FRENCH OAK : The Rolls Royce of Oak
Quite simply, French oak is highly prized, over and above all other European oak. Why? Because of its’ guaranteed quality. French oak is the Rolls Royce of Oak – the very best quality you can find.
French oak also contains more tannins than most other oaks. Like the tannins in your tea bag, the tannins in oak are responsible for a colour reaction that unfolds as the your furniture ages. The more tannins an oak contains, the better the colour and the better it matures over time. As a result French oak tends to have a more even colour variation than any other oak.
Each plank for our French Oak table tops are cut and put together from a single tree. When you choose a table that has been made from French oak, you are selecting a material that has been carefully cultivated from the earliest stages of its’ life through to felling. When you opt for an oak table made by Makers, you are choosing the best for your home.
The Characteristics of French Oak
French oak is “live sawn” horizontally from the outside diameter and through the heartwood of the tree and out to the live edge. The live sawn cutting method results in a variety of beautiful grain patterns within each individual board. Tight straight quarter grain, medullar flecks, and “cathedral” grain are all part of the same plank. Live sawn planks also show off the unique features of teach tree, including knots and mineral deposits.
European Oak vs French Oak
European oak is a coverall term for any oak from Europe. When you buy European oak it could come from any other country in the EU, including France where the quality isn’t as rigorously checked. Whilst it is still possible to buy high quality European oak, it is not a given and could come from a variety of sources. European Oak is also not as tightly regulated, so the age, species and cut of the tree is not guaranteed.
Did you know? Some oak sold as 'European Oak' may have actually originated from the Russian Far East. Over-harvesting there has resulted in Quercus Mongolica becoming a protected tree species. Unfortunately, illegal logging still continues and is seen as one of the major causes of habitat loss affecting the endangered Siberian Tiger
The Qualities of Oak
Oak has been used for a huge number of purposes for thousands of years. Synonymous with strength, durability today oak is still highly prized by builders, architects and furniture makers alike. It is a much loved material to work with for an array of practical, aesthetic and ethical reasons.
French oak (Quercus Robur) is a temperate hardwood native to most of Europe and is, in fact, the same species as English Oak. It is generally more dense and produces a wider-grained wood with higher tannin content.
Across all species, the tightness of the grain is determined by the growing conditions of the tree. A slower growth rate will result in tighter grain. The spring growth consists of large open vessels as opposed to summer growth where the pores are relatively small. A slower rate of growth (tighter grain) is characterized by a greater proportion of spring wood and a smaller proportion of summer wood.
Oak Grading in France
French Oak is grown in forests managed with very strict codes laid down by the Federation Nationale du Bois (FNB) to promote sustainability. Trees are only harvested when they are fully mature after 150+ years. And the harvesting is done by select and careful felling. France has very tightly controlled rules for very specific cutting and drying methods.
FNB rules dictate that after cutting, the boards must be stacked with sticks in between each layer to allow for even air-flow. The oak boules are then air-dried for at least 12 to 24 months – or a year per inch of plank depth. For added stability, the planks are then kiln-dried before use in our furniture making.
The oak boules to in the first picture are stacked ready for air-drying and the boules in the second picture are stacked after kiln-drying.
A Note of Caution!
It is worth noting that not every scierie in France subscribes to FNB rules. So the provenance of your oak is not necessarily guaranteed at every wood yard. But when you do buy wood from a French sawmill that does subscribe to FNB rules, the oak will be classified and labelled with a series of letters and numbers. Here’s what to look out for….
Over time we have narrowed down our choice of sawmills to a few who we trust to supply us with oak of excellent quality. Scierie Dezaise near Rennes, Scierie Morvans near Meslay du Maine and Scierie Grouazelle near Fougères. This trust in turn, gives us absolute confidence in the furniture we produce.
With the forests of Brittany virtually on our doorstep, we have some lovely oak to choose from. But if we could give you one more piece of advice – ALWAYS call in advance to see if your sawmill has the cut and quality of oak you are after. If you find a good supplier, and they have what you want, don’t hang about. Blink and good wood will be bought from under your nose – we’ve learnt the hard way!