White Oak in the Flush Wood Door Industry
The words Quercus alba and Fagaceae look like something out of the Harry Potter vernacular, however these terms simply refer to White Oak and the related species classified in the same family. White Oak is a familiar species, having roughly 450 to 500 varieties that range in form from hardwood trees, to shrubs and bushes and are found throughout North America, Europe and Asia. Although White Oak varieties are widespread, the number of tree species is dramatically smaller, at around 60. Of which, only 25 are harvested for commercial use.
Let’s take a closer look at the 25 White Oak species used commercially for the architectural wood door industry. When we examine White Oak in veneer form, it presents itself in a variety of color tones and figure types. Oak, regardless of the veneer cut, can and will have color dissimilarity. The color range goes from a light tan or straw color, to a pale biscuit, to medium tan, to an absolute dark brown.
Another factor to consider when specifying White Oak are the varying types of figure in the veneer, most notably flake. Flake figure is highly debated within the door industry and design community as its unique look is often polarizing. Flake figure is the result of the veneer knife’s parallel cut through the medullary rays of the log and will always be illustrated in random, unlimited, and unrestricted fashion. White Oak’s flake figure is completely unavoidable in quarter sawn veneer. However, one can control, or eliminate the flake figure by switching to rift cut veneer.
The radical disparity in color and figure in White Oak are all entirely permissible per Architectural Woodwork Standards (AWS), Window and Door Manufacturers Association (WDMA), and the Hardwood Plywood Veneer Association (HPVA) governing standards, which essentially means A or AA grade veneer will demonstrate the industry acceptable, yet radically variable traits inherent to the White Oak species. It is advisable to take this into consideration when large door projects are specified using White Oak veneers and are manufactured with an automated production assembly, as the equipment is not able to account for the color and figure variations.
Additionally, any attempt to match White Oak veneers from multiple sources will not yield successful results, as the allocation process for the door and panel industries are all from different hardwood sourcing. Flitch matching is the only way to ensure a tighter range of color and figure within the scope of a wood door face where the tolerance for any range and figure are negligible. However, the coordination of this activity is something your client would need to weigh against the outcome of the design intent and the timeline of the project. This added change order alone will significantly impact the cost and lead time.
Another method often employed to help regulate and control the color consistency of White Oak veneers is to stain them. The introduction of stain can help mask and blend some of the natural tonal qualities of the species. Keep in mind that any stain will enhance all the underlying base colors of the veneer and must be factored into the decision to use any stain.
It benefits our industry to educate the architectural and design community to understand the performance attributes, compliance to the specification and governing guidelines to ensure a successful outcome. As challenging these undisputed facts about the natural qualities at the jobsite only serves to disappoint. It is better to consult and educate our client base on the front end during the submittal process rather engage in a contested dialogue later.
Overall, the governing agencies have done an excellent job of fine tuning and cataloging White Oak’s features all while respecting environmentally sound habits. However, at the end of the day we are still held to the laws of nature. It’s the unique makeup of the organic plant structure of the wood that sets it apart from other commercially available materials as the aesthetic qualities and range in natural variation cannot be duplicated by man. We, as an industry, will continue to educate, celebrate, and embrace the natural and inherent characteristics of White Oak rather than reject them, and continue to add beauty, warmth, and charm to commercial openings without hesitation.
Article written by Dan Hogan, VT Territory Sales Manager