The relationship between man and wood is a very long one. Together with stone, it’s probably one of the first materials humans used to build their utensils.
Nowadays one of the most used trees for the production of wood is oak. There are about 600 species all over the world and due to their properties they are used for a wide number of things.
The words “Oak tree” seem a little vague now, don’t they?
Photo by Duncan Brown
Why We Use It
There are several reasons why oak is so widely used. Beside the fact that it’s so widespread and varied, oak is very resistant to fungus and attacks from insects.
It’s also harder than a lot of other trees and quite resistant. It can produce some beautiful wood – in the Middle Ages it was used for the production of prestigious buildings, such as the interiors of the House of Commons in London.
How We Use Oak
Let’s start with a bit of history. Up to the 19th century ships in Europe were built with oak wood. It was then used also for timber-framed buildings, which we are still doing today.
Talking of buildings, oak is widely used for interiors – it’s very common to have an oak table as part of your dining room furniture!
It’s also used to produce veneer and let’s not forget leather tanning. The reason why oak is so resistant to fungus is because it contains a lot of tannin, which is where the process of producing leather takes its name from.
From a culinary point of view, oak is used to produce wine and spirit barrels. Think of brandy, Bourbon whiskey or Scotch.
This wood can add refinement to the wines contained within the barrels, so it’s a very good material to use for that, while the bark of the tree is used to make cork for wine stoppers. Both Cork Oak and White Oak can be used to produce them.
Back when manuscripts existed, the Oak galls were used to produce ink. Such ink was widely used in Europe between the 12th and 19th/20th century. Once again, the ink uses tannic acids which are present in great quantities in the Oak wood.
In Korea, Oak is still used to build beautiful traditional roofs.
A Word of Warning
Oak can be used for many things because of its properties. However like all trees, its utilisation needs to be kept in check. Experts estimate that about 75 species of oak are risking extinction, but there are hundreds of others that we know little about.
When you buy oak furniture, do you make sure the supplier is environment friendly?
- License: Creative Commons image source
Estelle Page is an interior designer who takes a keen interest in furniture material and its properties and uses it to create functional designs. She writes for Great Furniture Trading Company.