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Lost its might

Oak is one of the most plentiful hardwoods we have. It has, in the minds of many, been synonymous with quality. But I have never really liked oak.

During the Arts & Crafts period, a lot of good quality furniture was made of oak. These makers used oak deliberately as they considered it to be a humble wood, consistent with the philosophy of simplicity that was at the core of the movement.

During the late 60's and early 70's there was an antique craze, motivated by the flooding of the market with cheap composite and plywood furniture. People who wanted "something real" began seeking out pieces from earlier times. Antique shops began to appear on every street and these were filled with mostly oak furniture from the 30's and 40's.

At the time this furniture was made, it was the period equivalent of the cheap melamine stuff everyone was trying to get away from. Most people did not realize that the real antiques – the "good stuff" – were made from mahogany, walnut, rosewood and cherry. The makers of the bygone era considered oak to be a utility wood suitable for barn framing and crate making. But since there was so much of the oak furniture around, people got the idea that oak represented the best in fine woodwork and it was, after all, real wood and far better in every respect than the current offerings of the mass produced furniture industry.

The one exception, in my mind is oak burl. I could work with that all day. But for presentable woodwork? I'll take rosewood or mahogany any day.


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