European Oak (Quercus Robur)

Our oak selection policy at Chris sharp cabinets is based on colour, grain variety, character, medium growth rate, environmental integrity and seasoning.

Colour of oak in our furniture

The colour of the oak we use in our furniture is vital to the look we are trying to achieve. What we're looking for is a beautiful even golden brown, roughly the same as a digestive biscuit (not the chocolate side), this is achieved by using only certain sawmills and careful timber selection during manufacture in our workshop. However even within our boundaries there is still scope for some variation.

Colour - General information.

Oak can vary in colour considerably from creamy white to dark brown and from reddish brown to greenish brown and even inky blue where there has been contact with ferrous metals, thankfully most well managed European oak is a somewhere in between and after a clear finish is applied should achieve a rich golden brown.

Grain and the different cuts.

All oaks have very pronounced annual rings (grain, early wood) which are a similar or slightly darker colour to the rest of the wood but are a much courser texture. The most recognisable difference between oak and similar timbers e.g. ash (used as a low cost oak substitute from the far east) is that oak has broad medullary rays, what are medullary rays? I hear you ask. Well in technical terms they are groups of cells running horizontally from the centre to the outside of the log, all hardwoods have them, but except for oak they are barely visible, the rays function in the living tree is to conduct sap radial across the grain. These rays give oak its unique character, when an oak board is sawn tangentially (flatsawn, plainsawn, crowncut etc) the grain will be swirly (for want of a better word) but the rays will appear as indistinct vertical dashes between 5mm and 25mm long slightly darker in colour than the surrounding wood. However when our oak board is sawn radialy (quartersawn) the grain is relatively plain, but the rays display the most amazing figuring (silvergrain. Feathering). See example below, which shows one of our Oak corner units with the feathering present.


Grain and the different cuts - The Silvergrain.

The silvergrain is a cream-gold in colour and if the surface of the board is directly in line with the centre of the log the silvergrain will show as wide bands running across the board and swirling in arresting patterns around any irregularities in the wood, this is called true quartersawn oak and is the prime cut, the fillet steak of the oak world!. Examples of quartersawn oak with silvergrain figuring can be seen on the wall panelling in the house of commons, the floors of Hampton court palace and all of the best arts and crafts furniture, incidentally quartersawn wood is also more stable than flat sawn.

Oak from France.

When we buy our oak from sawmills in France it comes in what the French call 'boules'. Boules are basically whole prime logs of French oak varying in length from 3 to 7 metres long and from 40cm to 70cm in diameter, the logs have been sawn 'through and through' (so the are full width boards with the bark still on both edges). The logs are then sticked and stacked and allowed to air dry, after a period of months or years, depending on thickness, the boules are kiln-dried to a suitable moisture content. Following kilning the boards are stacked again in their original formation. The oak we buy is grown in France under one of the most far sighted forestry policies in the world, the mills we use are accredited PEFC (program for the endorsement of forest certification schemes).

Grain variety in our furniture.

Because we buy our oak in boules we get every conceivable grain variation from true flatsawn to true quarter sawn and everything in between, we try to randomly distribute the grain patterns throughout each piece of furniture, we will also include small sound character features, but we will remove unsound defects (cracks, dead knots, sapwood etc). The overall effect we are striving to achieve is an interesting but clean real oak look, as opposed to a beige book matched veneer appearance, we're often asked by customers if we can include more character features in their furniture but this is impractical without changing the grade of oak, but keep your eye on the site for a character oak range in the future (maybe).

How our oak furniture is made.

Firstly our citrus and eight ranges are completely made here in Lincolnshire by our own team of local craftspeople. Our construction technique uses best practice based on 35 years experience in the furniture trade and a family cabinet making heritage going back four generations. We utilize virtually every joint in the book including mortise and tenon, Dovetail, dowel and high precision butt joints. Our use of materials is based on beauty strength stability and longevity and not on cost or ease. All of our tables, chairs and beds are made completely with the above mentioned European solid oak, our cabinets are constructed using the same solid oak and where necessary very carefully selected European oak veneers, it should be noted that contrary to what other websites which sell far eastern imported furniture suggest, strategic use of veneered oak panels is neither necessarily cheaper nor inferior to 'solid oak throughout', in fact the opposite is usually true. Every piece of furniture is made to order especially for each individual customer, work usually commences within a few days of order and may take up to two weeks from raw material to finished piece, our cycle of delivery is usually less than a week and a half.

How our oak furniture is finished.

We offer two different finishes, our personal favourite is a clear lacquer, this is a durable, water resistant and maintenance free surface coating. The two part lacquer we use is a 20% sheen so should be considered between matt and eggshell and is baked on in an oven. This finish emphasises the beauty of the oak whilst maintaining a natural appearance. The wax oil is as the name implies a mixture of organic (as opposed to mineral based) oils and waxes, as this oil soaks into rather than coats the oak, the effect is to slightly dull down the grain and give an attractive matt finish. Many people do like the idea of furniture that will patinate with age and enjoy the maintenance process (a twice yearly buff with Danish oil), if this is you and particularly if you have a high traffic environment (kids) then wax oil is ideal.