Bog oak is a precious woody material with silvery-gray noble veins that has absorbed history. For centuries and millennia, sunken oak trunks have been at the bottom of reservoirs, where, without access to air, in the process of staining, they gradually acquired strength that is not inferior to stone.
The nature itself, giving bog oak, durability and a unique color range, has determined its unique properties. You cannot find a more beautiful wood texture. That is why the iconic distinction of bog oak products is that neither dyes nor varnishes are used in their manufacture. The color of the wood speaks for itself: delicate fawn shades indicate the age of staining of 300-400 years, and the black color is acquired in more than 1000 years of staining.
In historical descriptions, you can find the name of bog oak as "ebony" and "iron tree". These names are due to the properties of wood, but we are talking about oak aged under water. It is characteristic that in Russia there was no concept of "cabinetmaker" - craftsmen working with elite wood were called precisely "blackwoods". And today, following the centuries-old traditions of the master, they respect the natural uniqueness of each piece of material with which they work, identifying and presenting its best qualities. Therefore, bog oak is used today not only and not so much as a finishing material, but also as a source of inspiration for creating genuine works of art.
"Bog oak" (the name comes from the French "marais" - swamp), commonly called black, is oak wood mineralized with metal salts in natural conditions. For many hundreds of years, due to erosion of banks and changes in river channels, coastal oak groves were under water. Under the influence of tannin (gallobinic acid), the wood changes its chemical composition there.
As a result, there was a change in the content of iron oxides: in ordinary oak there are 3, 8%, in bog oak - from 9, 7 to 32, 33%. (in fact, it becomes iron by a third). It must be processed in a wet state, because when it dries it becomes extremely hard. In addition, due to the high mineralization of oak under the millennial exposure to water (from 1 to 5%), wood has a strong energy.
Since all tree trunks are in different conditions, each log acquires a unique composition and color. Depending on the amount of metal salts (mainly iron) contained in the river water and the amount of tannins contained in the wood, oak was colored in colors from pinkish to black.
The tone and intensity of the color depended on natural conditions, as well as on the time of mineralization. It takes, on average, 1000 to 2000 years to acquire black wood. The formation of an oak deposit consists of several necessary conditions: the presence of oak forests on the bank, the speed of the river flow, favorable for the process of mineralization, the saturation of water with metal salts, a certain composition of river alluvium and a time factor. It follows from this that bog oak is a truly unique material, since the probability of the coincidence of all of the above factors is rather small.
It is impossible to say when the bog oak was first discovered, but the history associated with it is impressive. One of the legends says that the walls of the fortress erected by Prince Rurik on the shore of Lake Ilmen in the 9th century AD were made of this tree, and is considered one of the first fortifications in Russia. There are also indisputable facts that thrones were made from bog oak for the rulers of the imperial powers. And there is evidence of this: the throne of King James II in Great Britain or the throne of Peter I, made by English craftsmen as a gift to the sovereign. Peter was so interested in the miraculous properties of bog oak that he ordered "... to catch this wood, and strict account of the trunks is the message ..." Later, in 1712, he presented Ekaterina Alekseevna with a bog oak box as one of the wedding gifts.
Giving gifts from "ebony" on especially solemn occasions later became a tradition that continued until the revolution. Offices, armchairs, bureaus were presented for anniversaries and official appointments. Caskets, chests, figurines were presented to the ladies for the wedding and on the day of the angel. And the decoration with bog oak of the premises clearly testified not only to the solvency of a person, but also to his weight in society. Since this material has been elite at all times, and access to it had to be earned.
Over the last century, many challenges have fallen to the share of the traditions of extraction and manufacture of products from bog oak. Since the resources of this material are not unlimited, there are practically no stocks of bog oak in Europe. Therefore, before the revolution, the material mined in Russia was mainly supplied to Europe, where interiors in royal courts were created - stairs, railings and other parts of the decor of the houses of the august persons were decorated with bog oak.
For a long time, bog oak was developed in an artisanal way: the trunks were found in the water by prospectors and pulled to the surface almost by hand. Later, an industrial method was developed for the extraction of this elite material, it was used by the joint-stock company "Moscow-Kazan Railway". Then, in connection with the outbreak of the First World War, the production of bog oak had to be closed, and all contracts with the Europeans were canceled. Later, the development of deposits was revived with varying degrees of success.
In February 1948, by a decree of the party and government of the USSR, the process of mining and processing of bog oak was recognized as unprofitable, as a result of which the Saransk Republican Office, the only enterprise dealing with bog oak in the USSR, was abolished. Thus, in Russia, despite the centuries-old experience of mining and processing this material, bog oak was "deleted from the list" for about 60 years.
Today the lost technology of extraction and processing of bog oak is being revived. Although it is only available to experienced professionals. This is a very complex and lengthy process that requires a lot of labor and resources. Previously, before the start of the season, experts examine several hundred kilometers of river channels, analyzing the features of the banks, the speed of the current, the depth and composition of the river bottom. In places of supposed deposits, at different depths, scuba divers literally probe the bottom of the river in search of sunken trunks, excavate the area around the oak trees found in order to be able to ashore with modern technical means. Further, the raw materials are processed, transported, sorted and dried. And only after 3 years of drying, the material is selected for further processing.
Bog oak is a very capricious material, capable of losing its original beauty and properties in just a few hours outdoors, being left “without an eye”. The trunk of an oak tree must be sawn within a few days, otherwise it becomes unusable. This is one of its features known only to blacksmiths.
Even ordinary wood requires drying. And the process of drying bog oak is a long and painstaking work that cannot fail: after all, if the wood is not properly dried, its internal stresses will sooner or later turn into cracks. Bog oak must be dried in conditions close to natural: a little dry air, a little wind, a little humidity - everything is like in nature, only this is provided in a special room. Moreover, after the completion of the drying process, which lasts several years, only a minimum percentage of the total extracted wood biomass remains suitable for further manufacture of products. The resulting material is carefully selected and sorted by geometric dimensions, color, density, texture for the subsequent creation of unique pieces.
It is not surprising that products from bog oak, due to the exceptional complexity of processing the wood itself, can only be made by true experts in their field. At the same time, they are directly interested in their reputation, and a self-respecting manufacturer accompanies its products with a certificate that serves as a guarantor of quality and authenticity.
Created by enthusiasts, the only bog oak museum in Russia is located
in the Republic of Mari El, in the city of Kozmodemyansk, in the building of a merchant house.