Oak is both one of the most prolific and most valuable species of tree in North America–and for good reason. Oak is a dense hardwood with great structure and a beautiful grain used for a wide variety of wood products, including furniture, cabinetry, and veneer. With such a gorgeous and versatile wood, how much are oak trees worth? While it largely depends on what you mean by “worth,” a large oak tree can be worth around $184 for a landowner who owns the tree, $258 for the logger who cuts the tree, and $2,576 for the sawmill that cuts and sells the lumber. Below is a table of oak trees and their typical values based on size and point in the value chain.
If you are still confused, don’t worry! in this article, we will discuss exactly what determines oak tree value as well as the different types of value and even how much an acre of oak can be worth. Hang tight!
The Three Prices of Oak
There is no such thing as a standard price of a tree or wood. Prices of Oak and other trees can be broken down into three distinct categories based on the different processes of the supply chain: Stumpage values, Log values, and lumber values.
Stumpage is the price paid for the right to harvest timber. In the context of oak stumpage, this would be the price a landowner receives from a logger who harvests oak trees on the property. This is the closest proxy to how much an oak tree is worth. Oak stumpage prices can vary considerably based both on the region and individual factors relating the the parcel and quality of timber. To learn more about what affects stumpage prices, we have an article on the subject here. Moreover, to learn more about the stumpage prices in your area, we have links to resources for prices by state and province here. However, typical ranges for oak stumpage are $300-$700 per MBF.
Oak Log Prices
Oak log prices are the prices paid by mills for delivered logs, meaning the mill buys the logs once they are trucked from the site of harvest. Naturally, these prices are higher because they are further up the value-added chain. Like stumpage prices, log prices are non-standard. They are set by individual mills, so prices differ dramatically. To get the most accurate prices for oak logs, contact a local sawmill. That said, typical prices range from $400-$1300 per MBF.
Oak Lumber Prices
Finally, Oak Lumber prices are the prices of milled boards paid by consumers. Because oak lumber must be milled, kiln-dried, and planed, lumber is the most value-added product and therefore the most valuable. There are also substantially more costs associated with lumber because of these processes as well as the cost of retail itself, which may even include marketing. It is often the case that the sale of lumber is intermediated, and so lumber prices may be differentiated by wholesale (prices paid by stores and warehouses) and retail prices (paid by end-users). That said, the typical retail prices of oak lumber can range from $4,000-$10,000 per MBF
Determining the Board Foot volume of an Oak Tree
All the prices state above are denominated in “MBF” or “thousand board feet.” This is the most common way sawlogs are valued. It is a rough measurement of the lumber yielded from any tree or log. Thus, how much an oak tree is worth will be mostly a function of how many board feet it yields.
Determining board feet yield prior to milling is a science all its own, but luckily, there are volume tables and log rules to help us out. Below is a board foot volume table for trees based on the diameter and the number of usable logs in the tree.
Finding the board foot volume of a tree can be complicated business, however. It requires proper measurement and basic knowledge of forest products. If you are interested in measuring your own trees, I recommend you give our article on the subject a read.
Once you know the board foot volume, you can calculate an estimate of value by dividing the board feet by 1000 to get MBF and multiplying that number by the price per MBF.
You can see us go through the process of estimating the value of a tree in this video below:
The above tables are largely a function of size. Of course, larger oak trees are going to have more board feet, but not all board feet are equal. The quality of some lumber is better than others, and so trees that produce higher-value boards are going to be more valuable themselves. Take, for example, the below diagram of two hypothetical oak trees.
The poor quality oak to the left has a lot of dead branches, and so the logs that tree produces are going to be full of nasty knots. Likely, any lumber that is made from the upper portion of that log is going to be the lowest quality and thus the lowest value. The tree on the left, however, is straight and branch-free the entire way up the bole. This tree is likely to produce several high-quality oak logs and fetch a lucrative price at the mill. Other defects that can reduce lumber quality and yield are sweep, rot, cracks, and wounds.
To account for these differences in quality, sawmills often grade individual logs based on measurable qualitative attributes of the log. Veneer logs are the highest grade and fetch the highest price, with “prime” logs being the second best. From there, logs are categorized from grades 1-3 with 3 being the worst. You can see an example of these grades and pricing tiers from this sawmill here.
