Friday, September 26, 2008

Quarter Sawn Lumber

I was asked to write about wood, or more specifically, the way wood is cut. This opens up a whole bunch of doors, but for the purposes of this blog, we’re only talking about the way our lumber is cut for our uses.

There is a much better description of the way wood is cut in an article I was reading, so rather than bore you with my description, check it out. I will explain the basics here.

Plain sawn lumber is just as it sounds. It is cut flatly from the log, and is the most common way wood is cut. The net effect is a “cathedral” type grain pattern that is very pleasing aesthetically. Our cherry, red oak, birch, maple, walnut, and mahogany are all plain sawn.

Quarter sawn lumber is wood that has been taken from the tree very differently. The tree is first quartered, or cut into four sections. The boards are then taken from the tree in one of several different ways. The net effect is a straight grain, often times creating interesting patterns known as ray flecks.

There are two basic reasons why wood would be quartered, either for stability or looks. When you quarter lumber, it becomes more stable than plain sawn wood. It will expand and contract primarily the thickness of the board, not the width like plain sawn. The look of quartered lumber, or specifically the ray flecks, is the desired effect. It gives the lumber depth and interest in a different way.

The reason we carry quarter sawn white oak and plain sawn red oak is largely based on history. Quartered white oak would have been the wood of choice during the arts and crafts movement, the original one, a hundred years ago. As a result, many of our customers own antiques that they want to match or compliment in some way, and the quartered white oak just foots the bill. Red oak has traditionally been plain sawn with large, dramatic cathedrals in the grain patterns, so much like the expectations surrounding white oak, there are similar demands for plain sawn red oak instead of quartered.

You can get any log quartered if you like. I have worked with quartered cherry, maple, sycamore, red oak, white oak, and several others. Some types of wood have more drama in them when they are quartered than some others.

What is the best wood for you? I get asked this a lot. I get asked a lot of questions. What most people mean is “This is how I live, how many kids I have, how often I move, and what I want the piece for. Which wood is best here?” The answer is always the same within the varieties of the hardwoods we offer, the durability, longevity, soundness of each wood is comparable, so……………..the best wood for you is the one you like, the one that makes you happy. This sounds too easy!


Alison said...

I didn't known quarter sawn wood was more stable than other wood. Does it change anything about how we build our pieces? How much of a difference does it make?

Also, what does quarter sawn cherry look like? Really different?

Mark Gatterdam said...

Think about the effect of turning the majority of the expansion and contraction from the width of a board to the thickness of it. Rather than a 20" top moving something like a half inch seasonally, a quartered top will move 1/64" up and down. This removes a lot of the "stress" on the wood. Movement causes stress, and stress causes movement. This is part of the stablization of the quartered lumber. If you have a solid wood top in the home do this.....Measure it now. Today. Write the number down somewhere. I'll try to remind you to re-measure it in January 2009 to see how much it has contracted due to the loss of humidity.
Quarter sawn cherry look a bit odd to me. Imagine cherry color with nothing but straight grain lines running through it. Also, there is not all that much ray fleck. More interesting is "curly cherry". Very cool. Lots of drama and figure.