Oak is a beautifully grained wood, and one of the most popular woods for modern furniture, companies like Barn Furniture can’t get enough of it.
There’s a lot more to Oak than just wood.
The mighty Oaktree is entwined in the symbolism and history of America & Britain and its people.
Once ancient Oak forests covered the land and the majestic tree became embedded in our folklore. Timber consumption for the First World War decimated the Oak forests of both countries and bringing woodland cover in the UK down to 5%.
A slight recovery means 13% of the land is now covered in forest and amongst that 13% are still quite a few magnificent Oak trees.
Sadly, the last of the Oak trees planted in the Victorian era are now being cut down for use. Few have been planted since Victorian times and the UK now has to rely on imported Oak for furniture to create dreamy wood bedrooms & the luxurious items you find in them like these hand-carved dressing tables by HomesDirect365. Oak has been the most popular wood since Medieval times, it’s strong, easy to work with, durable, has beautiful ingrained patterns when stained, and was once so easy to obtain. Back in the days, royal bed frames were all wood but nowadays, things change. Metal bed frame vs. wood – which is right for you?
Because of the shrinking number of trees, the UK has appointed a ‘ tree champion’. The job is to oversee the planting of 11 million new trees and to conserve the remaining forests and urban trees. It’s comforting to know that here, in America, our forests are larger and we can still use this type of wood.
Oak Symbolism and Folklore
It’s thought the name Oak came from the ancient Druids.
The Druids practiced their rituals and rites in old Oak groves and held the tree in great awe. The Gaelic word for Oak was Duir and came from the old Druid word for Oak. It meant, “men of the Oaks’. Mistletoe, the magical plant of the Druids grew on the Oak and they believed it the hand of God placed it there with a lightning strike. For the Celts, the Oak was the tree of life.
Greeks, Romans, Celts, and Teutonic tribes also revered the Oak and associated it with their highest god; Oak was sacred to Zeus, Jupiter, Dagda, and Thor.
Ancient Kings wore crowns of Oak leaves, as did Roman commanders during victory parades. Today Oak leaves are still used to signify high military rank; a Silver Oakleaf shows Lt. Colonel while a gold Oak leaf indicates Lt. Commander.
It is thought King Arthur’s table was made from a single cross-section of a massive Oak tree and in Cromwell’s times couples married under Oak trees.
In Folklore, Oak trees are seen as strong and protectors of the virtuous. King Charles II took refuge in the branches of a great Oak, and after his Restoration on May 29th, the day was celebrated as ‘Royal Oak Day’, when loyal subjects wore oak-apples, twigs, and leaves.
The huge Oaks of Sherwood Forest are said to have hidden and given sanctuary Robin Hood and his men on many an occasion.
Today many environmental organizations use the Oakleaf on their logos, for example, the Woodland Trust and the National Trust. Many other pubs, shops, and cafes use Oaktree Symbolism in their marketing, especially Oak furniture stores.
The Old Oak Tree
The Oak is from the genus Quercus, there are between 650 – 800 different species of Oaktree. We find them all over the Northern hemisphere as far as east as Russia and west as California.
The English Oak is Quercus robur, meaning strength in Latin. The English Oak is a large deciduous tree and if you take good care of an aging Oaktree, it can grow to a huge size, up to 50 meters tall. It’s often the largest tree in the forest, so it’s not surprising the Oak has become a national symbol. Oak trees grow quickly when they are young, especially the first 4 or 5 years, but they slow down after about 120years.
Oak is a common hardwood and produces some of the most durable timber on the planet. It has been a prized timber for thousands of years and was used in just about everything, from shipbuilding to ornate dressing tables.
Although fast-growing the Oak doesn’t produce timber that can be used in construction for about 150 years. So you can see why it is critical for the government to plant more Oak trees.
Oak trees produce both male and female flowers, the flowers are often called Catkins. Catkins are yellowish hanging flowers that distribute pollen into the air. The fruit is known as acorns, a small nut held in a little cup, made famous by Beatrix Potter’s Characters, especially Squirrel Nutkin.
A single tree can produce 2000 acorns, but very few get to germinate. Most are eaten by mice, squirrels, and birds. It takes around 40 years for an Oak tree to produce acorns! We often use the symbolism of the Acorn to Oak to mean that great things often have small and humble beginnings.
The lifespan of an Oaktree; there is an Oak Tree in California called Methuselah that is thought to be a staggering 5000 years ol. Its location is kept a closely guarded secret. Most Oak trees live the hundreds of years and have become a symbol of strength and longevity and not surprisingly used in medicine.
Medicinal Use of the Oak Tree
It was thought Oak trees had strong medicinal properties, with the leaves, bark, and acorns healing many ailments including diarrhea, inflammation and kidney stones. The Oak tree’s bark is very astringent which helps with diarrhea and dysentery if taken as a tea. Used externally as medicine, it can help inflammation and eczema.
In some places the belief in the Oaks Curative powers was so strong they felt it would heal them if they simply walked around its trunk wishing for their affliction to go away by the first bird that landed on a branch. There was also a great deal of superstition around the Oaktree, for example, if you carried an acorn in your pocket it would protect your from illness and pain; but only if you asked the tree’s permission.
Another use of the Oaktree bark was the tannin it produced. The tannin was used to tan leather from Roman times. However, the tannin is rather toxic to humans and cattle.
Other uses include the extraction of a brown dye, that was made from the Oak galls and produced strong black dye from which ink was made. Oak is also used to make whiskey and brandy barrels, the oak adds a special aroma to the spirits and apparently enhances the taste.
In the last two decades or so Solid Oak furniture has become popular. Oaks beautiful light coloring and natural grained patterns add class to any room in the home, not to mention the benefits of using natural wood furniture as part of your interior design.
From the time of the Druids, Oak has been used to make furniture, it was the most common tree in Britain and easy to work and by the 17th Century most furniture was being made from Oak.
Some of that the early furniture is still around today showing the durability of the Oak timber – and some of it mimicked from other wood such as pine, copying the stunning designs and creating styles like rustic and reclaimed wood furniture.
As incomes grew so did the demand for better-crafted pieces, we often used furniture as a statement about wealth and social standing, craftsmen would carve their names and signatures into the pieces. These can be worth much today!
These days, even MDF vs Solid wood is a common debate, because of the rarity of oak wood which we have spoken about, it can even be more beneficial for us to use MDF in terms of design, but we can’t deny the beauty that which oak furniture brings to our homes.
But is Oak sustainable?
Forests the world over are in decline, not least Oak woodland and forests. As it is such a slow-growing hardwood its always good to check if your furniture has come from a sustainable source. Oak from forests in eastern Russia is often illegally logged and no attempt to replant is made, which can slow down the rate in which we can get our hands on beautiful hand-carved wood furniture.
In 2015 the WWF established a Timber Scorecard where companies are graded as 0-3 trees. Threes tress being the best, it shows the company is sourcing wood from sustainable sources, using reclaimed timber or replanting substantial numbers of trees. It wouldn’t be a bad thing to check where your Oakwood comes from!
Personally I love natural wood of any kind but Oak has become a firm favorite, my bedroom furniture is Oak and gives the room a lovely clean and light feel. My Oak dressing table sits under a skylight and the sunlight reflects off the grain perfectly!
Oak is a special wood, imbued with the history and folklore of the UK, what better wood to invest in?