple beneficial effects of wood-clad environments on students, patients and office workers.  I would obviously disagree with the person who dismissed my comparison between trees and humans of being “silly.”

Bamboo vs. Hardwood

I have been asked several times recently about the benefits of bamboo for flooring applications.  I might get one question like that in a typical year, but over the past two months I have been asked about bamboo a half dozen times.  I don’t know if this is the result of a marketing campaign on behalf of of the bamboo industry or a fluke.  I was content to let the surge of interest in bamboo fade until I received an email this month from an American veneer manufacturer.  The title of the email was “Bamboo – a renewable, LEED certified Wood”.  The subtitle was “September Wood of the Moment: Bamboo”.

Let me make this point clearly: bamboo is not wood.  It is a grass.  From the Oxford dictionary definition of the word “wood”:
The hard fibrous material that forms the main substance of the trunk or branches of a tree or shrub. 

After referring to bamboo as wood twice in the email, the author added this note:   “Although bamboo is a grass, it still has the same consistency and color as wood”.  It is true that bamboo is a grass.  What is untrue is that it does not have the same consistency and color as wood. American hardwoods come in a wide variety of colors and grain patterns.  Bamboo comes in only a few colors and very little variation in grain pattern.

This grass is harvested and rendered into a flooring or panel products in China using resins and adhesives that are not regulated in any way.  There are over 1,600 different species of bamboo, only a few of which are suitable for flooring.  When the bamboo flooring industry tells you that bamboo flooring is “harder than oak”, that is a broad generalization.

Bamboo grows quickly and gains a LEED point in building due to its “rapidly renewable” nature.   Bamboo may be LEED certified, but it is not wood.  From the US Green Building Council web page comes this statement about bamboo as an FSC certified building product: bamboo is often used in many of the same applications as wood products, and is considered by the FSC to be a forest product despite its technical classification as a grass. Therefore, bamboo may be included in the calculations for both MRc6 and MRc7. If bamboo is added to the MRc7 calculations, all bamboo on the project (FSC or otherwise) must be accounted for in the value for all new wood-based components for the project.”

It is important to keep in mind that American hardwood trade organizations maintain quality control standards for hardwoods, there are no such organizations in China.  Quality can vary wildly in bamboo flooring, as can the amount of formaldehyde off- gassing in flooring due to the glue and resins used in rendering this grass into a wood – like flooring product.    All of the by-products of hardwood production is used in some way, while only about 65% of raw bamboo is used to make flooring.  The leftover is usually burned.

After hardwood in application has outlived its usefulness, it can be re-purposed or if sent to a landfill, will decompose.  Bamboo flooring, since it is mostly glue, will remain intact in a landfill almost indefinitely.

I represent the American hardwood industry as well as Frank Miller Lumber.  I am very proud to represent an industry that produces a sustainable and beautiful product that adds beauty to the world that will last for generations.  As a designer or consumer, there should be no reason other than short term cost savings, to choose bamboo over American hardwoods.  American hardwoods carry environmental credentials that are empirically verifiable.  Bamboo simply cannot stand up to that level of scrutiny.  If you are making design decisions about flooring for your residential or commercial project and you are thinking of bamboo, you need to ask yourself if you want a Chinese “grass and glue” floor or a sustainable American hardwood floor.  The answer will be obvious when you consider it in those terms.

The Biggest Piece of Furniture

I just returned from the Middle East where I gave a series of presentations to architects, designers and joinery companies. Part of my presentation is to tell those in attendance that the challenge of design is threefold: 1) Create a vision; 2) Convey a vision and 3) Make it deliverable. In my mind number 3 is the most important because lumber specs, quantities and timelines can be wildly out of synch with reality. In order to make the project deliverable the designers need to connect with the source of the lumber to make sure that the vision is actually possible to deliver.

In the land of design excess, Dubai, one would think that money is no object in creating the beautiful and amazing buildings you look at on Google. I had a principal of one of the largest joinery companies in the UAE come up to me after I was finished with my presentation and he said that I had it wrong with my 3 point “challenge of design” order. He said that conveying the vision is really the toughest part. When it comes to interiors, especially those using American hardwoods, their clients become apoplectic when they hear how much it will cost for the joinery and flooring for their space. This is usually in a building whose overall cost is astronomical. Since the joinery and flooring are among the last parts of the project, that is where the client wants to cut costs as much as possible. If the original design and bid called for high quality sustainable American hardwoods, especially quartersawn hardwoods, the specification is quickly changed to “or equivalent”, which usually means the cheapest possible alternative to actual solid American hardwood.

