Focus on...Oak

Published Sunday 07th March 2010
Tony Miles, Managing Director of International Timber, part of Saint-Gobain Building Distribution’s Timber Group, comments on the future of Hardwood Specie, Oak
1) Is oak still the UK’s favourite Hardwood?
Oak has maintained its position as the most popular temperate hardwood species in the UK with demand from the construction, joinery, flooring and furniture sectors. Ash, beech and tulipwood are also popular choices, but the durability, versatility and aesthetic qualities of oak have contributed to its enduring appeal.
2) How is the market splitting between European and US oak?
International Timber is currently experiencing around a 40:60 split in favour of US oak.
3) Is white oak still the predominant species coming out of the US, or is red oak making any inroads?
Both are aesthetically pleasing and have benefits for different applications. However, while white oak is still the predominant species coming out of the US, red oak has not made major inroads as it is less durable and therefore its growth in certain areas, such as the construction sector, is limited.
4) Which European countries are doing best?  What are the relative merits of the different species?
Often, specification is determined by a number of factors including colour and texture consistency, ability to cut large sizes, economy of use and whether the customer requires vertical or crown grain timber. Generally speaking, Italy and Croatia are more popular when it comes to sawn oak and France and Germany are the top choices in terms of boules.
European oak tends to be more uniform in colour than US white oak, which has more variation. The European oak stocked by International Timber is made up of two species, Quercus petraea and Quercus robur. The products tend to be consistent, with boule production providing the greatest uniformity.  Any variations in the product will be largely the result of differing regional growth conditions such as climate and soil type.
5) What’s happening on the price and availability front? Have people turned to other sources, or even tried to push alternative species?
The price of oak has been relatively steady, although there has been some fluctuation as a result of the exchange rate of the pound against the Euro and US Dollar, with increased freight costs also impacting on the cost of US imports. There were some availability issues earlier in the year and are some indications of a potential weakening in the second half of the year, but in general terms the market remains stable.
6) What are the main end uses for oak?  Which of these have significant growth potential?
The main end uses for oak are general joinery applications, renovation and restoration work, furniture and kitchens.  Prime and FAS grades are commonly specified for joinery, furniture and flooring, with Character grade also a popular choice for furniture and flooring, as well as exterior decking and cladding. At present, the furniture industry probably offers the most significant growth potential.
7) What’s the outlook for the market?
We expect to see consistency of supply in a market that remains relatively stable. There are no indications of a significant upturn over the coming months, but this largely due to the current economic climate and its impact on construction projects and consumer spending.
International Timber
International Timber stocks European and American oak. We offer our customers Certified Chain of Custody timber through our national distribution network and the oak products we stock are mainly FSC or PEFC certified, supplied from sources deemed to be ‘legal’ and ‘legal and sustainable’ under UK government procurement (CPET) criteria. We cater for a wide variety of requirements and can advise customers on the best choice to suit their needs.