An Oak is a tree or shrub in the genus Quercus of the beech family Fagaceae, native to the Northern Hemisphere, having approximately 600 extant species, including deciduous and evergreen species extending from cool temperate to tropical latitudes in Asia and the Americas. North America contains the largest number of Oak species, with approximately 90 occurring in the United States. Mexico has 160 species, of which 109 are endemic. The second greatest center of Oak diversity is China, which contains approximately 100 species.
Oak planking was common on high status Viking longships in the 9th and 10th centuries. The wood was hewn from green logs, by axe and wedge, to produce radial planks, similar to quarter-sawn timber. Wide, quarter-sawn boards of Oak have been prized since the Middle Ages for use in interior paneling of prestigious buildings such as the debating chamber of the House of Commons in London and in the construction of fine furniture. Oak wood was used in Europe for the construction of ships, especially naval men of war, until the 19th century, and was the principal timber used in the construction of European timber-framed buildings. Today Oak wood is still commonly used for furniture making and flooring, timber frame buildings, and for veneer production. Barrels in which wines, sherry, and spirits such as brandy, Irish whiskey, Scotch whisky and Bourbon whiskey are aged are made from European and American Oak. The use of Oak in wine can add many different dimensions to wine based on the type and style of the Oak. Oak barrels, which may be charred before use, contribute to the color, taste, and aroma of the contents, imparting a desirable oaky vanillin flavor to these drinks. The great dilemma for wine producers is to choose between French and American Oak woods. French Oaks give the wine greater refinement and are chosen for the best wines since they increase the price compared to those aged in American Oak wood. American Oak contributes greater texture and resistance to ageing, but produces more powerful wine bouquets. Oak wood chips are used for smoking fish, meat, cheeses and other foods.
Japanese Oak is used in the making of professional drums from manufacturer Yamaha Drums. The higher density of Oak gives the drum a brighter and louder tone compared to traditional drum materials such as Maple and Birch. In hill states of India, besides fuelwood and timber, the local people use Oak wood for making agricultural implements. The leaves are used as fodder during lean period and bedding for livestock.
In Greek mythology, the Oak is the tree sacred to Zeus, king of the gods. In Zeus’s oracle in Dodona, Epirus, the sacred Oak was the centerpiece of the precinct, and the priests would divine the pronouncements of the god by interpreting the rustling of the Oak’s leaves.
In Baltic mythology, the Oak is the sacred tree of Latvian Pērkons, Lithuanian Perkūnas and Prussian Perkūns. Pērkons is the god of thunder and one of the most important deities in the Baltic pantheon.
In Slavic mythology, the Oak was the most important tree of the god Perun.
In Celtic polytheism, Taranus, being a Thunder God, was associated with the Oak tree. “Tree” and drus may also be cognate with “Druid,” the Celtic priest to whom the Oak was sacred. There has even been a study that shows that Oaks are more likely to be struck by lightning than any other tree of the same height.
The Indo-Europeans worshiped the Oak and connected it with a thunder or lightning god.
In Norse mythology, the Oak was sacred to the thunder god, Thor. Thor’s Oak was a sacred tree of the Germanic Chatti tribe.
In the Bible, the Oak tree at Shechem is the site where Jacob buries the foreign gods of his people (Gen. 35:4). In addition, Joshua erects a stone under an Oak tree as the first covenant of the Lord (Josh. 24.25–7). In Isaiah 61, the prophet refers to the Israelites as “Oaks of Righteousness”.
In Republican Rome a crown of Oak leaves was given to those who had saved a life of a citizen in battle; it was called the “Civic Oak”.
Large groups of very old Oak trees are rare. One of the oldest groups of Oak trees, found in Poland, is about 480 years old, which was assessed by dendrochronological methods.
The Jurupa Oak tree – a clonal colony of Palmer’s Oak found in Riverside County, California – is one of the world’s oldest organisms at 13,000 years.
Oak – Technical Info
Oak wood has a density of about 0.75 g/cm3, great strength and hardness, and is very resistant to insect and fungal attack because of its high tannin content. It also has very appealing grain markings, particularly when quarter-sawn.
Oak timber is resilient and easy to process, with a rough texture owing to the deep fibers in the wood. Its appearance is unique and therefore it is desired by kitchen and home furniture designers, and it’s the most popular timber in our workshop. Oak has one of two patterns – the wide arrow (or flower) pattern, and the flowerless, striped pattern. There are two shades of oak available – the red oak, reddish in color with rougher texture, mainly sourced in the forests of Central and North America, and the white oak – lighter in color and finer in texture, sourced in Northeastern Europe. Oak is a good base for whitening and coloring using coating powders. Many manufacturers use striped oak in a very dark finish as a substitute for the rarer and more expensive Wenge. White oak products are some of the most desired and beautiful and so are the various veneers – arrow pattern, striped pattern, knotted oak and wild oak. Oak is inexpensive and relatively common.