Is Oak A Good Wood For Furniture?

While we have already discussed the structural applications of various grades of oak, it is also suitable for many smaller projects. But is oak a good wood for furniture making? Oak has been used for furniture making for thousands of years, particularly in the UK, and has been gaining in popularity all over the world.

Oak has always been a popular choice in the UK, Europe and America, largely due to its availability as a native timber. However, since the turn of the century its use has increased year after year in locations such as the far east. Traditionally, soft woods such as pine were used in such places as they are more readily available, but oak is rapidly becoming a rival.

With this in mind, we will address the pros and cons of using oak wood in furniture making and the reasons for its ongoing popularity as a material.

Benefits Of Oak Use In Furniture Making

1. Availability

As oak trees can grow up to 40 feet in height, the timber yield from each tree is very high compared to other species. In addition, the cultivation of oak is closely monitored by the Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Programme for the Endorsement of Forestry Certification (PEFC). These ensure that logging is responsibly managed and replanting of oak after harvesting is maintained. As a result, oak is never in short supply and is readily available in large amounts and a variety of lengths.

Large oak boards for furniture making are easily sourced. This makes construction easier and guarantees long, unbroken lines to the finished product. As a result, oak is the best wood for dining tables, kitchen work surfaces and similar large pieces. It is always worth checking that the hardwood timber merchants that you use have FSC and PEFC certification. This is not only the sign of a reputable merchant but also ensures a higher quality product.

2. Appearance

One of the main features that draws consumers to oak is its distinctive golden colour. As oak has been used for so long in traditional joinery, it has a comforting familiarity to many. However, it can also complement more modern design schemes with its clean edges and subtle grain.  For older buildings, the look of oak furniture complements the older fittings, giving a sense of continuity to the environment.

Waney edged oak, with its attached bark and variations in colour can result in some truly unusual oak furniture and is sure to create a talking point. A piece such as a waney edged coffee table can be an eye catching centre piece to a living area, breaking up the stark, straight edges present. Pippy oak also has a look unlike any other timber and can turn an otherwise plain, functional item into an attractive feature piece. Green oak and kiln dried oak are both suitable for internal furniture and have their own distinct look. This can be further enhanced by staining or the application of oils to bring out the grain of the timber. While these will need to be periodically reapplied on furniture that sees a lot of use, this is a simple easy process.

3. Steel and Oak Table - Welded & Wood

Steel and Oak Table from Welded & Wood.

3. Durability

As a hardwood, oak has a natural strength and longevity and can put up with a lot of abuse compared to other woods. Even compared to other hardwoods such as mahogany, it is exceptionally strong and hardwearing. Simply pressing a piece of pine furniture with your fingernail will leave an indelible dent, marring its appearance. In contrast, oak will take most knocks and extended wear and tear without any change in appearance. This makes oak the best wood for furniture in well used family areas or public dining areas where it will see a lot of continued use.

For outside furniture, for example dining furniture in a barbecue area or garden benches, air dried oak is perfect. The drying process renders it impervious to most outdoor environmental factors and as a result its appearance will not change over time. It will not absorb moisture and warp and is resistant, if not actively poisonous, to insects and fungus. This also reduces the need for treatment or maintenance on the part of the owner. For indoor furniture, green oak or kiln dried oak are more suitable.

4. Longevity

As a consequence of its durability, oak furniture will rarely need to be replaced. This is one of the reasons for its popularity over the centuries. In traditional oak carpentry, its longevity was one of the main factors for its widespread use. Oak was used for furniture at all levels of society, from the decorative, opulent furniture in the House of Lords to the humblest peasant’s milking stool. The reason for this is simple, oak furniture lasts a long time, and even now this is still part of its appeal. The money invested in using oak for furniture is repaid by the long life of the end product. A well made piece of oak furniture can last for centuries and many examples from hundreds of years ago are still in use. This also makes oak an environmentally sound choice by reducing waste and preserving resources.

Radiator Cover - Spot On Joinery

Oak Radiator Cover from Spot On Joinery

Drawbacks Of Oak Use In Furniture Making

1. Cost of material

Oak can be expensive to buy, but this is offset by its many strengths. As oak is a slow growing wood compared to many others, it takes a long time to reach maturity, when it can be felled and used for timber. As it is slow to produce, this naturally drives up the cost. However, the strengths outlined above more than justify the higher price tag. Foremost among these are the durability and longevity of oak timber. As previously noted, oak furniture will rarely, if ever need to be repaired, treated or replaced. It is worth carefully considering these factors before opting for a cheaper type of wood. In the long run, the higher initial investment in a superior material pays itself back.

2. Difficulty to work with

As a slow growing hardwood, oak has a naturally dense, hard structure. This can make it relatively difficult to work with compared to other woods, although green oak is softer than dried. It can be hard to turn on lathes and can blunt blades quickly if the incorrect types are used. Again, it is worth taking time to consider this and planning ahead to ensure the correct tools are used. For professional joiners this is unlikely to pose too much of a problem as they will have the necessary tools and equipment to hand already. For amateur furniture makers however, with a small amount of research and the purchase of the correct tools for the job, this is easily remedied. The end product will justify the cost and often the satisfaction of surmounting the challenge is a reward in itself.

If you need to know where to buy oak for furniture making, give Hardwoods Group a call. We are fully FSC and PEFC certified and can recommend the right materials for your current project. We can also offer advice on techniques and tips on how to complete your current project for a lasting piece to be proud of.

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