Here at Martin Allen – we know our floors. From the rich and deep cherry and mahogany parquets to the light and airy beech timber – you could count the number of tree species we haven’t worked with on the fingers of one hand.
There’s not much that can go by us regarding the quality and the sustainability of the wood. Yet, we’re aware that few clients share the same knowledge and hands-on experience when it comes to handling wood.
If you’re looking into buying a new property, or want to breathe a bit of new life into your home, it might seem like you couldn’t go wrong with hardwood floors.
While hardwood, in general, is a high-quality, durable option for any home. Certain wood species might work better for your particular property.
Knowing how difficult it can be to tell the grade and the quality of the wood by looking at it, we’ve decided to share a bit of inside industry information with our clients.
We’ve come up with a short series of articles, written with our customers (former, current and future) in mind, meant to introduce you to the three most common hardwoods in use today – mahogany, oak and walnut.
In this article, we’ll be covering oak – one of the most popular and most commonly used hardwoods.
The incredibly diverse genus of oak
Belonging to the Quercus genus of the beech family, oak is one of the most famous trees on the northern hemisphere. With more than 600 extant subspecies of this durable and versatile tree. What people refer to when they say oak often differs from country to country.
Oak trees have a density of around 0.75 g/cm3, making it a perfect timber for all kinds of woodworking. Oak trees also owe their popularity and widespread use of tannin. Which is a type of acid that acts as a natural protection from insects and fungus infections! Being perfectly buoyant and coming with their own protection from harsh environmental conditions and diseases, oak timber was often used to build ships, barrels and rafts.
Nowadays, thanks to both sustainable harvesting practices, and the broad dimensions of its logs, oak trees have become almost synonymous with hardwood flooring.
Ranking somewhere in the middle of the Janka scale, oak is considered a medium hard wood. With a hardness ranging from 1260 to 1360 depending on the type of tree used, oak is the perfect hardness to be used as a flooring material.
Being in the middle of the Janka scale also makes oak an easy tree to work with. Easy to cut, trim, scale and sand, oak hardwood floors are easy to install and even simpler to maintain.
The particular density and surface texture of oak boards to make them perfect for staining. Oak timber is considered to be porous, which means it can soak up the staining agents used and provide a smooth, uniform colour across its surface.
While these are the general characteristics of oak timber, it’s important to know that not all oak subspecies are the same. Their differences can range from subtle and aesthetic ones to the more major ones that might not make them suitable for the particular room or property you had in mind.
The two most commonly used types of oak are the white and the red oak. Differentiating between these two subspecies can be hard, especially to the untrained eye, as the colour, surface and grain of the boards are similar. However, these two species are structurally pretty different.
Red oak vs. white oak
Contrary to popular belief, white oak tends to come in darker colours than red oak boards. White oak boards have a much deeper, ashy colour than red oak, which comes in a very light beige with subtle pinkish or reddish hues.
A closer look at the two boards reveals yet another subtle difference, this time considering the rays of the tree – the little brown streaks running along the grain of the boards. White oak boards feature, especially long rays, often exceeding a length of 2cm. Red oak, on the other hand, tends to have much, much shorter rays, rarely being longer than a centimetre. This is the most common way to tell the two species apart, but it can be tricky doing so with sanded or stained boards, as the processes tend to smudge and cover the rays.
The rays of the board have little to do with the board structure or durability, and only affect the look of the board.
However, what does affect the structure of the board is its end grain.
Red oak’s growth rings are much less dense than those of white oak, which means that the red oak’s structure is also much more porous. A good sanding job and a durable lacquer finish should be more than enough to keep the red oak boards sealed. However, white oak’s pores are filled with tyloses, which protects the wood from water and rot. This creates a watertight seal in the oak boards making them suitable for all kinds of vessels, as well as hardwood floors in damp or high-traffic areas.
Staining these two types of oak is also slightly different. Standard white oak will react to any stain you choose – from light finishes to the deepest, almost black stains. Red oak is also great at soaking up stains, although any finish you decide on will end up with a slight pinkish hue. This is why red oak might be a better choice if you want your floors to emulate the kind of rich, chocolatey colours of mahogany or cherry trees.
When it comes to plank styles, oak boards are available in the standard solid and engineered varieties, with a broad range of widths and lengths to choose from. If you’re not sure of the exact plank dimensions would suit your home best, give us a call at 01162 165 107 for a free on-site quote and advice.
Knowing the characteristics of the two most commonly used species of oak is important for every homeowner that’s considering having this versatile and durable hardwood installed. If you’re looking for a straightforward and stylish solution for your home, oak is the hardwood to consider.