Strength and beauty. These are the main reasons why oak has always been Kährs’ favourite tree, timber and material ever since the company was founded some 160 years ago.
Oak produces beautiful and hard wearing floors with plenty of character. It also offers an infinite number of possible variations via surface treatment and dyeing. Even then, the individual appearance of an oak floor will shine through. Whatever nature has created via knots and patterns. It is hard not to have feelings for this majestic tree. Is it any wonder then that many of our floors are made of oak?
Småland is the number one landscape for oak in Sweden. Oak trees abound and flourish here. And it is also home to our factory in Nybro, where these oaks are eventually transformed into beautiful flooring.
At Kährs we work closely with around 3,000 forest owners, including many right on our doorstep.
Being just a stone’s throw away means it is easy to visit our suppliers and their oaks to guarantee that they are being produced in a way that supports sustainable development. Each and every one of them supplies oak timber every ten years on average. Even though Kährs is one of the largest consumers of oak timber in Europe, we are delighted that the number of oaks growing in Sweden is increasing year on year.
There is an art to raising strong and beautiful oaks. The trees thrive best in an open landscape with good, soft ground. Selecting which trees to fell starts in the forest. Trees are thinned to rejuvenate the surrounding forest by giving nearby trees more room, air and light for further growth.
The harvesting period for a tree is 150 years. This means that when a tree is ready for felling, it will often have been cared for by several generations of foresters. It is all about long-term thinking. From caring for the growing tree, to the relationship between the foresters and Kährs – and not least producing a beautiful floor that can be loved and cherished and in return give faithful service for years and years.
Over the centuries, oaks have been widely used for a lot more than wooden floors alone. And this remains the case today.
This is because oak can do what no other tree is capable of. From time immemorial, it has provided us with material to build boats, furniture and floors; with oak barrels to majestically mature wine, whisky and cognac, while its acorns make ham extra special.
Oak has served in the edification of swine and contemplation in man. It gives wine body, wheels endurance and views beauty. Oak is also an excellent building material for bridges, doors, pilework, furniture and not least, boats and floors. During Sweden’s time as a great power in the 17th Century, oak was so valuable it was a protected tree. Having a powerful navy was imperative for Sweden and oak could only be used with the permission of the king.
Working with oak is a double delight because it is such a strong, hard, heavy and tough material.
It takes longer to build something with oak than other softer timbers, but the end result will be a more comprehensive and enduring piece of craftsmanship. The other pleasure is that the tree determines what you can use it for. You need a curved or bowed part of the tree to make a curved or bowed construction component. Oak is also the only timber that is suitable for large boats. Ships are subjected to different dynamics all the time, such as hard and high winds that want to twist and bow the wood.
No method other than using oak barrels for storing and ageing wine and distilled drinks, such as cognac and whisky, works so well for imparting flavour, maturity and body, developing beautiful colour and a rich aroma. Without oak storage, the drinks remain raw and harsh. No chemist has ever been able to explain successfully exactly why. What we do know, however, is that oak has two tasks: to release substances that add flavour, aroma and colour, and to be porous enough to allow oxygen to slowly pass through the walls to oxidate the contents of the barrel.
How old can an oak become? The story starts with an acorn germinating. In one year, a seedling will have grown 30 centimetres. In five years, it will be two metres high. An oak starts producing its first acorns after 50 years. After 100 years, two people can barely span the trunk that will by now be 18–20 metres high. At this point, the oak will be pretty much fully grown in terms of height. Not in width, however. An oak will expand by a couple of centimetres a year. The timber is at its best when an oak is 200 years old. If you fell a 200-year old oak just above ground level, the roots will not die and new shoots will appear from the stump. After 300 years, growth comes to a halt. After 600–700 years the tree will die, but can still stand for a further few centuries. Stately and stubborn, until the end.
Oak is home to squirrels, jays, lichen, woodpeckers, insects and larvae, an amazing tiny society for a thousand years or so. It nurtures life, it protects life, it offers shelter and pleasure. Life thrives in the tentative, first buds and the thousand year old cracks in the trunk.
Oaks also give off plenty of seductive scents. What can be quite as delightful as lying under an oak and smelling the life-affirming bouquet, the nutritious and compost-like material that is formed from old timber mixing with other decomposed organic matter. This detritus is good for both the oak itself and for other vegetation. It is the scent of life and summer.