One of the most frequent emails and phone calls we receive from our customers are those asking about the strange marks that they believe look like water marks or lacquer splashes on their newly purchased oak items. Many people get concerned and worried as they believe these marks to be a defect in their furniture item, however in reality this could not be further from the truth.
These mystery marks are a naturally occurring finish called “medullary rays” and are something which add a rich character and beauty to all of our oak furniture items. Let us baffle you with the science… These rays are caused by plant cells which extend vertically at an angle that is perpendicular to the tree’s vertical cells or growth rings as they are more commonly known. These ribbon-like cells allow the conveyance of sap through the trunk, making them an essential part of the growing process of the tree. When the trunk is cut, the cells produce silvery slithers and markings across the sawn area that become particularly prominent when the oak is polished, varnished or oiled.
Far from being a sign of damage or flaws, these medullary rays are in fact an indication that the furniture item you have purchased has been crafted from the finest and most expensive quarter sawn oak. In logging and carpentry, oak trees can be sawn in two different ways. Tangential or plain sawing is a process that yields the most timber from the trunk of the tree. It is the faster form of timber production and it provides far less waste making it the most common timber harvesting technique. Quarter sawing on the other hand is a much slower process that produces lesser board footage and is far more expensive to produce. Due to the ring growth direction, quarter sawn timber is far greater in strength and shows off the most medullary rays on the surface.