An English Classic – Solid Oak Furniture
Solid Oak Furniture
From Little Acorns
Synonymous with strength and dependability, the oak tree has become an iconic symbol of England and a living legacy. Farmed in England for hundreds of years, oak trees were used in timber framed buildings and for the great Tudor battleships such as The Mary Rose. Even earlier, they were used as a meeting point and councils were held around them.
Furniture craftsmen have been working with oak for centuries; carving it into the very heart of English history. The beautiful timber can be shaped into a variety of forms and has a rich patina that improves with age, so not only do we still have the farmed and managed plantations from which to select the best trees, but crafted oak as a finished product is also intertwined with British culture and history. Oak has one particular property that sets it apart from other timbers; a deep grain display that can be shown to its best advantage by careful preparation of the wood.
“Pips, knots and swirling grain”
As a natural product, the tree’s grain markings and colouring are affected by the conditions in which it has grown. Minerals in the soil, depth of soil and climate determine not only the growth rate of the tree but also the colouring in the grain. Weather and insect or human damage also influence grain colouring. These variations in the grain colour, along with marks such as knots and splits, add great depth and character to the wood, so every piece of timber is truly unique. A mass of knots, which shows externally as a big lump on the tree trunk, is known as a burr. Smaller lumps and whiskery twigs sprouting from the trunk leave smaller marks known as pips, with the appearance of cat pawprints in cut timber.
Oak trees that show these characteristics are specially selected for their ‘Pippy’ Oak as the pips, knots and swirling grain patterns are so fascinating and attractive. Craftsmen at Royal Oak Furniture continue the centuries old tradition of choosing, understanding and fashioning timber like this to produce furniture which celebrates the beauty of the wood and is built to last. A family business in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales, Royal Oak was established in 1977 by Janet and Paul Kent as a result of a serendipitous challenge. Janet bought a dresser made by local joiners, Paul thought it was shabbily made and said that he could do better. The first Royal Oak dresser was promptly made and from such an acorn, a life-changing business born.
“Cherry, mahogany and walnut”
Nowadays, their discreetly hidden 22,000 sq ft workshop on the moor high above Grassington supplies handcrafted furniture across the world.
When we were first accepted as a supplier to Harrods in 1995, I knew Paul had been right! We do pride ourselves on producing exceptionally better furniture which does justice to the beauty of this most English of woods.
Although still named after their favourite timber, Royal Oak does also make furniture in other woods, with cherry, mahogany and walnut alongside as many as fifteen different oak finishes. Employing the skills and values of 15 local Dales craftsman, the solid dining, bedroom and living room furniture which Royal Oak creates is inspired by designs that have graced real homes for centuries. The ranges developed allow separate pieces to be combined to each customer’s own requirements and are produced to order, whether that be for a retailer or a direct customer visiting the showroom or website.
“Kiln temperature is critical”
There are no short cuts in producing the best, so although Royal Oak has the support of modern tools and well-equipped workshops, all the furniture is handmade using methods that a carpenter from 400 years ago would understand well.
1. Only mature wood is suitable for making furniture as it needs time to develop the character and enhanced grain that are essential to the finish of the final piece. Royal Oak use real English Oak from managed and sustainable sources certified by the Forestry Stewardship Council.
2. Firstly the green wood is cut into planks. It is then stacked outside with spaces between each plank allowing the air to circulate. This air-drying is the first drying process. It is left like this for one year, plus a year per inch of thickness per plank. Once this lengthy process is complete, it is placed in a kiln for at least three months. The temperature in the kiln is critical. Too hot and the wood will warp and split, too cold and the moisture content will be too high.
3. Next the log is converted into boards, in different ways depending upon the grain and the desired finish. Crown or through and through cut logs produce plain-grained boards showing both tight and open grain patterns. Quarter Sawn is a radial cut from the centre of the tree. In Oak it produces the distinctive Medullary Rays or silver ribbon figuring throughout the full length of the board. This type of cut is favoured as the most stable and reduces the amount the wood warps and shrinks. Of course trees never grow straight. The heart often does not run up the centre of the tree. So figuring in all cuts of Oak varies greatly. A great deal of time and skill is spent selecting and matching boards for each and every item of furniture. Only the deeply grained and durable heartwood is suitable for making quality furniture.
4. The finished boards are sawn to remove any bark and sapwood. Then they are planed and sanded and cut to size. By quartering oak logs and preparing the finished boards so that the grain runs along their full length, the play of light across the grain picks up the subtle golden highlights in the wood.
5. Next, the skills of the cabinet-maker and turner are called upon. In the time-honoured tradition he develops the rough planks and balks into the basis for finished furniture. All Royal Oak furniture is made entirely of solid wood, including the backboards and drawer bottoms.
6. In time-honoured fashion the cabinet-makers still use dovetails and slot screwed bottoms for the drawers. Mortice and tenon joints are used for the frames and floating panels in the doors. These traditional methods allow for the natural movement of the wood while it takes on or loses moisture from the environment in the future. Planked tabletops are constructed using traditional pegs and dowels. Each piece is chased and carved by hand to enhance the unique features of each individual item.
7. Once the finished piece has been created, it is moved from the dust and activity in the main workshop to the polishing and finishing department. Here the true beauty of the wood can finally be developed. This is a time consuming and labour intensive process. Each application of stain, polish and wax must be allowed to dry thoroughly. Then it is sanded down again in preparation for the next coat. This is the only way to produce a truly deep and lustrous finish. It is this long process that finally reveals the outstanding character of the oak. This finish is hard-wearing and should withstand hot cups and plates without marking.