English Brown Oak
By Jo-Ann Kaiser | Posted: 04/08/2008 2:00AM
Flakey, but fine design: English brown oak survives the beefsteak fungal attack in fine style.
Quercus petraea and Quercus robur of the Family Fagaceae
Brown oak, English brown oak, European oak, pollard oak, pollardok
The oaks grow from 60 to 100 feet tall.
The weight varies according to the country of origin, with the English oaks typically 45 pounds per cubic foot.
Experts recommend extreme care and slow drying to avoid problems such as surface checking.
Although a hard wood, oak works well with hand and power tools.
Takes finishes well. Glue joints are durable. Screw and nail joints hold well but may cause staining in the wood if moisture is present due to the acidic nature of the wood.
Experts recommend the use of non-ferrous or galvanized metals to avoid staining and corrosion.
Brown oak is the name for the European oak trees affected by fungal attack from Fistulina hepatica. Also known as the beefsteak fungus, it attacks live trees, turning the heartwood of the trees a dark brown with distinctive markings for what some call a happy accident of nature.
According to Sam Talarico of Talarico Hardwoods, Mohnton, PA, “It grows in about one out of every 500 Quercus robur and Quercus petraea oak trees in England and France. The ‘brown oak’ that results from [this] growth in oaks has traditionally been the only sort of oak used in fine European furniture.
“We specialize in old growth lumber and carry old growth French brown oak from Quercus petraea,” Talarico continued. “One parcel of logs that was rift and quartersawn netted lumber with growth rings that were 30 to 60 rings per inch.”
Rick Banas of Shelbyville, KY-based Interwood Forest Products Inc., a subsidiary of Fritz Kohl Veneer Mill, said his company recently processed a large parcel of English brown oak from selected trees purchased in France.
“As it turned out, there was some private land in which all of the oak trees growing there were decayed to the point where all of the heartwood was completely brown as well as being sound,” said Banas.
Only when the entire heartwood is fungi infested will the heartwood turn dark brown. The distinctive flake effect is achieved by quarter-slicing or rift cutting, he added.
A Courtly Tree
Banas said brown oak is a traditionally used in courthouses throughout the United States. “I assume this is a custom handed down from our English heritage,” he said. “We have supplied veneer for use in courthouses, libraries, yachts and planes, as well as for some antique furniture reproductions.
About the Author
Jo-Ann KaiserJo-Ann Kaiser has been covering the woodworking industry for 31+ years. She is a contributing editor for the Woodworking Network and has been writing the Wood of the Month column since its inception in 1986.