The Fagacae family includes some fifty species of the genus Quercus, producing the true oaks of North America, but many of these are so small in size or found in such limited quantities that they are of no commercial importance. Some twenty species are important but since it is difficult to distinguish between the wood of individual species it is common practice to group them either as red or white oak.
White oak group timbers are characterised by the small, late-wood pores fine and numerous, not easily distinguished without a magnifying glass. Large pores of the heartwood filled with tyloses in heartwood.
Although generally resembling European oak, American white oak is more variable in colour, ranging from pale yellow-brown to pale reddish-brown, often with a pinkish tint. The multi-seriate rays are generally higher than those of the red oaks producing a more prominent and attractive silver-grain figure on quarter-sawn surfaces. The grain is generally straight, and the texture varies from coarse to medium coarse. As with the red oaks, the quality depends greatly on the conditions of growth; slowly-grown northern white oak usually being lighter in weight and milder, than that from the southern states.
The Appalachian Mountains used to provide beautiful mild white oak greatly esteemed for furniture and cabinet-making, but much of this forest area has been destroyed in recent years due to open-cast coal mining activities. Southern white oak is typically fast grown, and with its wide growth-rings is relatively coarse and more suited to constructional use. White oak weighs about 770 kg/m³ when dried.