Oak is one of the most popular woods used in furniture and flooring in the US. Its often found in traditional, craftsman, and mission style furniture and is the wood of choice for the Amish, as well as famed furniture designers Gustav Stickley and Frank Lloyd Wright. Oak is highly durable, easy to work with, and looks great stained or with a clear, natural finish. Its also one of the most efficient woods to burn due to the high BTU content.
Oak wood comes in a number of hues, but its grain pattern is quite unique, which makes it one of the easier species to recognize. It has a long history of use around the home dating back to pre-colonial times and remains every bit as popular today. While this makes it a mainstay in traditional design, its versatility means that it can also make a modern piece come to life.
Characteristics of Oak Wood
- Color: White oak tends to be a light beige through brown, while red oak has pinkish and reddish hues instead.
- Source: Oak Tree (Quercus L.)
- Durability: White Oak 1360 on Janka scale; Red Oak 1290 Janka
- Cost: $4.10 to $9.25 per board foot
- Common Uses: Furniture, cabinets, flooring, wine caskets, boats, barrels, kitchenware
What Color is Oak Wood?
A piece of natural oak wood can take on virtually any hue; from light beige through brown and red. While white oak tends to look more beige-to-brown and red oak looks rosier, its not always easy to tell the difference between the various types of oak based on color alone. Moreover, the same oak tree can have different colors throughout, and both red and white oak stain well, meaning a piece can look as dark as walnut or even brighten a whole room when stained a vibrant hue.
Most trees show a significant color shift between the heartwood (innermost portion of the tree) and the sapwood (layer closest to the bark which transports the trees nutrients). Youll see this in oak too, as the sapwood is usually a bit lighter, though this isnt always the case. Sometimes, the heartwood and sapwood blend seamlessly in an oak tree.
Youll also note that oak pieces will change color somewhat as the years pass, with white oak tending to pick up an amber hue.
Oak Comes in Many Different Varieties
One of the reasons why oak can take on so many different looks is that there isnt a single type of oak tree. There are actually more than 60 varieties growing across the United States alone. When it comes to furniture making and other uses around the home, the most common species are red and white oak. Both are stunning choices and work well in busy homes because of their durability.
Why Does Oak Wood Change Colors Over Time?
Oak wood may darken slightly over time, taking on more amber tones. This happens due to exposure to oxygen and UV light, making it a largely unavoidable process. When it comes to oak furniture, most people wont even realize the change is happening, as the color change is fairly subt. They may catch on if they purchase a set one piece at a time or try to add in a new piece years down the road hoping for a match. For this reason, its generally better to purchase a full set all at once.
What are the Common Uses of Oak Wood?
Oak wood is prized in furniture making as well as in flooring and cabinetry because of its durability, workability, and natural beauty. White oak has some water resistance to it, so it has historically been the choice for crafting things like wine barrels and boats. Barrel-aged liquors are often aged in oak barrels.
Specifically, most mission style furniture is often crafted with solid oak, although its also common to find mission furniture crafted with cherry or maple (note that most of our product photos contain cherry furniture).
What Does the Grain Pattern of Oak Wood Look Like?
Oak wood is generally straight-grained and has an uneven texture. However, there are other aspects of oaks grain that makes it quite unique. For example, white oaks water resistance lies in its pores. Theyre totally sealed off by tyloses. Red oak doesnt have the same cellular growth and its pores are open. One other unique characteristic of oak is the rays which run alongside the grain. In red oak, it can sometimes look like someone took a dark pencil and drew dotted lines across a board. The same marks are present in white oak as well, but they tend to be much longer.
Is Oak a Hardwood or Softwood?
Oak is a hardwood. This distinction doesnt refer to a woods ability to resist damage, though. It has to do with whether the wood came from a dicot or gymnosperm tree. Leafy trees are typically from the dicot group, and so theyre all hardwoods. Others, such as pine and fir, are from the gymnosperm group, and thats why theyre called softwoods.
How Dense/Hard is Oak Wood?
When people want to better understand whether a specific wood type is suited to their lifestyle or how they intend to use a piece, another type of hardness is measured. In the United States, we use the Janka Scale to demonstrate damage resistance. Wood is put under a basic compression test. A steel ball is pressed on the board until it embeds half way and the amount of force needed to do it is measured. With white oak, it takes 1,360 lbf or 1,360 pounds-force to embed the ball half way. Ergo, white oak is represented as being 1,360 Janka, while red oak comes out at 1,290 Janka.
This makes it one of the toughest woods. Sugar maple beats it at 1,450 Janka, but it comes out above walnut at 1,010 Janka and cherry at 995 Janka. That means if you have an active lifestyle or a family, oak will hold up better for you than other wood types will.
Where Does Oak Wood Come From?
Oak wood comes from a plethora of oak trees. Even when we say red oak or white oak, it could still be referencing any number of trees within the category. For example, red oak could come from a northern red oak tree, a southern red oak tree, or another variety. Conversely, white oak generally does mean the wood came from Quercus alba, the scientific name for the white oak tree, but there are other white oaks too, such as the Arizona white oak or swamp white oak.
Can Oak Wood Furniture Go Outside?
If its fit to build a Viking longship, then surely oak wood is ok to use in outdoor furniture, right? Not exactly. The Vikings understood white oak could keep out the water, but they did a fair amount ofmaintenance on their ships. Back in the day, this meant creating a mixture of tar and animal hair or moss and applying it to the ship regularly. Nowadays, we dont use animal hair and tar (thank goodness), but wood furniture that goes outdoors still needs a considerable amount of maintenance at least once a year if not more, and even still the wood will degrade over time. Because of this, most prefer a maintenance-free variety. Our the all-weather outdoor furniture offers the look of natural wood, but can withstand the elements on its own and comes with a lifetime guarantee.
Is Oak Wood Eco-Friendly? Are Oak Trees Endangered?
Oak trees grow in abundance, especially here in Vermont. Oak wood is generally a good choice in terms of eco-friendliness because its durable, which keeps it out of landfills, and is biodegradable. However, our craftsmen take it a step further and select sustainably-grown local wood as much as possible. That means youre not contributing to deforestation, rainforests stay intact, local ecology is protected from the transport of invasive species, and the carbon footprint is minimized because transport is too.
How to Care for Oak Wood Furniture
The care of an oak piece will depend largely on how its finished or what measures have been taken to seal the wood. Its also best to avoid commercial polishes and cleaning solutions, as these can often damage the finish.
What to Look for When Purchasing Oak Furniture
Finding quality oak furniture isnt always easy because some companies will market things as if they were real oak when theyre really using an oak-look product or they cut corners and produce inferior products as a result. That said, read between the lines a bit when youre making a decision and look for signs of the following:
- Authenticity: Is it real oak wood?
- Craftsmanship: Is the piece built to last?
- Quality: Does the company provide a lifetime quality guarantee?
- Eco-Friendliness: Is the wood sustainably-sourced?
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