English oak has held a very special place in the hearts of artisans for hundreds of years. Its strength, resistance to decay and sheer versatility is engrained in our national heritage. Although oak grows widely across Europe and North America, customers still cherish English oak for its beautiful grain and figure, which tend to be more decorative and unique than in oak from elsewhere.
At Vastern Timber, we’re dedicated to supporting local woodlands by processing and marketing locally grown wood. We firmly believe that the best way to protect our remaining forests is to ensure they have a value.
We select and store planking grade English oak butts at our Studley sawmill ready for sawing during the winter months. From experience, we know that cutting during these colder and wetter months reduces the chance of surface splitting (checking), a problem caused by rapid drying. We like to store each log for at least a year after felling to allow it time to relax and release tension.
In our experience, we find that patience pays off and the reward is flat, straight wood. Once cut, we air-dry the planks according to the time-honoured rule of one year per inch of thickness. It’s well worth the wait.
Pippy oak is so described because of regular knot clusters or ‘cat’s paws’ across the board. These features are the consequence of sawing through small epicormic growths on the outside of the tree. Boards in this grade will include a distribution of pips, cat’s paws and small burrs
Brown oak is not a separate specie or a grade; it is instead the symptom of an attack by the Beefsteak fungus (Fistulina hepatica). The fungus affects standing oak trees by staining the wood a wonderful chocolate brown colour. Within our Brown oak stocks, most boards will be streaky, referred to as ‘Tiger brown’, while the most valuable will be a solid brown colour. In rare cases the boards can be solid brown and pippy at the same time.
Most of our oak is produced as waney-edge boards (WE), otherwise known as ‘log sawn’ (LS) or ‘Through and Through’ (T/T). This means that the boards will have the wane or bark attached to one or two edges. Thicknesses from 20mm up to 54mm tend to be cut through the log producing crown, rift and quarter sawn boards. The thicker boards, from 65mm to 150mm, are billet cut resulting in only quarter and rift cut boards.
Crown cut boards will show the swirling patterns that result from cutting through the growth rings near their crest. On close inspection, these boards will also include small black flecks (medullary rays) which travel from the heart to the outside of the tree.
Quarter sawn boards with medullary rays running parallel to the direction of the cut exhibit beautiful sliver figuring – the result of the rays being sliced longitudinally. Quarter sawn boards are renowned for their stability although they can suffer from greater shrinkage during drying.
We sell our UK hardwoods as waney-edge boards, which means the sap, and sometimes the bark, is still attached. Some people call these live-edge planks. The boards will vary in width and length.
When measuring the planks we take an average width measurement, including half of the wane. Depending on the grade of plank that you’re buying, we may reduce the measure a bit for splits and large knots.
We have some standard grades for our UK hardwoods but we’re also happy for you to select a grade that suits your project. From squeaky clean to raw and rustic, we can normally find boards to match your design.
To make sure we have time to help you, please make an appointment before arriving at our yards to select your wood.
If you’re cutting a square-edge specification out of your waney-edge boards, you will waste as much as you use. It sounds horrendously wasteful but that’s how it is. To estimate how much to buy, work out the volume for each thickness in your specification and double it.
If you’re including the waney-edge in your design, it will be cheaper and far less wasteful too.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that we’re passionate about promoting the use of British grown timber. Tom Barnes, our MD, is carrying on a 100 year family tradition of processing native wood.
He says: ‘It is a case of use it or lose it. Not just in terms of the woodland itself, but also the skills and jobs that exist in the woodland economy. Over 60% of our broadleaf woodlands are unmanaged, yet only 6% of the hardwood used in this country is grown here. We can and must do better!’