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The hearty oaks of Europe endear and endure.

Oak trees are so much a part of the North American landscape, that it is hard to believe that the mighty oaks thrive in other parts of the world. In Europe, Quercus species go by many names, usually the country of origin, i.e., English oak, French oak, Polish oak, etc. In Italy, the oaks are also called rovere and quercia. In France, oak is chene. In Germany oak is eiche and in the Netherlands, oaks are called eik. European oaks grow in the United Kingdom and Europe and also in Asia Minor and North Africa.

Oaks are revered in England. The "lore" surrounding oaks is as old as time. Romans considered oaks the "king of trees" and Jupiter, said Shakespeare, attacked both gods and mortals with his oak-cleaving thunderbolts. Researchers have found that for some undetermined reason, oaks do attract more thunder strikes than other species, which may explain the connection.

Oak songs and other trivia

Oaks are known for their strength and endurance. Architectural digs of Greek and Roman homes showed it was used for furniture and utensils in the Doric and Ionic periods and in the elaborate designs of the Corinthian period.

Oak furniture has been popular in England since medieval times; castles still exist with intricate oak carvings decorating their interiors. One of note is a lion's head from royal palace of Fontainbleu in France done by Andre Gobert, whose title was court woodcarver to King Louis XVI. Oak has been used in everything from bishop's pulpits to thrones to furniture and building beams.

English ships constructed of oak were used during wartime to defend the homeland and to conquer distant lands. The Royal Navy revered oak, using it as the basis for all ships from the 16th to the 19th century. This reverence was captured in song, according to Editor Aidan Walker in Encyclopedia of Wood: "Hearts of oak are our ships/ Hearts of oak are our men./We always are ready/ Steady, boys, steady."

According to Hugh Johnson, author of Encyclopedia of Trees, during King Henry VIII's reign, one-third of Great Britain was covered by oak trees. Even today, if good land is left fallow, oak trees will grow, Johnson said.

True oaks

The genus Quercus is the source of what is called true oaks. The so-called white oaks grow best in temperate climates and are found in Europe, Asia Minor, North Africa, the United States, Canada and Japan. The oaks of commercial value in Europe include Quercus petraea, which is also called sessile oak and durmast oak; and Quercus robur also known as English oak or pedunculate oak. These two European oaks are easily distinguished by the way their acorns grow. English oaks, or Quercus robur, have acorns that grow on long stalks. Sessile oaks have acorns that attach directly to twigs. The European or English oaks live long hearty lives -- some as long as 800 years. The trees can be quite tall, growing to heights of 110 feet or more. True oaks are members of the beech family Fagaceae.

Water, wine and prayer

English oak is good for many uses including boat building, dock and harbor work, and vehicle body work. Because the wood has a preponderance of tyloses in the pores, which make it impossible for liquids to seep through, oak makes wonderful casks.

Other uses include furniture and cabinetmaking, ladder rungs, sea walls, sills, door thresholds, and places where the wood will be exposed to the elements. European oak is also used for joinery, coffins, pews, pulpits, and flooring.

English brown oak which has been attacked by a fungus known as fistulina hepatica, has a heartwood which is a much deeper brown than the usual tan to light brown color of the unaffected trees. Bog oak is the result of chemical changes that happen to logs buried in peat bogs.

Both English brown oak and bog oak are highly prized veneers. Al Matulevich, architectural department manager for the David R. Webb Co., said the European oaks -- specifically English brown oak and French brown oak, are popular choices with American designers and architects. The main difference between the two is country of origin. English brown oak is primarily grown in the United Kingdom and what is called French brown oak is from the rest of Europe.

"Basically, they are from the same species. The 'French' brown oak is slightly darker than the English brown oak," Matulevich said. "Most of it is quartered, although a few logs are flat cut. English brown oak end-users like the medullary ray evident when the veneer is quartered. We see a few small furniture accounts using it, but mostly it is for office projects."

Matulevich called it a high-end wood, not as expensive as East Indian rosewood or ebony, but more expensive than makore or mahogany. It falls into the range of a moderately priced exotic. He said it is popular for its appearance, which he called "almost stoic. Designers might specify it for a law office or a library. One architectural firm uses it so much that they just refer to it as E.B.O."
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Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Wood of the Month: English Brown Oak
Author:Kaiser, Jo-Ann
Publication:Wood & Wood Products
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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