I try my best to convince architects and designers to take the attitude that the timber component to any space is the biggest piece of furniture in the space. Just like with furniture, one can install woodwork that is inexpensive and of inferior quality to save money or one can pay for high quality that will last for generations.

When I walk into a hotel, office building, or commercial space of any kind I will notice the woodwork immediately and will have no clue about the quality of the lighting fixtures, glass, or metalwork. Granted, I have a bias towards wood, but the fact remains that the wood joinery or flooring is the most visible part of the space, the biggest piece of furniture. Everyone resonates with wood-clad environments. If you are going to design your space include wood, buy the highest quality wood, perhaps quartersawn hardwoods, and build the cost of the space around that. Also, make sure the boardroom chairs matches your aesthetic, but at the same time, don’t try to save money on the wood using “equivalent” products.

That is like ordering a Bentley and saying that you don’t really need the leather seats or the expensive sound system! Find out what the Bentley costs and wait until you have the money to buy the Bentley. The finest hardwood is quartersawn hardwood and Bentley is considered one of the finest cars. Accept no substitutes.

Cherry Quartersawn

Photosensitivity in wood

As I give presentations to architects and designers around the world I am often asked why it is so difficult to match the color of the veneered wall panels to the solid wood flooring and fixtures.  Frank Miller is currently supplying quartersawn cherry to a furniture manufacturer making courtroom pews.  The architects are having a difficult time reconciling the difference in color between the walls and the pews.  I have written an email to the pew manufacturer in a format that would allow them to forward the email to the architect.  My goal is to help move the project along, because at this late stage it is simply too late to change the aesthetic design for the courtroom.  This type of aesthetic dissonance often occurs in the 11th hour of the project because the architect or designer was unaware of these issues during the design phase.

All wood is photosensitive to varying degrees.  Three species of commercially available American hardwoods stand out from the rest as being more sensitive to color changes when exposed to light of any kind and oxygen:  tulipwood (known in the US as poplar), walnut and cherry.  Several years ago an architect talked to me about using walnut in flooring in what was basically a glass cube with floor to ceiling windows.  I told him to avoid using walnut in a high traffic area because it is to the softer end of the scale of the Janka Scale, a measure of the surface hardness of hardwoods.  I also told him to steer away from walnut in that application because its color would bleach out in the direct stream of UV light.  After a year of that direct sunlight exposure all of the aesthetic qualities of the beautiful walnut heartwood would be lost.

Cherry is sensitive to all light, even incandescent light.  Its heart color will move eventually from a pinkish color to light reddish brown.  If there is a rug covering part of a cherry floor you will be able to lift that rug a year after the floor is installed and see that the exposed part of the floor is a darker color than the section protected by the rug.  Eventually all of the color will even out, but it takes time.

In tulipwood the heartwood, which ranges in color from green to purple when freshly cut will transmute to a lovely milk chocolate brown color after light exposure.  The sapwood color will remain a light creamy color.

Getting back to the color variation in quartersawn cherry between the furniture and walls of the courtroom, there is also an inherent variation in color between veneers and solid wood of all kinds.  Veneers are sliced from a long and dried in a matter of just a few minutes, while a one-inch solid wood board will take between 25 and 45 days to dry, depending on the species.  My suggestion is to accept that the color of the cherry walls and furniture will mellow over time and that no one will even notice a difference after a year light exposure.

Understanding and accepting the fact that the color of wood species will vary to some degree with exposure to light and oxygen will help to develop reasonable expectations when specifying sustainable American hardwoods in design.

The Year of the Case Study

In this forum I have told the story of the process of Quartersawing and why its use creates beautiful and stable hardwoods for some of the world’s most iconic projects.  Frank Miller Lumber has been used in some very high profile buildings as well as beautiful homes around the world.  I have set a goal for myself in 2015 to obtain the rights to tell the stories of some of those projects.

