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

    • Kevin Itwaru
      Kevin Itwaru

      Thank you for this (2 years later). I was trying to work out the geometry of the log in my head and was thinking something like that

  2. Theresa Gaignard
    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
      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.

      • Marasco

        That is correct. Live edge is when the sawyer puts the log in the bed and just cuts continually through the log without turning it. Thus you have bark on each side therefore the term live edge.

    • 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
    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
      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
    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
      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
      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?

  5. NIck

    Maybe I’m confused, but I think your pictures of quartered vs. flat sawn face grain got swapped.

  6. Mark

    Thanks for the information. You might check the photos on the web page. I had to watch the video to understand which grain pattern goes with which cutting method. Maybe change the spacing between the captions and the photos they go with so the labeling isn’t so ambiguous. Then, what you label as “rays” on the web page photo you call “flecks” in the video. Using the information on the webpage and looking at the grain pattern on flooring I had delivered, I’d have thought the flooring store had delivered the wrong thing.

  7. MartinM

    I think your photos of the face grain for plain-sawn versus quartersawn are reversed. Other than that, thank you for the nice article.

  8. Howe Cochran
    Howe Cochran

    I guess you know your layout person got the oak pictures (quartered and flat sawed) reversed,

    • Kelly Mora
      Kelly Mora

      Whew! I’m so glad the photo swap was addressed. I was feeling like I missed a day in Math Class. Thank-you so much for sharing this information and for making it so easy to understand. Everyone who loves or deals with wood furniture should know this stuff. Thanks again!

  9. Marasco

    My company is The SawMill at Cypress Creek. We ar located in Burgaw NC At 6611 NC highway 53 west
    I can cut and supply 1/4 sawn white and red oak
    My number is 910/538-6749
    Thank you

  10. Saige

    Images showing board face are backwards to their descriptive text. Vertical ends/quarter-sawn will produce lines on the face. The “flame” face is caused by less vertical ring pattern on the ends.

  11. Mark

    Very informative. I am an electric guitar builder and as you can imagine how the neck looks is VERY important! In addition the more stable the wood is the better for guitar manufacturing!
    Thanks for the information!

  12. Amy Stoll
    Amy Stoll

    NB Ticket 18148 I’m interested in Quartersawn Oak. Is the graining typically tight or more closed vs open? Or is all over the board?

    • Customer Service
      Customer Service

      Dear Amy,

      Thank you for your patience. In regards to your question-

      The grain can vary somewhat but will be predominately open.


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  13. Sailor Jack
    Sailor Jack

    I am making a tiller for a sailboat. Which is stronger; quarter sawn or plain sawn? Rigidity is very important.

    • Customer Service
      Customer Service

      Hello. Quartersawn wood could be considered stronger for your application because of its continuous grain. It is less likely to split across short grain sections because it won’t have any.

  14. Verilee

    I have a friend who wants to sell some old (I don’t know how many) of quarter sawn western red cedar that her father never used – a luthier bought some. Can you suggest a place that would be best to advertise it? thanks so much!

  15. Alan D. Bosch
    Alan D. Bosch

    Looks like you need to reverse the photos of the 1/4 sawn and the plain sawn under “Annual rings = Face Grain”

    • Customer Service
      Customer Service

      Hello Alan!

      Thank you! We’ll have our team take a look at them!


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