Oak is a dense wood (around 0.75 g/cm³) and is extremely strong and hard. Its high tanning content makes it resistant to fungal and insect attack – not so much a problem today but it was a distinct benefit in the middle ages when it was used extensively for the interior panelling in exquisite building, including the debating chamber of the House of Commons in London.
Very wide, quarter sawn oak boards have been prized since the Middle Ages and used in the construction of fine furniture and for the construction of ships and timber framed buildings. You can rest assured that if you choose to lay an oak floor that you will be in great company. Whilst today’s speedily grown Oak is nowhere near as dense as that used by our ancestors, it still retains much of the beauty and other properties.
Oak is Durable
Oak makes for great flooring due to its hardness. Whilst other hardwood floors like Walnut may arguably be more beautiful, they are not as strong as oak having a lower density. Whilst this might not at first appear to be a problem, a few sets of stiletto heels marching over a floor will soon highlight the difference that the hardness of Oak floor can make. Oak will withstand heavy duty traffic and whilst it will not remain perfect it will comfortably withstand it.
Sourcing an Oak Floor
Oak is available in English Oak, French Oak, American Oak and many other varieties – even from China. Most of the English and European Oak is grown sustainably and to us that matters a lot. English and European Oak offers a great colour, grain, ambience and style which to us is what a floor is about. The cheap imported Chinese flooring available from many discount stores lacks any definition and has poor colouration. It will need staining before use and it’s probably not grown sustainably.
Oak boards are available in an engineered form where the board is essentially a cross ply constructed board. There will be three layers with the top layer typically being a 5mm oak veneer.
This type of board is identical in appearance but much less prone to movement due to moisture. In a new build environment this is a great choice as the varying moisture content will not cause the boards to expand or contract significantly.
Laying an Oak Floor
As with any floor the wood needs to acclimatise to the environment in which it is being laid. If you have purchased kiln dried Oak from a reputable supplier then there should be no real problem here but oak will ‘move’ as it takes in (or gives out moisture). You should look for a book on laying a floor for detailed instructions on fixing as there are many ways to do so: from nailing through the board for a traditional look, to secret fixing and even gluing.
If you have not purchased a pre-finished oak floor, or you have Sanded an Existing Floor> back to bare wood, then you will need to finish it. Firstly if you want to change the colour then you can use a stain. Using a fast water based stain will mean that you can Apply the Finish> quickly. Beware using an oil based stain from a DIY shop – the colours look great but an oil based varnish will not dry soon after it is applied.
When you have the required colour, the oak can be finished in a number of ways or even left unfinished. If you want oak to yellow then oil or varnish will bring on the process. Oak left naturally in the open air will not yellow significantly. The typical means of finishing oak are:
- Varnish – makes for a durable finish that is long lasting. Make sure if you are using a water based varnish that you test it on a small area first to check if it lifts the grain. The water content of this type of varnish when placed on top of a low density board may mean significant sanding is required. When you have sanded, adding more water based varnish just lifts the grain again as the wood has been re-exposed. If this is the case use an oil based varnish and save yourself a load of work.
- Oil – Danish oil or similar will give a very natural finish and will need reapplying infrequently.
- Wax – Wax gives a lovely finish especially if you use a coloured wax. Biwax have a wide range of colours available. Osmo have a ‘wax’ that is extremely hard wearing.
Special Oak ‘Cuts’
Today there are a number of types of oak available. These are:
- Pippy Oak – contains pips from the burr of the wood. More expensive but very beautiful.
- Quarter Sawn – has ‘waves’ in it as the wood has been sawn at an angle (45 degrees) to the grain of the wood
Whatever type of oak you choose and whatever finish you apply, you can rest assured that an oak floor will last a good few generations and should look better and better with age.