It is also worth noting that all comments on how much oak trees are worth so far assume that the tree is suitable for sawlogs, meaning the tree is suitable to be sawn into lumber. In some cases, the quality of the tree is so poor or the tree is so small, it is only suitable to be sold as pulpwood. In such a situation, the per-unit-of-volume value of the tree would be a fraction of what it otherwise would be.
How Much Is an Acre of Oak Trees Worth?
Now that we understand what determines the value of single logs and trees, how much would an entire acre of oak trees be worth? Luckily, we have ways to measure that as well. Volume tables can help us estimate how many MBF are on an acre of forest land.
Below is a volume table you can use to estimate the thousands of board feet on a given acre.
The left axis represents the amount of basal area per acre. To learn more about basal area, what it represents, and how to measure it, we have an article and video on the subject here.
Typically, however, an average-stocked stand of mature oak might have 70 square feet of basal area and 1.5 logs per tree (on average). At this level, an acre of oak would have 7.3 MBF/acre and a stumpage value of $2,200-$5,100 per acre! In 100 acres of such a stand, the trees may be worth around a half a million dollars. Not too shabby!
Of course, the true number is going depend on a myriad of factors, especially how much (quality) wood you actually have on your acreage. More information on how much wood is on an acre can be found here.
Which Species of Oak Trees Are Most Valuable?
While most species of oak are valuable for their sawtimber, certain species are more highly valued on the market than others. In particular, white oak is the most sought-after and valuable of the oaks with red oak not too far behind. Other species like pin oak, black oak and chestnut oak tend to be less valuable or used for lower-value products like pulp and railroad ties. High-quality individuals of these species can still possibly fetch a high price, however.
Much of the valuation of individual species comes down to markets. Where I live, for example, red oak is common, but white oak less so. Many of the individual mills are familiar with milling and selling red oak and are specialized in doing so. Because of this specialization, many simply will not buy white oak, reducing the price in the area.
Moreover, if certain species are at the edge of their range, they may grow in a more stressful environment and not produce the same quality timber they may otherwise. If you are on the edge of white oak’s range, it may not produce the best quality logs compared to other species that are well within their comfort zone.
The Wildlife Value of Oak Trees
While thus far we have discussed mostly the financial value of oak trees, but in truth they have a more intangible worth: their great value to wildlife. Oak trees, of course, are excellent producers of hard mast in the form of acorns, which are incredibly important to a wide array of wildlife species, including bear, deer, and birds and mammals of all sorts.
Even without the acorns, however, the leaves of oak trees offer an important source of browse, as animals such as deer and rabbits. Though oak browse is usually not preferred compared to other species such as sugar maple, oak becomes an important source of food during times of food shortage.
How to Sell Oak Trees
If you have oak trees on your property and are interested in selling them, you must of course figure out what you mean by selling. Do you wish to sell the rights to harvest the timber, or do you wish to sell individual logs? The difference between these to modes of sale is extreme.
If you wish to sell the rights to harvest your oak trees, you must have an actual parcel of timberland. No logger is going to come to harvest a few trees on your front lawn and give you money for them. The investment in such a process is simply not worth it. Instead, they need at least 10 acres (bare minimum) to make it worth their while, and the more, the better.
If that applies to you, the best course of action is to work with a forester who can work with loggers on your behalf and ensure not only that you get the best money for your timber, but that your property is protected and remains productive for years to come.
If you wish to sell oak logs, however, then the opposite is true. Unless you are specially equipped and understand basic harvesting principles, this is likely too complicated a process to do on a large acreage. On the other hand, if you have taken down or plan to take down a single tree on your yard and wish to sell a log from it, this is more doable. The best course of action in such a case is to post an ad in an online market place like Craigslist or Facebook and let people know you are selling it. There are many people around with small, portable sawmills who are more than willing to compensate you for them.
Determining how much oak trees are worth is no easy task. To make accurate assessments of value, one would require proper training and even years of experience. Even then, a tree is worth only what someone is willing to pay for it. There simply is no standard. Nonetheless, with the information and resources here, you can make educated estimations of the value of trees on your property. Use the information well!