Oak flooring

Here at Martin Allen – we know our wood floors.

From the rich and deep cherry and mahogany parquets to the light and airy beech timber or solid oak – you could count the number of tree species we haven’t worked with on the fingers of one hand.

Not much can go by regarding the wood’s quality and sustainability.

Yet, few clients share the same knowledge and hands-on experience when handling wood.

If you’re looking into buying a new property or want to breathe new life into your home, hardwood floors might seem like the perfect choice.

Meanwhile, hardwood, in general, is a high-quality, durable option for any home. Certain wood species might work better for your particular property.

Knowing how difficult it can be to tell the grade and quality of wood by looking at it, we’ve decided to share some inside industry information with our clients.

We’ve created a short series of articles written with our customers (former, current, and future) in mind. These articles introduce you to the three most common hardwoods in use today: mahogany, oak, and walnut.

This article will cover oak, one of the most popular and commonly used hardwoods.

The incredibly diverse genus of oak

Belonging to the Quercus genus of the beech family, the oak is one of the most famous trees in the northern hemisphere. With more than 600 extant subspecies of this durable and versatile tree. What people refer to when they say oak often differs from country to country.

Oak trees have a density of around 0.75 g/cm3, making them perfect timber for all kinds of woodworking. They also owe their popularity and widespread use to tannin, an acid that naturally protects against insects and fungus infections!

Being perfectly buoyant and protected from harsh environmental conditions and diseases, oak timber was often used to build ships, barrels, and rafts.

Thanks to sustainable harvesting practices and the broad dimensions of their logs, oak trees have become almost synonymous with hardwood flooring.

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Oak Flooring

Oak is considered a medium-hard wood in the middle of the Janka scale. Its hardness ranges from 1260 to 1360, depending on the type of tree used. Oak is perfect for flooring.

Being in the middle of the Janka scale makes oak an easy tree to work with. Easy to cut, trim, scale and sand, oak hardwood floors are easy to install and even simpler to maintain.

Oak’s particular density and surface texture make them perfect for staining. Oak timber is considered porous, which means it can soak up the staining agents and provide a smooth, uniform colour across its surface.

While these are the general characteristics of oak timber, it’s important to know that not all oak subspecies are the same. Their differences can range from subtle and aesthetic ones to the more major ones that might not make them suitable for the particular room or property you had in mind.

The two most commonly used types of oak are white and red oak. Differentiating between these subspecies can be hard, especially for the untrained eye, as the board’s surface and grain are similar. However, these two species are structurally pretty different.

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Red Oak vs White Oak

Contrary to popular belief, white oak boards tend to be darker in colour than red oak boards. White oak boards are much deeper and ashy than red oak boards, which are a light beige with subtle pinkish or reddish hues.

A closer look at the two boards reveals yet another subtle difference, this time considering the rays of the tree – the little brown streaks running along the grain of the boards.

White oak boards feature especially long rays, often exceeding 2cm. On the other hand, red oak tends to have much shorter rays, rarely longer than a centimetre. This is the most common way to tell the two species apart, but it can be tricky with sanded or stained boards, as the processes tend to smudge and cover the rays.

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Red Oak flooring

The rays of the board affect only its appearance, not its structure or durability.

However, the end grain of the board affects its structure.

Red oak’s growth rings are much less dense than white oak’s, meaning the red oak’s structure is much more porous. A good sanding job and a durable lacquer finish should be enough to seal the red oak boards.

However, white oak pores are filled with tyloses, which protect the wood from water and rot. This creates a watertight seal in the oak boards, making them suitable for all kinds of vessels and hardwood floors in damp or high-traffic areas.

The staining of these two types of oak is also slightly different. Standard white oak will react to any stain, from light finishes to the deepest, almost black stains.

Red oak is also great at soaking up stains, although any finish you decide will have a slightly pinkish hue. This is why red oak might be a better choice if you want your floors to emulate the rich, chocolatey colours of mahogany or cherry trees.

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White Oak flooring

Regarding plank styles, oak boards are available in standard solid and engineered varieties, with a broad range of widths and lengths. If you’re unsure of plank dimensions that suit your home best, call us at 01162 165 107 for a free on-site quote and advice.

Knowing the characteristics of the two most commonly used oak species is important for every homeowner considering installing this versatile and durable hardwood. If you’re looking for a straightforward and stylish solution for your home, oak is a hardwood to consider.

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