Oak: The King of Woods

Oak is among the first woods that come to mind when thinking of wood furniture – if not the very first. For centuries oak has been a primary wood for furniture making.  Sturdy, durable and fine-looking, oak furniture will never go out of fashion. Look, for example, at elegant items from Bellavista Collection just fancy that a piece of Italian Luxury wood furniture you buy today can well serve your great-grandchildren!

The Tree of Thunder Gods

From dateless antiquity to more recent times, thick oak forests covered huge territories in Europe and North America, so oak was plentiful there.

Oak trees are diverse and almost omnipresent: there are about 600 existing species of oaks growing in the temperate, subtropical and tropical climate zones of Europe, Asia, North Africa, and Americas. Appearance of these oaks varies greatly – from a grand tree to a shrub; what’s more, oaks species can be not only deciduous, but also evergreen, like many tropical ones. But only a few oak species played significant role in life of a considerable part of the humankind.  One of these species is common, or European, oak.

Its Latin name reads Quercus robur, where the first name means just “an oak tree” in Latin and the second one stands for “strength” and “hard timber”. Common oak is a remarkable tree; in many ancient European cultures it was much more than just a tree.

An oak was the tree sacred to a number of gods: to Thor, the thunder god in Norse mythology, to Zeus, who was the king of Ancient Greek gods and… again, the god of thunder. So was Ancient Roman god Jupiter. Lithuanian Perkūnas, Latvian Pērkons, Prussian Perkūns and Slavic Perun – all these deities of Baltic and Slavic pantheons were gods of thunder and oak was the sacred tree to all of them.

Source of food, medicine… and ink

Oak grows slowly: it takes this tree from 150 to 200 years to reach maturity. Nowadays oak trees grown in sustainable forests are usually harvested at 60 to 80 years of age. But timber is not the only thing people can get from oak trees.

An oak tree can feed you. Did you know acorns are eatable? Ancient Greeks and Romans, as well as Vikings and medieval peasants all over Europe knew it well. They all ate acorns regularly. If you wish, you can try the food of our ancestors. Just crack the elastic shells of acorns with a hammer, pick out the meats, soak them in water, changing water several times, to remove bitter tannins, dry the acorns and grind them into flour. Flatbreads made of acorn flour are said to taste like chestnuts.

An oak tree can cure you. Along with nutritious food, oak trees have been providing people with pretty effective medications since prehistoric times – for example, oak bark, rich in tannins, was widely used in traditional medicine. In fact, oak bark decoctions, tinctures, and extracts are still used as an antiseptic and astringent remedy to heal various conditions, from chilblains to sore throat and acute diarrhea.

An oak tree can give you lots of other products, such as dyes, tanning agents or ink. Since the time of Roman Empire (the earliest known ink recipes belong to Pliny the Elder), ink was made of oak apples. Well, apples never grow on oaks, it’s true; what is called an oak apple is a gall. These round objects up to 2 inches in diameter are formed due to larvae of insects – gall wasps, which lay eggs into developing oak leaf buds.

Ink made of these galls and iron salts has been used for writing for about 1,400 years – from about the 5th century up to the mid-20th. Just imagine: Ancient Romans, medieval monks, and our granddads wrote using the same purple-black or brown-black ink made of galls picked from an oak-tree.

Oak Furniture: Classics are Never out of Fashion

When oak trees are finally harvested and turned into boards, cabinet-makers obtain a perfect material for their projects. Oak wood is dense, super-strong (its hardness is about 4 on a scale of 1 to 5), and great looking; being rich in tannins makes it naturally resistant to insects and fungi.  It isn’t prone to warping, so oak flooring, paneling, construction elements and furniture will last virtually for ages. Oak furniture is pretty difficult to damage, so even actively used items won’t have dents or scratches. Oak furniture will fit into any interior, either traditional or modern.

Furniture makers love oak because it is easy to work with. They distinguish lots of types of oak wood. When you buy oak furniture, you are likely to hear about “Red oak” and “White oak”. These timbers come from Northern American oak species – Quercus rubra (red) and Quercus alba (white). But there also are names that aren’t related to the species. For example, so-called tiger oak, a.k.a.  brown oak, comes from quarter-sawn oak timber and has a somewhat stripy appearance– by the way, these attractive stripes are caused by the beef steak fungus Fistulina hepatica. Pippy oak is known for its ‘cat’s paws’, which actually are groups of pin knots. In burr oak these pin knots are much denser more than 50% of a board.

But whatever the oak wood, it’s always sturdy hardwood with nice-looking grain suitable for making furniture that will last for generations – if properly taken care of.

Actually, oak is easy to take care of, because it is naturally stain and scratch resistant. Don’t use water to clean oak furniture. Use natural oil-based cleaners, avoid harsh chemicals. Interior oak furniture needs just regular dusting; from time to time wipe it with a soft cloth dampened with linseed oil – and it will look grand for decades. For exterior oak furniture, lemon oil is said to be better than linseed oil.

If you value things made to last forever, oak furniture is the best choice for you. That’s the type of furniture you can pass to your children and grandchildren.

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