3 Reasons to Use Quarter Sawn Wood

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.

Three Reasons to Use Quarter Sawn Wood

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.

Three Reasons to Use Quarter Sawn WoodPlain-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.

Three Reasons to Use Quarter Sawn WoodQuarter 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

Three Reasons to Use Quarter Sawn Wood 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.

Three Reasons to Use Quarter Sawn WoodThe 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

What we can see in the annual rings translates into what we’ll see in the face grain.

quarter-sawn-woodThis 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.

using-quarter-sawn-woodThe 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.

Then There Are The Flecks And Rays.

Three Reasons to Use Quarter Sawn Wood 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.

Related Videos:

Plain-Sawn vs. Quarter-Sawn Wood – Extended Version

Cutting Lumber from Logs

How to Plain Saw Logs into Lumber

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18 Responses to “3 Reasons to Use Quarter Sawn Wood”
  1. John Cederstrom

    If you cut a 1/4″ slice at 90 degree off an 8/4 piece of plain sawn lumber would that 1/4″x2″ piece now be considered quarter sawn?

  2. Theresa Gaignard

    What is the difference between “live sawn” and “plain sawn”? A couple of weeks ago I fell in love with a sample wood floor that also had kerf marks. I was told that it was “live sawn”. My finisher told me that it would cost more to finish “skipped oak,” and suggested I buy #2 character grade wood, instead. So I asked the distributor to give me a price on skipped oak and #2. He send me the prices for “live sawn” and “plain sawn”. I Googled these and could not see the difference between the two. This site shows a drawing of how “plain sawn” wood is cut, http://www.hardwooddistributors.org/blog/postings/what-is-the-difference-between-quarter-sawn-rift-sawn-and-plain-sawn-lumber/. And, this site (where the wood will be coming from), shows the same cutting method, http://alleghenymountainhardwoodflooring.com/portfolio/allegheny-live-sawn/. It feels like “live sawn” is a marketing gimmick. Am I right?

    • WWGOA Team

      Hi, Theresa!

      I have not come across this term before. Typically I buy lumber as either quarter sawn or flat sawn (sometimes also referred to as plain sawn). From everything I can find on this topic I see no difference between “live sawn” and “plain sawn” lumber.

    • John

      Hello there
      Live sawn is a term used when a timber is sawn all the way thru board after board. Plain saw is when a timber is turned after each cut and in the end you have a cant left.
      Hope this helps

  3. Chuck Leftwich

    We are looking at custom kitchen cabinets for our home built in 1906. We have a lot of quarter sawn oak throughout our house. We currently have a white kitchen and thought we would stay white. Our cabinetmaker has suggested quarter sawn cabinets painted white in a way that will make them look old. I can’t find pictures of anyone that has painted quarter sawn. It seems everyone uses stain to enhance the beauty of the wood. Is it a bad idea to cover up the quarter sawn with white paint ? It really doesn’t make sense to me to pay a high price for quarter sawn just to cover it up. Your thoughts please ?

    • Customer Service

      Hi Chuck. In general I wouldn’t paint quartersawn oak. It is an expensive material to cover with paint. Perhaps the painter plans to use a partially translucent paint that allows the quartersawn pattern to be viewed through the paint, which could be an interesting option. But I would request a sample photo from your painter before choosing it or ruling it out.

    • Peter

      Oh, please don’t do it! Painting quartersawn white oak should be a crime. It’s just not a wood that should be covered up with paint.

  4. Eric Burnett

    I’m making a kayak paddle with western red cedar for lightness but need a tougher tip that will have a mortise/tenon joint to join the two.. Some have suggested white oak and I assume quarter sawn white oak is best for this project? Have you ever heard of Ipe? That’s been suggested as well.

    • Customer Service

      Hi, Eric. Quartersawn white oak would be a good call for this. Stable, strong, and water resistant. I’m only vaguely familiar with Ipe, but I know that it is also water resistant as it is commonly used on high end deck projects.

    • Customer Service

      Hi Curtis. Hello, can you provide some information about the specific problem that you are having with cutting the bottoms for your boxes? What style bottom? What style box? What challenges are you experiencing in getting them to fit properly?