Furniture woods........... Illustrated FURNITURE Glossary ............... Illustrated Architecture Dictionary


There are several varieties, of which the white oak, the red oak, and the live oak are the most important. The first is most used. Oak takes long to season, and is worse than most woods if used green. It is very hard to work. Its appearance improves with age. On account of its tendency to warp, a great deal of so-called oak work is paneled with chestnut.

Oak was the wood of choice for the Gothic furniture made in the Middle Ages. It remained popular throughout the seventeenth century. Quarter cut oak boards known as wainscot were brought to Northern Europe as early as the fourteenth century. Traditionally, oak has been used for styles that require only a moderate amount of carving.

Oak was favored for its resistance to rot and woodworm, until it was superseded by walnut in the early 18th century

Quartersawn Oak

At the sawmill, the log is first split into four quarters as shown at the left (hence the name 'quartersawn'), then cut on the diagonal from the center of the tree out toward the edges.

A peculiarity of oak is that it has very strong, well defined "Medullary Rays" running from the center of the tree outward. Look closely at the end of a sawn oak board or branch and you can easily pick out the rays. They look like fine, straight lines spreading out from the center of the tree, perpendicular to the grain of the wood. 

The Quartersawing Method places these rays on the face of the board, revealing the distinctive stripe or 'ray fleck' running across the grain that is the signature of quartersawn oak. According to Gustav Stickley "The quartersawing method of cutting...renders quartersawn oak structurally stronger, also finer in grain, and, as shown before, less liable to warp and check than when sawn in any other way."

Quartersawn Oak , a material little used today, is one of the hallmarks of the Arts & Crafts and Prairie styles.

Quartersawing fell out of favor in the first half of this century because it yields less lumber per tree and takes more labor than plainsawing. Because almost all oak furniture today is plainsawn, we associate the quartersawn figure with prized period pieces. Therefore, this unique figure is an important ingredient in accurately recreating the look of turn-of-the-century furniture. -- Loyalist Forest


Photos below are not necessarily accurate to scale or color

Polished or treated with larch resin oil
Hofmobiliendepot Imperial Furniture Collection,Vienna, Austria. On display in 2005.

Red oak altar top by Arthur Werner -
St. John's Grace Episcopal Church

See also: laminated ..... veneered ..... inlay ..... marquetry

Special thanks to Arthur Werner for his assistance.
Examples of his craftsmanship can be seen at
Church of the Advent - Carvings and Needlepoint and at Altar - St. John's Grace Episcopal Church

Photos and their arrangement © 2005 Chuck LaChiusa
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