July 5, 2019
Choose English oak for durability, beauty and sustainability
English oak stands the test of time
Oak is much loved for its beauty, heritage and prestige. As well as a wonderful aesthetic, oak has durability and strength. And oak is a sustainable building material when it is sourced responsibly.
“All our English oak comes from well-managed woodlands, many of them within just 100 miles of our sawmills in Wiltshire, said Tom Barnes, MD of Vastern Timber.
“There are many excellent hardwood timber species grown in Britain. Larch, ash, sycamore and chestnut are great choices for many projects, and we often recommend them to cost conscious customers.”
“But oak has a particular appeal for many builders, self-builders and architects. I think there’s something special about English oak,” said Tom. “So if you’ve got your heart set on oak, you have some options to consider.”
Should you choose English oak?
The choice between English and European oak can be influenced by aesthetic and technical differences in the wood. Getting the balance right depends on understanding the options – and the costs.
“Many people regard English oak to be the stronger choice because the wood is coarser and features a more interlocking grain. This comes as a result of small knots and clusters of knots within British trees that are not grown as straight as French or German trees. The closeness of the grain around these knots gives the timber more strength as well as a more interesting aesthetic.”
“Also, the issue of sustainability suggests that English oak is the better and more responsible choice. 94% of all hardwoods used in the UK are now imported, which has a negative effect on the management of our own native forests and woodlands. Without a strong domestic timber industry, our woodlands can suffer from lack of adequate management.”
“We work hard at Vastern to price our oak fairly, offer help and advice on choosing what’s right for each project, and deliver excellent customer service. We’re proud to offer English oak and we have plenty available from our local woodlands. When specifying structural oak, I’d say that there are many more good reasons to buy English oak than not to.”
Choosing between dry and green oak
The next option facing specifiers (dare we say the overarching choice?)… is choosing between dry oak or fresh sawn wet oak. Freshly sawn wet oak is commonly known as ‘green’ oak.
Controlling the moisture content of the cut timber is a big part of our work at Vastern, and there are a few options when specifying or purchasing oak;
Joinery quality kiln-dried oak (moisture approximately 10-15%); joinery quality air-dried oak (moisture approximately 20-35%); air-dried oak beams (moisture approximately 20-60%); fresh cut structural oak beams from old felled logs which have been ‘settling’ for over three years (moisture – wet); fresh sawn or green oak beams cut from new oak logs (moisture – green).
Time honoured traditions in English oak
Tom explained that Vastern Timber take great care to select and store planking grade English oak butts at their Studley sawmill.
He said “At Vastern, we like to store each log for at least a year after felling, giving it time to relax and release tension. Patience pays off, and the reward is flat, straight wood. We saw during the winter months, because we know from experience that cutting during these colder and wetter months reduces the chance of surface splitting. And once cut, we air-dry the planks according to the time-honoured rule of one year per inch of thickness (27mm).”
He went on, “there are many reasons to choose English oak. It is a natural material that will flex to accommodate the natural movement of a building. It is very difficult to destroy, and in large sections, it can resist fires. For many people, it’s the sheer aesthetic appeal of oak that makes it the right choice for their project. I think there’s something special about English oak. It’s a sustainable choice, with a lower carbon footprint than many imported materials, and the resulting buildings sit perfectly in the local landscape.”
Find out more about Vastern Timber’s range of oak products, or contact our friendly team to discuss the options for your project.