One of the most recognizable and desired woods, Oak's remarkable strength and hardness is unquestioned within the woodworking community. For centuries, the countless varieties of this hardwood have carved their way into history, serving as planking for Viking longships and interior panelling for the debating chamber of the House of Commons,whilst its branches even circle the coat of arms of Estonia. But when it comes to carpentry, joinery and the like, why is this particular lumber so marvellous? For this entry of the Woodshop Direct blog, we present a comprehensive list of all the advantage of oak timber in woodworking.
The Many Oaks And Their Many Uses
There are over 600 known extant species listed under the genus Quercus (Latin for 'oak tree'), with the greatest diversity of oak trees located in North America and China. The wide variety of oaks is reflected in their various carpentry applications; for example, Northern Red Oak - or Champion Oak - is one of the most important oaks for timber production in North America due to its longevity and attractive colour, whilst European Oak timber takes in the conditions that is grown, producing a uniform colour colour and straight grain. Whilst there's plenty of notable differences between each individual species, overall oak wood tends to be some of the most dense naturally occurring materials to be found.
The qualities of oak woodwork extend beyond its great strength and hardness, however. Whether you're making wine, brandy or Scotch whisky, the various French and American oak barrels each add a different dimension to what's distilled, and can even be charred beforehand to contribute to the colour, taste and aroma of the contents. Oak chips are also used for smoking meat, fish and cheese, and the higher density of Japanese oak makes it easy to see why it's used by Yahama Drums to give their kits a brighter and louder tone.
Oak timber's advantages in woodwork
From a purely aesthetic point of view, oak timber's distinct grain and texture is instantly recognizable to most woodworkers. Even if your eye is not so well trained, it's not hard to notice the wood's vivid vertical stripes, significant wavy figures and various other majestic grain markings when quartersawn. As we mentioned in our blog on painting and treating planed timber
, there's an abundance of staining options for oak, all of which give it that familiar aged look with very little shrinkage occurring.
Aside from its strength, oak has various natural qualities that favour it for use in interior environments. It's high content of tannin (a polyphenic compound that protects oak trees from predation) gives the wood a mighty resistance to insects and fungi, whilst its impermeability to water also makes it much more suitable for boatbuilding than other hardwoods. Because it is water resistant, applying a varnish or clear finish helps make the wood impervious to staining, fading or cracking due to dryness.
Lastly, oak stands as one of the most environmentally friendly woods available. Requiring no chemical treatment or industrial reprocessing, the process of oak wood production is remarkably straight-forward, whilst the slabs of oak timber can also be reused and recycled as need be.
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