Notholithocarpus densiflorus (Hook. & Arn.) Manos, Cannon, & S. H. Oh (Fagaceae), common name tanoak, has a reputation as a “difficult to work with” hardwood species that has been viewed at different times in history as everything from a valuable resource for edible acorns to an annoying “weed” tree that interferes with commercial forest management. This paper explores the complex character of the species from a wood products point of view and discusses the possibility of developing it as a valuable forest-products resource.
A comprehensive review of the forest-product literature reveals the many ways tanoak has been utilized. These uses have included fuel wood, lumber, railroad ties, flooring, and furniture, and as a source for leather- tanning chemicals. Early studies of the physical and mechanical properties of the wood show a similarity to many commercial hardwood species. However, tanoak has never gained the status of a preferred timber tree for forest products. This paper compiles what is known about the wood properties of tanoak and provides recommendations for successful lumber manufacturing. The risks and benefits of utilizing a species that is a known host for Phytophthora ramorum Werres, De Cock & Man in't Veld, the pathogen that causes sudden oak death, are also discussed from a forest-management point of view. As interest grows in developing local resources that require little transportation from source to end use, more opportunities for utilizing tanoak will likely emerge.