What is Tiger Oak and Should You Be Using It?

Coco Chanel once said that for you to be irreplaceable, you must be different. This expression does not apply to humans alone but also to objects. In business, producers try as much as possible to differentiate their products from their competitors to gain a competitive edge. In the furniture industry, this principle still applies, and one of the most used types of wood is the tiger oak. You may wonder why it is referenced to the tiger, and some say it is because it resembles the tiger’s eye. It has grown popular with time so let’s tell you more about its discovery and if you should try using it.

Discovery of Tiger Oak

Although still in demand even today, the tiger oak dates back to the late 19th century. In the 18th century, the colonialists focused on fending for food and shelter, not the luxury of having furniture. However, like Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs stresses, after fulfilling the basic needs, they moved on to wanting the finer things in life like furniture.

Oak became the go-to raw material because it was readily available and easy to work with, but that did not last long. By the mid-18th century, oak was phased out by walnut and mahogany which were preferred for formal furniture. Oak remained in the rural setting. However, mahogany and walnut were not affordable to most people; therefore, there still needed a change.

The change was further necessitated by the rise of the middle class in America and the scarcity of walnut. There was an increase in demand for furniture, and the only readily available raw material was fine oak, precisely the white oak. However, people wanted more than just the natural color of white oaks; hence improvements had to be done.

Quarter cutting was used on white oak; hence the tiger oak was discovered. The cutting design revealed a pattern that resembled the tiger’s eyes hence the name “tiger oak” was adopted. Also, to get rid of the pale color in white oak, yellow and orange tints were applied thus in the late 19th century, the golden oak age was born.

Was it Wasteful?

With time, it became clear to the furniture manufacturers that quarter sawing the oak to produce the tiger oak was wasteful because they had to discard most of the wood. The challenge was that an emerging upper class demanded new furniture, and with the end for mass production, wasting wood was no longer an option. Therefore instead of tiger oak wood, they used tiger oak veneers, and flat cut oak and the untrained eyes never noticed the difference. In the end, even, white oak could no longer sustain the demand for tiger oak; hence the craftsmen had to be cunning. They cheated customers into thinking they were buying tiger oak furniture by rolling an oak grain pattern that gave the tiger’s eye impression. The tiger oak has remained popular to date.

How Tiger Oak is Made

According to Hunker, tiger oak is lumber made through a specific method of milling called quarter sawing that results in distinctive grain lumber used in high-end applications. Contrary to popular belief, quarter sawn wood does not refer to oak wood alone; it can be done on different other types. However, quarter sawn oak strictly refers to tiger oak.

The difference in plain sawing and quarter sawing is the angle used. While plain sawn lumber is sawed at a 30-degree angle, quarter sawn lumber is cut at 60 degrees or 90 degrees angle. The log is cut into wedge-shaped quarters hence the name “quarter sawing.” Cuts are made along the plane of each wedge, and they go toward the center of the log. Each cut is made alternately on the wedge’s face, and as the wood is cut away, the boards get narrower each time. The grain line is straight and vertical, running perpendicularly to the surface of the lumber.

Should You Use Tiger Oak?

The beauty of the tiger’s eyes on furniture is enough to drive the sale of anything made from tiger oak upwards. Apart from the attractiveness, tiger oak is stable, resists moisture and humidity much better than other wood types. However, these benefits are not enough to charm you into using it. If you are running a business, it may not be the best option.

According to Reference, tiger oak is not economical because it produces fewer boards per foot of timber. It also requires a lot of manpower since you have to rotate each wedge before cutting it. You should also not forget the amount of waste that comes with quarter sawing, and when these cons are combined, the tiger oak is expensive to produce compared to flat sawn oak. Therefore, even selling could be a problem because it might be restricted to only the upper-class clientele.

Why It is Popular Till Now

Regardless of its shortcomings, tiger oak is still a very much sought-after wood in the furniture industry. In the white and red oak, the rays and flecks visible on the board’s face due to cutting along the growth rings make it very appealing. They add a striking feature to the oak wood, and without them, mission-style antique furniture pieces would not exist.

The fact that it can resist warping, twisting, cupping and moisture adds to its attractiveness. Besides, oak remains a favorite among those in in the furniture industry. According to ABC Office, oak is readily available across the globe, which enhances its use. Furniture made from it is very durable because it is hard and strong. It has a high tannin content that makes it resistant to insect and fungal attacks. While white oak was used for ship-building because of its waterproof nature, red oak was used for flooring, but both are still used in the furniture industry.

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