Quarter-sawn wood costs about twice as much as plain-sawn So, why use it In order to understand the benefits (and extra cost) let’s look at how the material is milled from a tree.
Imagine this is a log ready to go through a sawmill. I’ve sketched out plain-sawn cuts on the bottom half, and quarter-sawn cuts on the top half.
Plain-sawn, also called through and through, is pretty simple. Slabs of wood are simply cut from the log as it lays on the mill. It’s easy to see how simple this would be to set up and handle. Pay special attention to how the annual rings lay across the end grain of the resulting boards.
Quarter sawing is more complicated. The log is quartered, one board is cut off the quarter, the remaining section is turned, another board is cut off, the remaining section is turned, another board is cut off — until there’s no more log left. Intuition tells us this is more complicated to execute, but look at how the annual rings lay across the end grain of the boards.
Why Annual Rings Are Important.
Wood tends to cup in the direction opposing the curve of the annual rings. This board, a piece of plain-sawn wood, would tend to cup upwards.
The annual rings in this piece of quarter sawn wood are nearly perpendicular to the face grain. The trick question is, “Which way will this board cup?” The answer is that it won’t cup. This is one of the benefits of quarter-sawn wood.
Annual Rings = Face Grain.
The face grain of this quarter-sawn piece is very straight, thanks to the way the quarter sawing process slices through the annual rings.
Back in the day I worked at a cabinet shop where we built all the fixtures for a national retail chain. They specified quarter-sawn cherry for all their stores because they didn’t want the overly-busy look of plain-sawn cherry on all the walls and cabinets.
What we can see in the annual rings translates into what we’ll see in the face grain.
This piece of plain-sawn oak has a dramatic cathedral or flame pattern in the face. What you’re seeing as flames is the result of the way plain sawing slices across the annual rings. Plain-sawn wood tends to have a much more dynamic grain pattern in the face.
Then There Are The Flecks And Rays.
When wood is quarter-sawn the internal rays of the wood are exposed. In some materials, especially red and white oak, this can be VERY dramatic, giving the finished wood an amazing three dimensional appearance. Think of the old Singer sewing machine cases. Great examples of quarter-sawn oak.
Not all woods provide this benefit.
Three Reasons To Pony Up. Knowing that quarter-sawn wood can out price plain-sawn by a factor of two (or more), here are the compelling reasons to buy it.
- Quarter-sawn wood is more stable than plain-sawn. Not only is it less prone to cupping, it also expands and contracts less.
- Quarter-sawn provides a “quieter” and straighter face grain than plain-sawn.
- In some woods, especially the oaks, quarter sawing reveals dramatic internal rays that add a very cool dimension to the material.
It’s relatively easy to find quarter-sawn red and white oak. Other species can be much more difficult to locate in quarter-sawn, and may require a number of phone calls to track down.
Plain-Sawn vs. Quarter-Sawn Wood – Extended Version
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