This section is from the book "Spons' Mechanics' Own Book: A Manual For Handicraftsmen And Amateurs", by Edward Spon. Also available from Amazon: Spons' Mechanics' Own Book.
The most common British oak is Q. pedunculata, found throughout Europe from Sweden to the Mediterranean, and in N. Africa and Asia. Its wood is tolerably straight and fine in the grain, and generally free from knots. It splits freely, makes good laths for plasterers and slaters, and is esteemed the best kind for joists, rafters, and other purposes where a stiff, straight wood is desirable. The "durmast" oak (Q. pubescens) has the same range as the preceding, but predominates in the German forests. Its wood is heavier, harder and more elastic, liable to warp, and difficult to split. Both are equally valuable in ship-building. Quantities of Oak timber are shipped from Norway, Holland, and the Baltic ports, but are inferior to English-grown for ship-building, though useful for other purposes. A third kind is the cluster-fruited or "bay" oak (Q. sessilifiora). Of American oaks, the most important are as follows: The chestnut-leaved (Q. prinos) gives a coarse-grained wood, very serviceable for wheel-carriages. The red (Q. rubra), in Canada and the Alleghanies, affords a light, spongy wood, useful for staves.
The wood of the white oak (Q. alba), ranging from Canada to Carolina, is tough, pliable, and durable, being the best of the American kinds, but less durable than British. It is exported from Canada to Europe as " American oak." The iron or post oak (Q. obtusiloba), found in the forests of Maryland and Virginia, is frequently called the "box white oak," and chiefly used for posts and fencing. The live oak (Q. virens) is the best American ship-building kind, inhabiting the Virginian coast. Oak warps, twists, and shrinks much in drying. Its weight is 37-GS lb. a cub. ft., according to the kind; cohesive force, 7850-17,892 lb. It is valuable for all situations where it is exposed to the weather, and where its warping and flexibility are not objectionable. Quebec oak is worth about 41. 10s.-71. a load; Dantzic and Memel, 31. 10s-51. It is generally considered that the timber from the stalk-fruited oak is superior to that from the bay oak. The respective characteristics of the two varieties are: - The wood of the stalk-fruited oak is lighter in colour than the other.
It has a straight grain, is generally free from knots, has numerous and distinct medullary rays, and good silver grain; it is easy to work and less liable to warp, and is better suited for ornamental work, joists, rafters, and wherever stiffness and accuracy of form are required; it splits well and makes good laths. The timber of the cluster-fruited oak is darker in colour, more flexible, tougher, heavier, and harder; it has but few large medullary rays, so that in old buildings it has been mistaken for chestnut; it is liable to warp, difficult to split, not suited for laths or ornamental purposes, but is better where flexibility or resistance to shocks is required. On the whole they so much resemble each other that few are able to speak positively as to their identity; but the Durmast oak is decidedly of inferior quality. Oak is sometimes felled in the spring for the sake of the bark (instead of being stripped in the spring and felled in the winter); the tree being then full of sap, the timber is not durable. American oak has a pale reddish-brown colour, with a straighter and coarser grain than English. The timber is sound, hard, and tough, very elastic, shrinks very slightly, and is capable of being bent to any form when steamed.
It is not so strong or durable as English oak, but is superior to any other foreign oak in those respects. It may be used for ship-building, and for many parts of buildings. It is imported in very large-sized logs varying from 25 to 40 it. in length, and from 12 to 28 in. in thickness; also in 2 - 4 in. planks, and in thick stuff of 4 1/2-10 in. Dantzic oak is grown chiefly in Poland, and shipped also at Memel and Stettin. It is of dark-brown colour, with a close, straight, and compact grain, bright medullary rays, free from knots, very elastic, easily bent when steamed, and moderately durable. It is used for planking, ship-building, etc. It is classified as "crown" and "crown brack" qualities, marked respectively W and WW. It is imported in logs 18-30 ft.
Iong, 10-16 in.sq., and in planks averaging 32 ft. long, 9-15 in. wide, and 2-S in. thick. French oak closely resembles British in colour, quality, texture,and general characteristics. Riga oak is grown in Russia, and is like that shipped from Dantzic, but with more numerous and distinct medullary rays. It is valued for its silver grain, and is imported in logs of nearly semicircular section. Italian (Sardinian) oak is from several varieties of the tree. It is of a brown colour, hard, tough, strong, subject to splits and shakes in seasoning, difficult to work, but free from defects, and extensively used for ship-building in her Majesty's dockyards. "Wainscot" is a species of oak, soft and easily worked, not liable to warp or split, and highly figured; it is obtained by converting the timber so as to show the silver grain, which makes the wood very valuable for veneers, and other ornamental work. It is imported chiefly from Holland and Riga, in semicircular logs. "Clap Boarding" is a description of oak imported from Norway, inferior to wainscot, and distinguished from it by being full of white-coloured streaks.
This important W. African timber has lately been largely imported from Sierra Leone as a substitute for oak and teak. Though stronger than these, its great weight precludes its general use; but it is valuable for certain parts of ships, as beams, keelsons, waterways, and it will stand much heat in the wake of steamer fires, decaying rapidly, however, in confined situations. It warps in planks, swells with wet, and splits in drying again; it is not proof against insects. Its weight is 58-61 lb. a cub. ft.; cohesive force, 17,000-21,000 lb.
Two hard-wooded trees of Australia are the forest-oak (Casnarina torulosa) and the forest swamp-oak (C. paludosa). They reach 40-60 ft. high and 12-30 in. diam., and are used in house-building, mainly for shingles, as they split almost as neatly as slate. They weigh 50 lb. a cub. ft.; crushing-force, 5500 lb.; breaking-weight, 700 lb. The she-oak (C. quadrivalvis) and he-oak (C. suberosa) of Tasmania are used mostly for ornamental purposes. C. leptoclada and C. cristata are other species well adapted for furniture purposes from the singular beauty of their grain. They are used for certain applications in boat-building, but rarely found to exceed 2-3 ft. in diameter. The wood is excellent for turnery purposes and the manufacture of ornamental work.