1 Introduction

When you are in a flooring exhibition, you can easily find that oak flooring will account for three quarters of all exhibits or even more. The easiest way to identify oak is to see if there are obvious short lines (wood ray) and distinct grain (earlywood, latewood and ring pores). Having known this, your knowledge of oak has exceeded half of the people present. However, when you are seeking for more details, exhibitors will be trying to convince you with variety of places of origin: the oak lumber may are imported from the United States, France, and even natural forests for decades in Russia — higher pricing for better quality as they said. So, what is the difference between them? How to choose it? This article will give you the most authoritative knowledge of oak flooring from a experienced perspective!

2 Prior Knowledge

2.1 Wood Species Identification

Before introducing the difference among oak species, we should firstly have a brief understanding on how wood species identification works. One of the mostly used approaches for species identification is to observe its macroscopic and microscopic characteristics, and categorize it into different botanical classifications. However, due to the variation of growth environment, sampling position and other factors, there are great differences within one wood species. So the identification certificates from rigorous agencies will only categorize to genus. Only with its leaves, flowers, seeds and fruits can we distinguish which species the wood belongs to. This makes it difficult for the custom officers to combat the smuggling of endangered species. But it brings convenience to manufacturers’ wide selection of materials.

2.2 A Large Oak Family

The common oak wood in flooring top veneers like American white oak, French oak, Russian oak, etc. are all different species of the genus Quercus, which belongs to the class Dicotyledon, Fagus, Fagaceae, and includes more than 300 species. It is widely distributed in Asia, Africa, Europe and the North America. They share similar characteristics and material properties–all of them are ring porous wood that you can see the pores arrange circularly along the growth ring at the early wood. they all have extremely wide and high wood rays, which can be easily found in the tangential section. However, it becomes very difficult to further identify them to species without other parts. Nevertheless, experienced wood practitioners can make full use of their various characters in different ways.

3 Characteristics and Utilization

3.1 European Oak

The predominant species of European Oak are Durmast oak or Sessile oak (Q. petraea), Common oak or English oak (Q. robur) and Cork oak (Q. suber). They are widely spread in France, Germany and other western European countries, among which French oak is the most famous. According to the Chinese customs data, French has been the largest oak timber exporter to China since 2014. From the perspective of appearance quality and grading, the percentage of Grade CD in European Oak is relatively high. The color tends to be distinctive that the sapwood looks creamy while the heartwood is warm golden-brown. The texture is coarse and uneven. In Common oak, the branching of the trunk occurs at a lower level, making the wood more knotty. A kind of special ribbon-like pattern that is made up with wood rays can be found on the racial section. Compared with other oak species, European Oak is much denser and suitable for engineered floorings.

For the knotty European Oak, the Select grade timber is so rare that the price of premium European oak engineered flooring is accordingly high. With our years of market experience, the Natural grade European Oak is also suitable for original color painting that the color differential and some knots can fully present the natural sense of wood. By contrast, the rustic grade wood is often used for reactive staining, fuming/smoking and antique processes.

3.2 Ukrainian Oak

In the market, Ukrainian oak is considered a special classification. Unlike the natural climate of other major European oak producing regions, Ukraine has two-thirds of its land area covered by black soil. The fertile soil, rich mineral deposits and low temperature environment have cultivated the Ukrainian oak with moist and full grain texture, vivid color and relaxed mountain line grain. Oak trees account for more than 20% of its domestic forest, of which common oak (Q. robur) is distributed throughout Ukraine, and rock oak (Q. petracaea) is mainly distributed in western Ukraine, in Caucasia, and along the Dnister River.

In terms of wood characteristics, Ukrainian oak is relatively dense, with narrow growth rings and uniform color, but the overall color is slightly darker than European oak. There are a few dead knots. Therefore, it is suitable for most coatings in flooring production and is one of the ideal oak species.

Due to the long-term political instability in Ukraine, the commercial supply of Ukrainian lumber is not very stable. So it is not the mainstream commercial material. With the supply of European oak exceeds the demand, the commercial status of Ukrainian oak has risen to replace European oak. Due to uniform grain and other reasons, it is not suitable for processes such as smoking and chemical color transformation.

3.3 Russian Oak

Russian oak, trade name Mongolian oak (Q. mongolica), mainly harvests from Khabarovsk, Russia and Northeast of China. As the origin is close to China, a major wood flooring manufacturing center, it is commonly used in flooring production. From the appearance, Russian Oak has straight texture, uniform color, high proportion of AB grade and a small amount of black mineral line. The fine quality makes it suitable for primary color and premium grade products.