One such project is 432 Park Avenue in New York City, the tallest residential building in the Western Hemisphere.  All of the quartersawn white oak flooring in that building was fabricated from Frank Miller quartersawn lumber.  Some other projects are the Fogg Museum at Harvard, 56 Leonard in New York City, The Walker Tower in New York City and The Chancery Court Hotel in London.  One of the more unique projects is a replica of Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello built in Connecticut featuring floors made from Frank Miller quartersawn white oak.  All of these projects would make excellent case studies but it is always a challenge to get all of the required approvals for the necessary photographs and interviews.

I will remain tenacious about obtaining those approvals in order to tell you the stories of those projects.  There is, in my opinion, no hardwood product in the United States more beautiful than quartersawn hardwoods.  In my AIA presentations I use photographs of amazing East Coast mansions from the late 1800’s.  These homes featured quartersawn white oak interiors.  The Garrett-Jacobs mansion in Mount Vernon, Maryland is a great example.  In the late 1800’s Robert and Mary Garrett hired Gilded Age architect Stanford White of the architectural firm McKim, Mead & White to help them realize their vision of a beautiful home that would compare with other Gilded Age homes in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia. Renovations of the original home would continue for thirty-two years.  Finally the house included over forty rooms, sixteen fireplaces, and one hundred windows.  In my presentations I show several pictures of the quartersawn white oak spiral staircase leading to a Tiffany dome.  It is truly spectacular and I point out to my audience that the house was built in the late 1800’s and the photographs were taken in 2010.  All of the joints are as tight as they were when the house was built.  These homes were built before there were “controlled environments” and in the case of the Newport, Rhode Island mansions, the windows were open to the ocean air during the summers.  These homes have stood the test of time, showing the lasting beauty of quartersawn hardwoods.

I am hopeful that I will get to tell the story of a large residential project in New York that is using Frank Miller Lumber quartersawn red oak for the floors.  New York City has been known for more than a century as a quartersawn white oak market.  The use of red oak is noteworthy and I have seen the floors in the sales offices.  They are beautiful and will last for generations, just as white oak would.

I am excited to be able to tell the story of these buildings and homes because each story is unique, even though they are all connected by the use of quartersawn hardwoods.

In Memoriam, Paul Katz FAIA HKIA, Managing Principal, Kohn Pedersen Fox

Soon after I embarked on my Frank Miller Lumber architectural marketing journey, I connected with KPF (Kohn Pedersen Fox Architects) in New York.  I have presented my AIA “Quartersawn Hardwoods” course to nearly 100 of the designers and architects in their offices in New York.  Over the past 4 years I have assisted many KPF design teams with all manner of hardwood issues.  Several years ago, Frank Miller Lumber was given the opportunity to provide quartersawn white oak for the flooring in an apartment owned by Paul Katz, Managing Principal of KPF.  Tony Chi, one of the leading interior designers in New York, designed the interior space. Jon Boulay of Wilson Woodworks, a high-end custom flooring manufacturer, longtime customer and friend to Frank Miller Lumber, produced the flooring.  The flooring was finished and installed by Stephen Estrin and the crew from I. J. Pesier’s Sons, Inc. in New York.

To say that all of us at Frank Miller Lumber were honored to be a part of this small but noteworthy project would be a vast understatement.  I use photographs of the finished space in my AIA presentation because it is such a spectacular representation of the use of quartersawn white oak.  Tony Chi and Paul Katz were very happy with the outcome, which is the most important aspect of a project like this.  This past year, Paul moved on to Phase II, the renovation of an adjoining apartment he recently purchased.  Once again we were involved from the beginning.

Frank Miller Lumber provided the quartersawn white oak while Wilson Woodworks and I. J. Peiser’s Sons produced and installed the flooring.  As recently as last summer I had an email exchange with Paul Katz and he was kind enough to write this:  “Many thanks for helping with my apartment and ensuring we get wonderful material and I hope to see you again whether in New York or beyond.”  Knowing that I had recently battled cancer, he said that he was “delighted” that I am in “good shape again”.  It is a sad irony that a few months after he gave me his good wishes after my battle with cancer, he entered and lost a battle with the same disease.

I have been profoundly impacted by this man and deeply mourn his passing.  All of us at Frank Miller Lumber extend our most sincere condolences to Paul’s family and colleagues at KPF.  I could paraphrase several obituary tributes about Paul, but I will simply, and with the utmost respect, quote from the tribute found on KPF’s website.

