It’s no secret that oak has gotten a bad reputation, largely due to an excessive use of the product from doors to trim to cabinets, everything OAK. OAK. OAK. And to make matters worse it was Golden Oak…..everywhere.
On almost a daily basis I have clients who walk through the door and say, “I’m getting ready to do a remodel, you know, because – well it’s Oak. And I don’t blame them one little bit, Golden Oak isn’t always the most desirable finish, especially when you look around and oak basically slaps you in the face!
But in all honestly, it’s a pretty great wood.
It’s got a very consistent grain pattern and coloration which allows it to take stain very evenly. This is a great trait to have for people who are looking for something to be consistent and who may be frustrated when there is slight color variation from one piece to the next. Maple, another very common wood species, is known to be finicky in taking stain and can have wider than acceptable range of color from one board (or even throughout the same board) due to mineral streaking in the wood itself and the type of stain you’re trying to use.
Then you throw in your Hickory which has an EXTREME amount of color variation, kind of a love it or hate level of color variation. Cherry has a beautiful marbling effect in the grain pattern but can also have heavy variation from one piece to the next, not to mention the fact that it will darken over time, which can come with a whole other host of issues – imagine an area rug on a natural cherry floor, imagine said area rug leaving that rectangle on your floor…..
Oak is also a hardwood that holds up well in terms of dents and dings. You won’t have the same issues like you would with Alder, while not a common wood for flooring due to the softness; it is extremely common in cabinets. And while admittedly your cabinets should not be taking that kind of a beating, it is a much softer wood that can get dinged up pretty easily.
The fact is; your Oak should hold up pretty well.
It is also very dimensionally stable which means, particularly in our dry Colorado climate, you don’t have as much movement as other wood species, which means that gapping and cupping should be less of an issue over time = win!
This is probably a good time to note that wood is wood. It is a natural product. No one piece is going to be exactly like the next and that is something that you will definitely need to come to grips with if you decide you’d like to use wood in your home. It will expand and contract depending on the time of the year and the level of humidity. It is not perfect, and that should be something you like about it if you decide to use it. It will dent, it will scratch. Again, you’ll need to embrace this fact.
Okay so back to Oak. Lately we’ve been using a lot more oak, but the key here is the stain being used. You’d be hard pressed to find someone who just walks in saying “I love Golden Oak; I have to have Golden Oak!”
Some of the stains coming out on oak range from more of a cranberry red to contemporary gray and black tones, also into more of the rustic looking white-washed finishes that have become especially popular as of late. We’ve seen oak done in very contemporary applications, in particular on cabinets when used on a very clean door/slab or shaker door style it can look really sharp. The subtle grain pattern can be a nice contrast to give a relatively stark room some nice textural appeal.
In the world of cabinets, we’ve also seen more manufacturers offering paint on Oak. Typically Maple is the most commonly painted thanks to the fact that there is little to no grain pattern and it takes the paint very evenly. However; if you’re looking for a painted finish but still want a bit more character and texture a painted oak might be a great solution!
Painted finishes also come with their own issues such as face checking (very small cracks in the surface of the paint), this is due to the movement of the wood itself when it goes through that expansion and contraction we spoke about earlier. This is perfectly normal and not a defect in the finish, on a painted finish, Oak’s graining may actually help hide small “flaws” when it comes to the face checking.