Oak externally – why not?

We love oak us English folk.

It’s grown in England forever, mmm, that’s part of the problem of course. It’s grown for centuries and then when we developed the tools to cut them all down, we did. I almost feel grief when I go to an address like Oak Hill, Oak View, The Coppice, etc. actually paying homage to the trees that once thrived there, but of course they’re not now, they’ve been cut down to build your house!

Oak Tudor Style Front Door

Well, don’t feel too bad, that’s not really the problem with having a front door manufactured from oak. Oak is high maintenance.

Oak discolours when water penetrates the coating, I suppose we’ve all seen the black staining on an old oak door, maybe not locally but we’ve all been to Stratford or even an old pub in the village haven’t we?

The black staining on oak is in fact the result of the tanning acids in the oak (it’s natural colouring) reacting with water. It’s not mould itself but mould will grow if left long enough and the wood will rot. Of course the water has to get to the wood for this to happen.

30s Classic Oak internal door in Marple

Everybody I speak to about oak internal doors wants the natural colour of the oak to show, American White Oak is the very popular finish for an internal door at present and this is what most of the oak furniture is made from. ‘As clear as you can’ customers say when discussing varnish. That’s fine internally of course but when it comes to the exterior door you really have to protect it from the UV rays.

Ultraviolet radiation (from the sun) penetrates wood and disturbs the structure of the wood. This causes micro cracks in the oak itself and thus let’s moisture penetrate deep (this is reduced when you use an opaic paint of course because the UV does not get through).

To prevent this we need at least 4% pigment in the varnish, stopping the UV from getting in, and also a flexible structure to the coating, allowing movement and reducing the risk of microcracking. So, a darker varnish must be used externally if you must have oak and the flexible structure comes from a waterbased varnish!

Waterbased painting should really be sprayed as to achieve a thicker base (something like 3 times as thick as brushing) otherwise the water penetrates the coating when ‘standing’. This is why I don’t paint exterior doors with water based products such as Farrow & Ball because I brush my paints. Setting up a spray booth to use such paints as Teknos will cost about £8000 and when you produce less than one door per week it’s not viable.

Phil's Bespoke Oak Front Door Restoration Cheadle 5-SK8-1HY

Buying a front door is just like buying any other consumable like a car or a house for example. You accept that you have to take your car to the garage, service it, change the oil, the brake pads, feed it petrol. This is what you have to do with a wooden door. It’s all been alive once upon a time, living in a forest. It’s been cut down, dried and turned into a door. How can it possibily be the manufacturer or fitters responsibility to keep it in tip top shape for the next 100 years. If you look after your front door it should last as long as the many Victorian doors that we take away, having at some point been neglected and left to rot.

If you want oak, or a wooden door for that matter you must be willing to look after it. Who knows when it will need varnishing or painting again? We’ll just have to see. One important thing to do is to clean it and keep an eye out for cracks in the varnish or paint. Cracks, when dried out, can be filled and painted over. We can of course maintain the door for you. In fact, for the first 12 months if you have any cracks I would urge a customer to contact me, I will fill the cracks and paint over the next day, showing you exactly how to do this – I’ve only been to one solid front door to do this by the way and my own door need a few cracks filling after 3 years.

I hope this hasn’t put you off having the nicest of front doors, a wonderfully crafted wooden door. I don’t mind at all if it’s made you reconsider and have a painted hardwood door instead because you’re blessing the world with another beautiful traditional wooden front door for everyone to marvel at, and that’s what they do, when I fit a new door people stop in their tracks at times, take a breath and say, ‘Now that’s gorgeous!’. That’s when I know I’m doing something good.

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