“On November 20, 2014, Kohn Pedersen Fox Managing Principal Paul Katz passed away unexpectedly, after a short but valiant battle with cancer. Since joining KPF in 1984, Mr. Katz oversaw some of the most exciting and innovative projects undertaken by any firm in the world and played a crucial role in the firm’s development into a leader in global architectural practice.

Mr. Katz focused on architectural issues of urban density and the important role of high rise structures as the building type of our century. Designing and managing award-winning projects in the U.S., Europe, and Asia, he was at the forefront of the globalization of the architectural profession over the last 29 years. He was a strong advocate of the social and artistic merits of the high rise building, particularly in the rapidly growing cities of Asia, but also in New York, London and other American and European cities. Paul worked on Hudson Yards in New York for The Related Companies along with his colleagues at KPF, a development that utilizes many of the concepts developed on projects elsewhere over the past 29 years.

Perhaps the most significant building enterprise Mr. Katz was responsible for is the Roppongi Hills Project in Tokyo, on which he worked for 14 years. Completed in 2004, the 11-acre project comprises over 6 million square feet, constituting one of the largest mixed- use projects anywhere; its design and realization set a new direction for property development in the global cities of Asia and elsewhere. Designed for Mr. Minoru Mori, this project led directly to the commission of what would become the tallest building in China, the Shanghai World Financial Center, completed in 2007. Following that project, Mr. Katz oversaw the completion of the International Commerce Centre (ICC), the tallest building in Hong Kong.

For many years, Mr. Katz taught a summer course on office building design at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. He was a frequent lecturer at numerous events and conferences in the United States, in Asia, and around the world. He had also taught a design studio at the Yale School of Architecture. With KPF’s A. Eugene Kohn, he co-authored a book, Building Type Basics for Office Buildings, published by Wiley in 2002. His architectural studies began in his native Cape Town, South Africa, and he received degrees in architecture from both the Israel Institute of Technology and Princeton University.”

White Oak’s beautiful cousin

In this blog I have talked about the challenges that the Bourbon industry has presented to quartersawn white oak log procurement pipeline.  In my presentations to architects around the country I have made the suggestion that in order to avoid the problems inherent with a tight white oak supply, the design community needs to look at red oak as an alternative.

We are currently supplying quartersawn red oak to a very large residential project in Manhattan, a market that has been locked into quartersawn white oak flooring for decades.  The designer of that project has seen no delays in supply and the floors are beautiful.  I will be writing a case study of this red oak project, as it gets further along.  There are other massive projects in New York that are drawing from all of the quartersawn white oak suppliers in the country and are still struggling to stay on schedule.

As an interesting experiment, one of the owners of Frank Miller Lumber took 5 samples of white oak and red oak flooring and used 5 different stains on each.  The challenge to one of our largest manufacturing customers was to tell the difference between the white and red oak pieces.  It proved difficult not only for the customer, but for several of us in the office.  Sometimes the similarities are so striking that the only way you can tell the difference is by looking at the end grain.  With white oak the end grain is closed (making it perfect for wine and bourbon barrels) and with red oak you can see tiny pinholes in the end grain.

As flooring material red oak and white oak score the same on the Janka Scale, which is a test to see how much pressure it takes to push an 11.28 mm steel ball into the surface of the wood to half of its diameter.  Red Oak will take the same amount of foot traffic abuse that white oak can take.  One need only look at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in Kansas City to see a gorgeous quartersawn red oak application.  It has been open for three years and with a bit of care the floors look as beautiful as they did when the building opened.

One subtle difference between red and white oak is the size of the medullary rays.  Red oak rays are slightly smaller and shorter.  If the aesthetic for a floor leans more towards rift, red oak can offer that look a bit more easily than white oak.

Red oak represents about 35% of the American hardwood forest inventory, while white oak represents about 15%.  Supplies of red oak will not be affected by the demand for bourbon and wine barrels, since it is porous and isn’t used in barrels.  It will always be in plentiful supply and at more reasonable pricing than white oak.  In my 18 years with Frank Miller Lumber this is the first time I have seen white oak prices rising almost weekly while red oak pricing has remained steady and affordable.

If supply, equivalent beauty and durability and reasonable pricing are important to you for your next project, you might want to let us introduce you to white oak’s beautiful cousin, red oak.