A few years ago, it was not possible to make and sell English Oak furniture with anything other than perfect straight grain and a uniform colour. Now things have almost gone full circle and buyers are looking out for “character” oak with pippy figuration and wild grain !
The illustration (above) is taken from the 1805 edition of William Pontey’s book “The Forest Pruner” in which he exhorts tree growers (and their foresters) to manage their oaks properly so as to avoid these defects. Pontey goes on to say that “This board is infested with unnatural branches. Everything here shows that nature’s efforts had got an improper bias and that it was impossible any thing short of human means could have set them right.” Little did Mr. Pontey know what would happen almost 200 years later...
It is heart-warming to see characterful oak logs now being used effectively for furniture, flooring and joinery. Formerly, these logs would have found their way into the fencing, pallet and mining timber markets, bringing much reduced returns for the grower.
The sheer wastage of such beautiful wood was always hard to understand, but fortunately, we now have home owners who seem to appreciate the almost tactile qualities of our native Oak. This is good news for the grower and our precious natural resource will stretch further.
EDITOR’S COMMENT: Anyone who thinks that, as a result of this new fashion, that they should no longer high prune their trees will be gravely mistaken.The fact remains that clean, well pruned stems with minimum lengths of 3-4 metres, will always attract veneer prices which are often between 5 and 10 times better than planking quality butts. What has emerged recently is the log buyer’s appreciation of “character” grade oak butts which fetch almost as much as clean planking logs.