Posts tagged ‘unfinished oak furniture’

What Is It about Oak That Makes It So Attractive For Oak Furniture?

Photo courtesy Anthony Thomas

Photo courtesy Anthony Thomas

Oak is probably the most well known of all the timbers used for furniture making. It is chosen for furniture because it is strong, hard wearing and has a very attractive grain. It is well associated throughout history, but what else do you know about oak?

Oak is one of the genus Quercus. This family of trees is native to the northern hemisphere, but is grown all over the world. There are over 400 different types of oak that can be split into two main groups -Red oak and White Oak.  As can be seen from the names color is an obvious distinction between them. White oak is considered to be the better oak for making furniture. This is due to its fine grain and lovely color as well as the fact it is stronger and less porous than red oak. White oak has a lovely grain pattern; it is very finer and tight and has silver flecks in it, which can be very clearly seen when the oak is quarter sawn. These flecks are called rays and are the pathways the nutrients took in the growing tree; the presence of these rays adds character and value to the timber. The rays run across the grain. Names have been given to the many different grain patterns that have been found in oak, such as pin stripes and flake figures. A well known example of quarter sawn oak exists in the paneling of the British House Of Commons.

Oak timber contains large amounts of tannin (tannin is a substance that is useful in wine production as it alters the flavor of the liquids stored in it, hence oak casks were  and are common for wine. Even different types of oak produce different effects in wines and spirits.

Oak takes many years to mature over 15 years and can live for many hundreds of years. The oldest oak is more than 300 years old. Oak was the main tree growing across Europe and England and was used as much for being common as its other properties. As the oak trees were used up, they were not replanted leading to a price rise for the timber. The quality of the oak timber will vary depending upon the soil conditions e.g. oaks that are slowly grown in well drained nutrient rich soil will produce timber with the finest grains. Timber that is easy to work and more tolerant of differing humidity levels. Whilst oak was very common across Europe, America is currently the largest producer in the world.

light-oak-grainOak has a tightly knit grain and is very dense and also very heavy. The dense grain makes it an excellent material for hand carving. Early oak furniture tended to consist of large pieces of timber and was very heavy, modern oak furniture is much slimmer in design and also much lighter.

Oak has a hard grain and is tough; white oak retains its structure and shape even in moist conditions. Although oak is strong it is also easy to stain, care needs to be taken to protect the finish from stains and to deal with them as quickly as possible after they occur.

Oak withstands the tests of time and the knocks and bumps. Oak is still grown, and used to create anything from oak bedroom furniture to oak kitchen furniture and even oak office furniture. Unfinished oak furniture offers the greatest scope to control the look and effect of any piece of oak furniture.