It should be noted that the trade of Russian Oak products has been strictly limited. As early as 2014, China has banned logging of natural forests. Meanwhile, the Russian Federation included Quercus mongolica in Appendix Ⅲ of the CITES Convention (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). Export licenses issued by Russia are required in trade, so compliant wood is very limited and relatively expensive. Russia is no longer the largest oak exporter to China. Both purchasers and consumers should pay special attention to the compliance of the wood in the trade.

The Russian oak veneer in our factory are all legal material with import and export permission certificate. However, we don’t have much in store either.

3.4 American White Oak

The main species of White Oak in Northern America is Q. alba, trade name White Oak or Stave Oak, accounting for about 45% of North American oak production. It is the state tree of Connecticut, Illinois and Maryland. The color difference between heart and sapwood is not as obvious as red oak that the sapwood is white to light brown, the heartwood is usually light brown, brown or even dark brown. The grain is straight and very uniform, with a moderate to rough texture and a few knots.

Known for its clean, uniform appearance and straighter, subtle grain patterns, the American White Oak floorings work particularly well if you want to create an invariable look with no added character. A wide range of colors is available.

3.5 Red Oak

Red Oak is the other major species that distinguishes itself from above white oak in commercial. The most commonly used red oak on the floor is Northern red oak (Q. rubra) from mixed broad-leaved forests in eastern North America. The heartwood of red oak is usually pink or light reddish brown. The wood ray of red oak is shorter than that of white oak. And earlywood to latewood usually changes mild abruptly or gradually, while the earlywood in white oak usually changes rapidly to latewood. This is the most prominent difference visible to the naked eye.

In North America, Red Oak is one of the most popular wood species for floorings. The Red Oak floorings usually looks creamy and warm with clear texture, making people feel leisure and cozy.

In recent years, with the Covid-19 epidemic raging around the world, the supply of European oak logs is seriously short, and the price of European oak lamella remains high. Therefore, some wood suppliers and European wood modification companies are cooperating and seeking for chemical approaches to make red oak somewhat smoky like painted European oak (but the coarse texture of red oak can not be changed). The research is still going on. But it can be expected that the modified red oak will likely replace part of the smoked and gray European oak floorings, which can greatly reduce the cost of raw materials. It remain to be seen whether it will be received by the market.

Summary

The diverse unique characteristics of different oaks endow them different possibilities for flooring production. Customers can choose different oak flooring according to their personality, the type of spacesand their design wishes. In terms of strength, durability, colour and texture, oak flooring is absolutely a great choice.

As oak varies more within species than between species, the characteristics of the different species of oak presented in this article are only broad generalities. The table below summarized the characteristics and market applications, which will help customers gain a quicker understanding of oak engineered floorings and make a better choice.

ColorGradeTextureFinished SizePriceSupplyNatural ColorDark&SmokedLegal Risk
European OakDistinctive colors, creamy and grey in sapwood, warm golden-brown in heartwoodNatrual & RusticKnotty, random textureLength>2000
Width

200
AbundantFitFit
Russian OakUniform color, yellow-brown to grayPrime & SelectLess knots, narrow and uniform grainRareFitCITES  Appendix 3
American White Oakthe sapwood is white to light brown, the heartwood is usually light brown, brown or even dark brownPrime & Select & NaturalStraight and uniform grain, some dead knots and mineral linesAbundantNot FitFit
Ukrainian OakUniform color, dark yellow-brownSelect & NaturalLess knotty, narrow grainRareFit

The sawn veneer is in the majority in the oak engineered flooring. There is also a small amount of sliced veneer. In the sliced veneer, European oak is mainly thick veneer (2~4mm), American white oak is mainly thin veneer (0.6~1.2mm). Russian oak is available in both thin and thick veneer.

The factory will choose different oak species in production according to the different customer needs. It is important to note that oak prices have risen rapidly in recent years due to strong market demand, fluctuating supply in epidemics and restrictions on the sustainable exploitation of forest resources. The rational choice of different species and grades of oak,has become the consensus of most purchasers and manufacturers.

Oak is indeed a kind of excellent material, large diameter grade, beautiful pattern of flooring material. Oak in different species of red oak or white oak wood is not very different, only the surface color and grading will be some differences in factory production will be based on different orders, and the appropriate cost, choose a different oak species. In the purchase and sale of oak species is not necessary to excessive requirements, in fact, it is difficult to distinguish to species. In addition, it should be especially noted that the CITES Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora control of oak is not recommended.

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