If you're a fan of interior design, mid-century modern style, or just furniture in general, then chances are that you're a fan of oak furniture—and you're not alone. Oak is one of the most popular furniture-making woods, used in creating just about every piece of furniture there is—from beds to bookshelves and back again.
Oak furniture is one of the most versatile hardwoods there is. Its color palette, grain, and texture can easily suit a wide variety of decorating aesthetics and can be found in a number of different styles. Like other high-quality woods, if cared for properly, a well-made oak piece can last a lifetime. To get the most out of your next oak purchase, there are a few things you'll need to know up front. With the following tips in-hand, buying the oak furniture your room has been waiting for will be a breeze.
The first thing to know about oak is that there's a lot of it—and much of it is grown, harvested, milled, and turned into trim-work and furniture right here in the U.S. Oak is the single most abundant hardwood species found in the United States.
Whether your pieces are made at home or abroad, there are only two basic varieties of oak used in woodworking: red and white. The grain is similar in both the red and white wood types, but white oak has longer rays. White oak is also the more durable of the two and offers a lighter color than is achievable with red oak. White oak is also the more expensive of the two types.
In the past, both red and white oak found frequent employment outside of the home decorating sphere, as both had important and valuable industrial functions. Due to its natural waterproofing, white oak was used to build ships. Red oak, on the other hand, was frequently used to make railroad ties and wagon wheels, as well as being the material of choice for hardwood floors.
Why buy oak furniture?
The incredible popularity of oak for furniture stems from the fact that it is plentiful and thereby fairly affordable, and that it is a durable, heavy hardwood with beautiful grain. Furniture built from oak is considerably sturdier than that crafted from some other hardwoods, such as mahogany. If you have an active family and furniture gets a lot of wear in your house, oak furniture is a good choice in part because it does not damage easily.
Unfinished oak furniture is second only to pine in popularity among buyers. Oak stains well or it can be coated in a clear urethane to exhibit its natural beauty. Oak is the most popular wood for American and English country styles, but it is a popular choice for nearly all furniture types and styles.
What to Look For
Although some furniture is made of solid oak, other pieces are constructed with oak veneers glued over carcasses built from other, cheaper woods. Choosing between solid oak or oak veneer furniture is a matter of taste and budget. Oak veneer—very thin, wide sheets of oak—can be cut to size and glued over core carcasses of pine or particleboard, for example, and this can greatly reduce the overall cost of the piece. There is nothing wrong with opting for veneer furniture, provided it is built well.
Solid oak furniture, though, is built for the ages, and many solid oak pieces last for generations and are handed down as family heirlooms.
Whatever furniture you buy, look for pieces that are well constructed. The joints between individual pieces should be fastened together securely, and you should see no gaps between parts. New oak furniture should be free from indentations and each horizontal plane, such as tabletops or the top surface of chair arms, should be level.
Oak has a naturally coarse texture, but when used in furniture pieces, the surface should feel smooth to the touch. Oak furniture that has been coated with urethane or stain should have a uniform appearance. The grain should be noticeable through the finish and have a warm look.
Getting a Good Price
As with most solid hardwood furniture, oak furnishings are a major investment. Consider buying used furniture, or mix solid oak furniture with veneered furniture. Antique and secondhand stores often sell oak furniture that can be refinished or may need some minor repair. If the oak furniture is well constructed, it will likely be worth the price.
Amish artisans offer a wide array of quality furniture pieces crafted from solid oak that can be purchased online, and there are plenty of retail outlets selling oak furniture, which often is available unfinished. Buying it in an untreated form is an excellent way to save money, and it allows you to get the exact finish you want. Staining a few pieces of oak furniture can be done over the course of a weekend.