The Definitive Wood Guide: Oak
- Characteristics of Oak
- Types of Oak
- Solid, Veneer & Laminate
- How Oak Ages
- What Are The Most Common Finishes?
- Care and Maintenance of Oak
- Popular Oak Pieces
- Is Oak Eco Friendly?
Characteristics of Oak
Oak is often the material chosen for traditional, craftsman, and mission-style furniture. This wood is great to look at whether stained or left with a clear, natural finish.
The wood of oak is available in several hues. Its grain pattern is unique and renders it among the easier wood species to recognise. It’s long history of use in the home dates back to pre-colonial times. It has lost none of its appeal today. It is a mainstay of traditional design. But its versatility lends itself to use with many modern pieces of furniture.
There are several different colours. The white ones tend to come in a light beige but the range goes through to brown. Red oak has hues that are more pink and red.
All oak wood comes from the genus Quercus, which is of the beech family. But oak can take on many different looks. There isn’t one single type of oak tree. Indeed, there are more than 200 separate species of true oaks. Found in the northern hemisphere, they fall into three distinct groups. These are red, white, and evergreen or live oaks.
When it comes to furniture making and other uses around the home, red and white are the most common species. Both are stunning and work well because of their durability.
Known for hardness, different colours rate on the Janka hardness test. This took its name from Gabriel Janka (1864–1932). He was an Austrian-born immigrant. His scale measures how resistant a piece of wood is to denting and wear. White Oak measures 1360, Red Oak 1290.
Types of Oak
Natural oak can take on almost any hue. Colours can range from a light beige through to a deep brown or even red.
White oak tends to look more beige-to-brown. Red oak looks a lot rosier. But it’s not easy to spot differences between the various oak types based on colour. What is more, a single oak can display different colours throughout.
Most trees display significant colour shifts between the heartwood and the sapwood. The latter is the layer closest to the bark. It transports a tree’s nutrients. Sapwood is usually lighter. Sometimes, oak heartwood and sapwood blend well.
Solid, Veneer & Laminate
Veneer or laminate as well as solid wood make particular pieces of furniture. It’s important to understand the definition and explanation for the application of these three.
In technical terms, a veneer is a thin layer of hardwood. This is often thinner than around 3mm. It is typical for the veneer to undergo a bonding process. Or glue can stick it to a cheaper surface hidden below. This enables furniture makers to create beautiful pieces at a much lower cost.
Veneers can be sanded along their grain. They can then be painted and stained because the wood is real.
Laminate uses synthetic materials. Sometimes it uses thinly sliced pieces of wood. A method that’s like printing can make the laminate look like wood grain. Laminate tends to be shiny. It is often used in low-end furniture or pieces that need very durable surfaces.
Laminate is much less expensive than solid wood or even veneer. Some laminate consoles look great. Laminate items are very easy to maintain. This makes them particularly good for children’s rooms or areas where furniture gets a lot of wear.
Painting laminate can happen after sanding its glossy finish. After priming the surface thin layers of paint can be applied.
How Oak Ages
Over time oak can darken. It tends to take on amber tones. The cause is exposure to oxygen and UV light. This process is unavoidable. In the case of oak furniture, the changes are subtle and so most people won’t even notice it happening.
What Are The Most Common Finishes?
Finishing oak is like working with two different kinds of wood at the same time. Large and visible pores that are plain in earlywood tend to soak up the stain. The smoother latewood does not.
Care and Maintenance of Oak
Oak is popular in furniture making for its durability, workability, and natural beauty. Its charm is often found in the furniture’s character. These can include natural imperfections.
Being made of natural solid wood means that each piece is unique. This applies to colour, natural marks, knots, grain patterns and workmanship. Oak is a ‘living wood’ and cared for will last for many generations.
There are intricacies to bear in mind when taking care of this living wood. Around half the weight of any sawn wood is water. This makes it crucial to make sure you buy kiln-dried oak furniture. This reduces the moisture content to the ideal level.
When new furniture arrives, it’s recommended that it is helped with either wax – preferably beeswax – or oil polish. Treatment should happen at three-month intervals. This nourishes the timber. It also creates a long-lasting protective seal. This maintains the ideal levels of moisture in the timber.
Waxing is a marvellous process with oak. It protects the grain. The wax helps the wood resist cracking and getting fine cracks on its surface. The process also maintains finishes in the best condition.
When applying wax, move with the grain. Then leave it for five minutes. To remove the excess wax use a buffing action. Again follow the grain.
Cleaning Oak Furniture
Household cleaning materials are prone to damaging finishes on furniture over time. It’s best to wipe surfaces with clean, damp cloths. If you have a spill, blot the liquid with a soft, clean, damp cloth.
Try to leave a gap of around 25mm between the wall and the back of any furniture. This enables air to flow and keeps oak at a more stable temperature. This helps prolong its life.
Avoid direct sunlight. This will prevent any fading. Don’t position your furniture in front of any radiators. This also applies air conditioning units. Try not to place oak furniture in a conservatory. These rooms have extreme temperatures at different times of the year.
Popular Oak Pieces
Oak isn’t soft. It isn’t particularly tough either. It’s also abundant and cheap. This is what makes it particularly appealing to work with. It has solid strength characteristics. People love to own oak furniture. This is because oak also has an interesting range of grain patterns which are unique to this wood.
Among the standout pieces at Olson + Baker is the Ethnicraft Whitebird Sideboard. Alain Van Havre designed this for our Whitebird collection. He has brought together some intriguing if opposing elements.
He has combined soft round oak legs with some particularly eye-catching graphic lines. The result is this light and airy design. The Whitebird sideboard comes with two doors and three drawers. It is available in three sizes and black.
To go with this there is the Ethnicraft Slice Dining Table. It’s robust legs move with the extension of this table. This enables you to maintain the seating space at its greatest. The extendable table is available in two sizes in oak.
Skagerak Riviera Sun Lounger
It’s not recommended to take many oak pieces outside. But the purpose-built Skagerak Riviera Sun Lounger allows enjoyment of oak outdoors.
This Sun Lounger’s detailing is subtle. The designer is Povl Eskildsen. His piece carries strong aesthetical links to powerful Scandinavian origins.
Based on the original Riviera Sunbed the original could only expand lengthwise. But now the expansion is in the lounger’s width instead. This allows adaptation of the lounge elements. The Sunbed can serve not only as a chair and table but also a sofa or even a level surface as a bed.
Skagerak also uses oak for the stunning Georg Mirror. This item comes with beautiful and subtle detailing. Designed by renowned Chris L. Halstrøm. It has strong aesthetical links to its Scandinavian origins.
Halstrøm’s mirror is available in two versions. Both encompass the same functional features. The extra-length poles frame the mirror. They also support it when it is leaning against the wall. The poles are a place to hang coats, bags and myriad decorative objects.
Hans J. Wegner designed the Hansen CH24 Wishbone Chair in 1949. Then it had a black oak frame and natural paper cord seat. It is still crafted today to Wegner’s exacting standards by Carl Hansen & Søn.
Is Oak Eco Friendly?
Oak trees grow in plenty. The wood is a good choice from an eco-friendly point of view. It is biodegradable, grown sustainably and locally.
It acts as a substitute to wood that may otherwise come from a rainforest. So oak furniture protects local ecology from the transport of invasive species. Its carbon footprint is minimal because transport does not occur over long distances.