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American Oak

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Newbie_Neil

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Hi all

I, and SWMBO, are going to be designing replacement furniture for our bedroom.

I would love to use English/European Oak but it is too expensive.

Has anyone used American Oak? How did it work and what finish did you use? Or, can you suggest any alternatives.

Cheers
Neil
 

Argus

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Hi, Neil

I use Oak and other hardwoods to make solid furniture. With the exception of plys for cupboard backs, man-made boards have no place in my workshop.

That’s the contentious bit out of the way, so let me say that I have used American Oak for years and it is generally of very good and consistent quality; straight lengths, good grain, fewer knot features etc. On the downside, grain colouring can be bland. In addition, it is readily obtainable. The kiln drying is consistent, and it shows minimal movement, even when brought into contact with central heating. It is not waney edged, so there is less waste, also there tends to be less sap wood attached.

In comparison, I have used English Oak and found it also very good but in general the quality can be less consistent and you have to be very careful in selection. Over the years I have come across everything from excellent quality to bloody awful fire wood.I used to insist on quarter sawn boards from an English source for drawer sides, but now I make my own from ripped 70mm stock joined (American).

Apart from the genus differences, I think that it is for two fundamental differences. English Oak on the market nowadays is mostly an open-space tree or grown in hedgerows. We lost our forests centuries ago. The very best is earmarked during growth and never gets to the market, going into conservation projects and the like. Consequently UK sourced stock can have lots of low branches and comparatively less straight trunk also it is not cropped in the same, intensive, way that American timber is and tends in some cases to be an opportunistic crop, either wind fall or land clearance. Oaks from municipal sources, parks, road verges etc. are trees usually cut down at the ends of their lives or when they are not wanted. They can be either immature, too old and diseased or riddled with sunken knots following years of pruning. In contrast American timber tends to be forest grown, yielding longer, straighter sections.

There are two Oaks for furniture from America you can get readily on the market in the UK, and they are different species and vary in their to work qualities. Both are quite hard physical work demanding very sharp tools. For most furniture I favour White Oak over the Red Oak. – but that’s my preference. The Americans have a drying standard and grading system for export timber that produces a consistent product at a competitive price, in addition (they claim) that they have a replanting policy that ensures sustainability. I’m not debating if the methods are better or worse, the Americans have more of it and can afford to harvest the crop differently, that’s all.

So, you must conclude that I am a big fan of American timber? Yes, but in reality all I want is good quality.

But, you pays your money…….. They’re both good and very usable. The most important things in my opinion are consistent drying and quality wood per board-length, and that goes for wood from any source.


Good luck
 

Scrit

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Hi Neil

The traditional "alternative" for oak in the UK was horse chestnut. You'd be surprised how many pieces of "oak" furniture are either a mixture of oak and chestnut or even chestnut alone. That said you may find it a bit difficult to find from the average timber merchant unless you live in a rural district.

My feeling about American oak is that it isn't going to be a whole lot cheaper than the European stuff and you'll struggle to find any Q/S (quarter sawn) stock - the stuff with the beautiful ray flecks, the hallmark of oak - but if you do find it cheaper make sure that you ask for American White Oak rather than the similar American Red Oak. Red oak is sold for flooring, etc. and has a less attractive figure than white the with much smaller rays (and therefore less distinctive ray flecks on the Q/S stock), and I understand that it doesn't take stains as well as the white, either. Also, watch-out for honeycombing. Our American cousins have a tendency to vacuum kiln oak which can cause cellular collapse internally and result in an effect not dissimilar to honeycomb. If you get any like this take it back.

Regards

Scrit
 

PitBull

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Neil,

I have found American White Oak (forget Read Oak for furniture) to be 20% or more cheaper than English Oak. In general I find AWO good to work with, but I do notice that edges tend to be somewhat brittle, so you really have to knock of the arrisses.

You might also want to look at European Oak - this is often the same species or a very close relative to English Oak, and is cheaper. Only downside is that it is not always so well figured, but for many projects this might not be an issue.

Regards.

PitBull.
 

gidon

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Neil
Having just bought a fair bit (by my standards) of American White Oak from my local hardwood supplier - I would have to say I'm very pleased with it. But as others have said it is very hard on you tools. I realised this when I used a hand saw to cut some planks to rough dimensions!
But I like the lighter colour and strength. And it sands nice and smooth. I haven't got around to applying any finish to this batch yet so will let you know. But I generally go for a Danish Oil finish which I like with oak and it's straight forward to apply.
FYI I paid about £20 / cu ft for saw AWO. I'm sure you can get it cheaper but I was happy with that price.
As an aside Ash seems to be a good price - about 25% less than AWO. And looks nice I think for contempory furniture.
My timber mercant also seems to keep trying to flog me Idigbo - anyway know much about this wood?
Cheers
Gidon
 

Scrit

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Neil/Gidon

Oak is one of the harder woods, so it does need sharp tools and cutters to work succesfully. I reckon the European stuff is a bit harder than American. It will tend to stain steel/iron tools black (the action of tannin in the wood, atmospheric moisture and iron) so for that reason you should avoid using steel wool on it. £20/cu seems reasonable for white but I'll bet you any money that that is sawn T&T (through and through) so there won't be many quarter sawn planks in there.

I have used American Red Oak for bedroom furniture (built-ins) in a previous house. Because of the finish problems I finished by filling the grain and then just applying a clear pre-catalysed lacquer (spray) which worked really well. I found the timber itself a bit bland and uninteresting but it was interesting to see the colour mellow over the first three years from a pink hue to a mellow honey colour.

Idigbo comes from West Africa (Ghana, I believe). It's a bit lighter (weight) than oak and is a pale yellowish colour. Main problem with it is that the grain tends to be interlocked so you have to reduce your cutting angle to work it (20 to 25 degrees) and just like oak it contains tannin, so watch out for the stains in conjunction with iron and water!

Scrit
 

gidon

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Hi Scrit - long time no see.
Thanks for the info on Idigbo. Aparrently this African stuff has all gone up in price recently because of problems over there. I was quoted £24 / cu ft for 1" Iroko - it was far cheaper last time I checked.
I had never realised quite how much the price of wood fluctuates.
Cheers
Gidon
 

Keystone

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As already pointed out, there are two basic types of Oak found in North America (forget about all the subs for this post).

There is Red Oak. It has an open grain with lots of grain patterns. It is the most used wood in the USA at this time. The grain being open does mean that when finishing you will have to "fill" the grain if you want a flat smooth surface. This can be done with grain fillers, or, my method, shellac.

White Oak is one of the hardest, strongest woods we use. When quarter sawn it is even stronger. Movement is not much of an issue with this wood. The grain is straight and tight. It is so dense that it is used in barrels, and was used for the hulls of ships, as it will hold water in or out. It is easy to finish. Does not take stain as easy as white oak though. I add color to it with shellac (normally Rudy Amber). When it is quarter sawn, it tends to have allot of ray flecks in it, which is a preferred look over here.

Over here I purchase Red oak for $2.20 a bf and white oak for $1.90 regular cut. QS runs higher. The prices of wood in the US vary greatly depending on where you live.
 

gidon

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Thanks Keystone - interesting to hear a US perspective. And interesting to hear that we don't get as ripped off on wood prices as I thought!
Cheers
Gidon
 

Keystone

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My pleasure Gidon.

I enjoy reading the posts on this site. It does give me a different perspective on WW. I can't answer questions about buying equiptment, or where to purchase stock (timbers are you call it), but if I can help out a little on some general questions, well then I guess I added something to the craft!
 
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