The properties of oak wood make it a desirable timber to work with for several reasons. There are over six hundred varieties of oak trees growing across the northern hemisphere, with many producing types of oak wood suitable for timber. Two species Q.petraea (a sessile oak) and Q.robur (a pedunculate oak), are mainly used for timber in Europe.
European oak has been used for a wide variety of purposes for thousands of years, most obviously furniture making, home decoration and structural or architectural joinery. Historically it has even been used to produce alcoholic liquor, medicine and writing ink.
Wars have even been fought to secure supplies from abroad for shipbuilding and other military purposes. Thankfully, in the modern era oak is widely planted and farmed all over Europe to supply the widespread demand from builders, joiners and architects who prize it for a variety of practical, aesthetic and ethical reasons.
Physical properties of oak wood
For construction purposes, the physical properties of the wood itself are most pertinent and European oak possesses a number of strengths that make it particularly desirable. These can be separated into two main categories, flexibility of use and physical durability.
The natural strength and attractive appearance of oak wood make it suitable for many purposes. The fact that oak trees grow to such a great size (from eighteen to thirty metres in height) means there is a particularly high yield of timber per tree. The length of the timber derived makes it perfect for jobs such as flooring or exterior cladding as a result. This also means work can be completed quickly as fewer individual pieces of timber will be required per job, speeding up installation. The uniformity of the oak wood colour and grain also guarantee a consistent finish for large scale jobs without the need for treatment or staining unless desired by the customer.
As a hardwood, oak has a high level of water resistance as its dense, non – porous texture resists water absorption, making it ideal for exterior uses without the need for waterproof chemicals being applied. This is one of the reasons oak barrels are still in use today for aging alcohol as they can be reused many times without suffering water damage or tainting the liquid within. Oak is also highly resistant to shrinkage, making it ideal for door and window frames as it will not easily warp, leading to sticking or broken windowpanes as the wood twists.
A glance around any historic city street confirms the longevity of oak wood structures. Many oak framed buildings erected hundreds of years ago still stand all over Europe as testament to the fact that oak is strong and lasts. Oak beams from the Tudor era still support the upper floors of structures that are in use on a daily basis today.
Oak wood naturally contains a high proportion of tannin that makes it highly resistant to attack by insects or fungi. This is part of the reason oak trees are so long lived and why, combined with its natural water resistance, oak wood is less prone to decay and rotting. When combined with drying processes to remove naturally occurring moisture inside the wood, the resulting timber will be extremely weatherproof and require little or no chemical treatment. This can be achieved by traditional air drying or kiln drying and results in an extremely hardwearing product. Oak wood is naturally less prone to warping or shrinking compared to other woods and drying further enhances this and reduces the chance of cracking over time. For internal woodwork even this is not required as the oak wood will adjust to the internal moisture levels and dry naturally as time passes.
Aesthetic advantages of oak wood
Aside from the obvious physical advantages, appearance is one of the major reasons oak wood is so desirable as a building material. It naturally possesses a pleasing golden colour that dries to a pleasant silvery tone over time or with air drying and a distinct visible grain that needs no staining or waxing to emphasise it, even on planed oak timber. Many property owners favour the appearance of natural oak wood over duller man – made materials and its texture needs little or no decoration to look attractive. Despite this, oak wood that has been sympathetically stained also possesses a pleasant aged effect that has been used to great effect in many older buildings. The interior panelling of the debating chamber in the House of commons is one example of this. However, it is worth ensuring the oak wood is thoroughly dried first to ensure it will take the finish properly.
Another option is waney edge oak, produced when the tree is sliced lengthwise, leaving a layer of bark on either side. This gives a very distinct, rustic look when used and is a particularly effective choice for cladding or oak wood interior surface tops. Pippy oak has clusters of tiny knots caused when livestock feed on small shoots on the tree trunk and gives the resulting timber an unusual and decorative that many find appealing.
Any reputable timber supplier should be PEFC and FSC certified. The Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) are a global group that encourage sustainable forest management to reduce the environmental impact of the timber industry. They create and implement sustainable forest management systems tailored to specific environments. These ensure forests are not overly depleted, illegal logging is prevented and current threats are eliminated. As oak forests provide a rich habitat that supports many other forms of life, ensuring their survival is paramount.
The Forest Stewardship Council is a non – profit multinational organisation that ensures that wood sources are renewable and responsibly managed and that wood is efficiently recycled as a renewable resource. As this uses significantly less energy than recycling other resources such as steel or aluminium this means wood production can actually benefit the environment. As oak wood needs no chemical treatment or industrial reprocessing its use already has less impact than other wood production. Its longevity and durability reduce the need for replacement or waste and its many uses mean maximum use of material per tree felled. These factors guarantee that its use is as environmentally positive as possible.
As specialist suppliers of European oak to the timber and construction trades, Hardwoods Group have dedicated ourselves to placing the customer first and giving maximum value. View our oak timber and please contact us with any queries on how we can help you.