Different Types of Oak Used for Antique Furniture

Written by dan ketchum
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Different Types of Oak Used for Antique Furniture
Antique oak furniture comes in a variety of shapes. (oak drop lid secretary desk image by James Phelps from Fotolia.com)

Oak has been used for furniture since at least the Middle Ages and continues to be used in furniture production worldwide. Oak is sought after by antique collectors for its timeless aesthetics, and a variety of oak trees from North America and Europe produce furniture-quality wood. Antique oak furniture is renowned for its durability, intricate grains and warm patterns.

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White Oak

Wood of the Quercus alba, or White Oak, is known for its light, airy tones. As noted by Craftsman Style, quarter sawing white oak wood produces long heartwood lines, or "rays" ("ribbon-like structures within the wood," according to the Treen Shop Glossary of Wood Terms) accented by many characteristic elongated flecks. White oak produces incredibly straight grains and stains easily in a variety of styles. In antique furniture, white oak rose to prominence as part of the Craftsman style, an artistic reaction to the homogeny of the Industrial Revolution during the first half of the 20th century and often associated with the similar Mission Revival Style of the late 1800s and early 1900s. White oak often composes dining furniture, cabinetry and storage furniture.

European Oak

Botanically dubbed Quercus robur and commonly known as European Oak, English Oak or Brown Oak, this wood derives from the trees of Europe and parts of West Asia and Northern Africa. According to WoodZone.com, grains of the European wood flow in a straight, elongated fashion accented with almost silver highlights. This wood features rough textures and open pores. Sapwood and heartwood of European Oaks share likeness in grain patterns and hues, both appearing pale beige to warm tan though the sapwood is slightly lighter in colour. As this wood finishes easily and accepts a variety of stains, European Oak often serves as an ornate veneer for other wood types. European Oak composes a variety of antique furniture, mostly imported from Europe.

Red Oak

Though most commonly used in modern furniture, red oak composes some antique pieces from the early 1900s onward. This wood derives from the North American Quercus rubra tree, commonly known as the Northern Red Oak. According to TheWoodBox.com, the sapwood of red oak appears whitish while the heartwood appears brown with hints of pink or red. Red oak features a soft composition and a smooth, fine texture. Its grains run straight its pores are open. This type of oak easily finishes and stains, hence its popularity in furniture; as its pores are very open, red oak absorbs more stain than other oak types. Varieties of red oak include Shumard, scarlet, water, willow pin and nuttal oak.

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