History and Uses
Oak trees and oak shrubs are acorn-producing members of the Fagaceae or beech family, of the genus "Quercus." Six hundred species of oak are known to exist, which can be found throughout much of the Northern Hemisphere. They're more scarce in areas with short growing seasons, and none exist in Alaska. Oak wood furniture has been around since medieval times. It increased in popularity in 16th century England, when the country grew wealthy from the woolens trade. Oak timber was (and is today) often the first choice of craftsmen because of its strength and abundance in nature. In addition to furniture and paneling, oak wood was once used in ship building. Wine barrels and whiskey barrels are made of oak wood, which enhances the flavor.
The most plentiful type of red oak is the northern red oak, which grows throughout the United States and southern Canada. Red oak trees have been known to grow as high as 150 feet tall, and four feet in diameter. Some varieties of red oak are black, scarlet, nuttall and willow. Red oak wood is used for flooring, boxes, furniture, caskets, kitchen ware and handles, among other things. Red oak is easily sanded, stained and finished.
White oak can be found throughout most of the Eastern United States. The wood of white oak has longer "rays" than red oak, and is a lighter shade of brown. It's known for its toughness and resistance to rot and moisture, and for these reasons is better for outdoor use than red oak. Choice-grade white oak is used for veneers, barrels and fine furniture. Lesser grades are used for railroad ties and piling, among other uses.
Quarter Sawn Oak
Quarter-sawn oak is cut through the log into quarters, followed by cuts into the wood at angles perpendicular to the tree's rings. The result is a wood that is rich in visual texture and color variations. Quarter-sawn oak wood is more expensive than plain sawn oak because it takes longer to produce.
Native Americans and Europeans used oak bark as an herbal remedy. It is sometimes recommended for digestive problems, sore throats, skin problems, hemorrhoids and vaginal infections by practitioners of alternative medicine. The safety of its use, however, has not been determined, and there are side effects due to its high levels of tannin.