Oak and alternative woods

Oak is a hard wood and like most hard woods is expensive. What other options are there?

Barn Conversion Restoration

My  customer had just recently bought a barn conversion for their retirement and they wanted new oak skirtings, doors and frames to give a high quality finish in character with the barn.


Oak is a hard wood so very durable.  It is is one of the most durable timbers for exterior use. It can be treated with oil and UV filters to preserve its blond appearance, or it can be left untreated and will gradually fade to a silver grey colour. Oak is one of the most expensive hardwoods and I tend to advise against painting it as other finishes show the wood off better.  When making a decision as to what to use I consider the following characteristics of oak:

  • When water penetrates oak it reacts with the high tannin content within oak, resulting in ‘blackening’.
  • The sun’s UV rays will turn the oak to a silvery hue over time.
  • Clear products are inevitably not completely clear so they tend to ‘bring out’ the natural colours of the oak, normally making it a bit darker and warmer.
  • The levels of rain, wind and sun will make a difference to how quickly the oak changes colour.


In contrast Sapele is a hardwood reminiscent of mahogany, and is part of the same Meliaceae family. It is darker in tone and has a distinctive well-marked stripe.   The grain is interlocked and occasionally wavy with a fine texture.  It is moderately durable and typical used for internal and external joinery, shop fitting, furniture and moderate to high traffic flooring.

Sapele is particularly prized for its lustrous iridescence with colours that range from light pink to brown and gold to red. It has a high density of 640 kg/m3 and an interlocked grain, which can make machining somewhat difficult. Sapele like oak is well suited to a transparent coating, making the most of its natural grains.  However it is also good for painting, due to the fine texture.

Sapele timber lacks permeability, so there is no requirement for preservation treatment. This makes it an ideal wood for use in crafting doors or window frames for external use as it is a highly durable and low maintenance.

With this knowledge, I advised my customers to use sapele for a large, exterior, stable door.  This saved them a considerable sum of money, whilst still giving them the look and feel that they required in keeping with the rest of the property.  The door will stand the test of the time and be a beautiful feature for the property.  My customers were pleased both with the saving and also the finished product.

Wood Durability Guide: Timber Chart & Database | Gate Expectations by Inwood (Cymru) Ltd (woodworkersuk.co.uk)

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