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Hardwood Timber: Oak Wood Uses & Properties

What are the properties of Oak Wood?

A traditional carving wood and often called the king of English trees, oak is a hardwood. It is extremely strong, dense, durable and resistant to fungal attacks, which makes it less prone to decay and rotting. Oak is considered one of the finest and sturdiest materials to work with in woodworking. Its flexibility makes it as desirable for artistic pieces as well as architectural projects.

Around six hundred different species exist, both evergreen and deciduous.  Oak’s high tannin content means different species come in varying colours, ranging from oaks’ common golden colour to red oak and white oak (Quercus alba). European Oak properties centre around its strength, durability and defined grain. Its dense constitution and long-living nature make it resistant to fungal attacks,  and is an ideal material for collections meant to last.

European Oak trees and English Oak (Quercus robur or Quercus petraea) can reach heights between 18 and 30m, depending on conditions. Although young oak trees grow fast in height, it takes decades to acquire the body that makes its properties attractive for construction purposes.

An extremely popular hardwood for both construction and carving, it can be difficult to work with due to the sensitivity of the grain regarding carving directions.

Oak timber needs to be dried and does so very slowly. Oak can be stained, polished, waxed, and glued well. It takes nails and screws well, except near edges, when the wood should be pre-bored.

What is Oak Best Used For?

Oak is popular with all types of woodworkers because of its strength and aesthetic beauty. For thousands of years, it has been used for furniture making, cabinetry, home decoration and structural or architectural joinery. Although it has also been known to be used in the production of medicine or ink, oak carries historical importance due to its importance to the military and shipbuilding industries. Wars were fought over oak-rich regions to secure supplies!

Exceedingly strong, this durable hardwood is considered one of the best building and construction materials around and the length and hardness of oak timber make it ideal for  hardwood floors  and  exterior cladding . Because it is highly resistant to shrinkage, it is also prized in window frames, door-fitting and liquor-ageing in barrels.

Many species of Oak offer many varying hues and depth of colour, of which red and white are the most commonly used for carving projects.

Note:   brown oak, is not the wood’s original state but rather the result of Fistulina hepatica, a fungus, attacking the tree as it grows, turning the wood yellow, then rich or reddish-brown. Because this fungal attack seldom survives the felling of the tree, brown oak remains a popular choice for its decorative appeal.

Oak Wood Disadvantages

The incredible hardness and strength of oak come, quite literally, at a price. Oak can take 150 years to grow and mature before being suitable for construction, which makes its price significantly higher than other types of timber and it can reach up to £800 per cubic metre.
English and European Oak are hard and strong, but by that very fact can be difficult to work with and require years of experience prior to handling.

The drying process is very slow and kiln-dried oak tends to split as it does so.

Elm Wood Uses & Properties
Throughout history, man has chosen elm when needing a tough durable wood. Wheelwrights fashioned wheel hubs from rugged elm, and then used it to floor long-lasting wagon beds. The China called elm  yümu, and worked it into robust utilitarian. Fine furnituremakers called on elm, too, but in the form of burl veneer from a species growing in Europe's Carpathian Mountains. 

In early America, Iroquois Indians tempered fever with a medicine derived from the inner bark of the slippery elm. Years later, players of baseball chewed this same elm bark to produce a sticky saliva, which when rubbed into the pocket of their glove, made balls easier to catch.

Despite its many uses, elm's primary fame has come from its graceful beauty and the shade it provides. From France to Middle America, elm once lined miles of city streets and country byways. 

There are about 20 species of elm in the world. The most well known include American elm ( Ulmus Americana) and slippery elm ( Ulmus rubra) of the United States, and the English elm ( Ulmus procera) in Europe and Great Britain. 

In the forest, elm often grows 140' tall. But open-grown elms rarely reach that height. Instead, they form a spreading, umbrella-like crown valued for shade.

The English and American elms have fissured bark with crisscrossing ridges of an ash-grey colour. The bark of slippery elm is the same colour, but lacks pattern. 

You can identify elm by its leaves. About 5" long and 3" wide, they have saw-toothed edges ending in a sharp point.

Elm heartwood ranges in tone from reddish brown to light tan, while the sapwood approaches off-white. The usually dramatic grain resembles ash. Moderately dense, elm weighs nearly 40 lbs. per cubic foot dry.

You'll find elm growing in river bottoms and on low, fertile hills mixed with other species of hardwoods.

Hard and tough, elm still bends easily when steamed, and when dry, holds its shape. Its twisted, interlocking grain makes elm difficult to work with anything but power tools. It also won't split when screwed or nailed, but needs drilling pilot holes. And the wood sands easily to a natural low lustre. 

Burl veneers tend to be brittle and troublesome to flatten. Try those with flexible backing.  Besides the frequent use of its veneer for panelling, furnituremakers take advantage of elm's strength for hidden furniture parts. Yet elm's beautiful wood grain also has fine furniture possibilities.

Elm works well, too, for butcher block tops and cutting boards because it has no odour or taste, and it won't split. When in contact with water, elm resists decay, so many boatbuilders use it for planking.