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The characteristics of hardwood expansion are inherently connected to their saleability. In other words, it is important to understand that as buyers are attracted to the natural qualities of oak furniture they should be mindful that, as a natural material, the hardwood will adapt to its surroundings.
In its natural environment, the characteristics of hardwood are such that the wood will expand and contract in harmony with the elements depending on growth and moisture levels. This may come as a surprise to some, as it is reasonable to assume that a material as hard and as solid as wood is not prone to such changes. Nevertheless, it is perhaps more appropriate to regard hardwood products such as solid oak furniture in their original state, i.e. as living systems. To this extent, the characteristics of hardwood are such that expansion and contraction are not simply about changing weather conditions but more specifically about the tree's anatomy.
Essentially, the characteristics of hardwood trees are that they will grow a new layer of wood each year. The outermost layer of the trunk consists of dead protective bark and the innermost part is made of dead heartwood. Forming the secondary xylem, the heartwood is enveloped by sapwood, which is responsible for cell division, annual ring growth and, ultimately, the diameter of the trunk. Vascular ray cells cut through the annual rings in the heartwood and sapwood with the aim of distributing water evenly among the outer living cells.
It is this process that causes hardwood to expand and contract, even after the living tree has been felled, processed and handcrafted into, say, an attractive item of solid oak furniture. This is because the hardwood retains the tree's original cell structures and thus the characteristics of hardwood mean that it remains sensitive to ambient conditions.
The characteristics of hardwood are that it will absorb moisture in warm, humid air. This mirrors the process of tree growth, which absorbs water via its roots system and enables the sapwood to develop new rings, but is obviously limited so far as cell division is concerned. Therefore, a cut piece of hardwood will not continue to grow as it absorbs air moisture but it will expand a little for a time. Equally, in cool, dry air the hardwood will contract as it releases moisture held in its cell system. This is invariably the reason behind creaking floorboards in the night, etc. Furthermore, expansion and contraction are universal aspects of solid wood flooring, which simply result in the requirement for an expansion gap around the floor perimeter.
In summary, these characteristics of hardwood are absolutely normal for solid hardwood products and high quality solid oak furniture will be carefully kiln-dried in order to increase their natural resistance to changes in humidity. Nevertheless, expansion and contraction remain normal features of solid oak furniture and similar hardwood products – indeed, even the cheapest veneers are subject to this phenomenon and, of course, in terms of quality, strength and endurance, veneer products are no match for solid oak furniture.
The use of dovetail joints in oak furniture provides a natural counter to the characteristics of hardwood such as expansion, as these extremely strong joints will also accommodate greater movement in the wood in more extreme conditions. The regular treatment of solid oak furniture and mahogany furniture (in addition to Indian furniture, such as mango or acacia wood) with natural furniture wax will ease the elasticity and guard against the characteristics of hardwood that may cause cracking or bowing.
As well as this article we also have articles providing information on Oak furniture, Ash furniture, Birch furniture, Pine Furniture, and Indian Furniture. If you like these articles you may also find our article on the characteristics of hardwood furniture article invaluable.
If you already have a range of hardwood furniture in your home, our articles on treating hardwood furniture, repairing hardwood furniture, joinery and specifically dove tailed joints will help you get the most out of your furniture, and spot quality when shopping in furniture.
Other articles on offer at Oak Furniture Land include our rustic furniture, teak furniture, wood and hardwood furniture, classic traditional furniture and contemporary modern furniture will also help you differentiate between the different styles of hardwood furniture available.
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