Purchasing wood can get very expensive and if you are not sure what you are buying it can be more than a bit intimidating. When you are standing in front of thousands of board feet of wood, all priced differently and you don't know exactly what to choose, this should be your clue it's time to understand wood cuts. Wouldn't it be nice to walk in to your lumber store and know what kinds of boards you need before you arrive, or at least have some idea of the different cuts and why they differ. Here is you will find these answers.
You have probably heard the term "quarter-sawn", which is often referred to as the "best cut" of wood. Well, quarter-sawn is one of the terminologies but it is not always the best cut as you will see in Part 2. The other cuts of wood are called Rift-sawn and Flat-sawn and all depend from where in the tree the boards are cut.
In order to identify which cut of wood has come from what part of the log, it is necessary to look at the end grain of the board. This is because some Rift-sawn and some Quarter-sawn can look the same on the face side of the board.
Before we get too deep into the different cuts, we should take a moment to consider one other factor of wood cuts, and those are the "rays". Rays are those fine lines that seem to radiate from the center of the tree, almost like the spokes of a wheel. The purpose of the rays is help transfer food and water and oxygen within the tree. In some woods and species, rays are easy to spot in others they are hard to see. The problems with rays is that they can often be point where boards crack, especially as they dry. For this reason it is critical that the ends of ALL boards, especially green wood, is sealed to encourage the moisture in the wood to evaporate through the sides of the boards and not through the ends. Wood wants to dry through the ends because that is the easiest way for water to escape because wood is build like a bunch of tiny soda straws all fastened together. When you block the ends of the soda straws water takes much longer to dissipate, therefore there is less twisting and movement in the wood.
Flat-Sawn boards are cut from the log where the growth rings of the tree are stacked on top of one another, and are basically parallel to wide faces of the board.. One of the advantages of this type of cut is the beautiful grain structure which causes "cathedrals", that are visually appealing to many projects, especially those where large panels of wood are exposed.
Rift-sawn boards are those that lie between flat and quarter-sawn cuts. The rift-sawn boards will appear that growth rings will be a little wider than those of quarter-sawn, because of the angle of the cut. The ring pattern of the wood will be at a diagonal across the edge of the board as you can see in the diagrams. Rift and quarter boards will show only straight lines across the face of the boards.
Quarter-sawn boards, as you can see from the diagrams, are cuts from the log where the rings are stacked vertically to one another. These cuts, as with those of any Rift-sawn boards will not show the beautiful cathedrals as a flat-sawn board would .
Be sure to read Part 2 of this article to understand the advantages and dis-advantages of these types of cuts and how you can make them work for you in your woodworking projects.
copyright - Colin Knecht